Date of Degree

2-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Barbara Katz Rothman

Committee Members

Margaret M. Chin

Robert Courtney Smith

Subject Categories

Sociology

Keywords

health and illness, mothering, inter-generational relations, gender, family and immigration

Abstract

The focus of this dissertation is the Chinese postpartum tradition zuoyuezi, often translated into English as doing-the-month. Having its roots in ancient China, this set of practices has maintained its salience today in Taiwan, China, and among first generation immigrant women in the U.S. Women not only continue to perform zuoyuezi at home, many also rely on emerging forms of commodified care. While immigrant women’s postpartum wellbeing and care has been the focus of scholarly research in health related fields, studies in the social sciences addressing immigrant women’s postpartum practices and the care relations engendered remain scant.

In this qualitative project, I consider zuoyuezi as a cultural model of care, where women interact with caregivers and discourses surrounding the postpartum body, health, gender, and family. Drawing on qualitative interviews with twenty-seven class-privileged women with experience doing the month and two care workers, as well as discourse analysis of popular zuoyuezi advice books, this dissertation aims to evaluate the social cost and benefits of zuoyuezi. I trace the contour of expert knowledge on zuoyuezi, and explore the factors that influence immigrant women’s understanding of zuoyuezi norms. I also discuss the ways in which women forge care relations with various caregivers, be they family members or paid care workers, as they negotiate domains of power relations in family and commodified care.

I argue that zuoyuezi is no longer a tradition with antiquated prescriptions and proscriptions. Women in fact draw on zuoyuezi norms to manage perceived health risks as constructed by popular expert discourses, to maintain the consistency of one’s positions within the family, and to respond to social and embodied contingencies that arise in their postpartum period. I also demonstrate that zuoyuezi as a model of care is situated in a field of tensions where discourses surrounding the practices increasingly find legitimacy through espousing dominant scientific knowledge and the languages of consumerism; where filial norms continue to present struggles in the formation of intergenerational care relations; and where commodification produces precarity of care and hidden cost for the workers. Considerations to address these tensions are discussed.

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