In Closing.. Food For Thought

Social anthropology cannot just study a human being. There would nothing to study in that case so as Edmund Leach has stated, the smallest entity studied by social anthropologists is of the interaction between at least two persons (T.H Eriksen. 1995). It is by that interaction that we can understand the meaning of language, views on statuses and roles, responsibilities of genders, and the concepts of society and social life. I feel as my research in these few cultural concepts, and specifically on society and social life, has provided me with a sound answer to the diversity of activist unity.

Throughout my research in use of language, roles and statuses, and gender responsibilities I have come to understand them as a result of norms set in place and the sanctions which follow their disregard or compliance.  How one sees their society’s framework influences the way one interpret the norms they accept or reject. Simply, my answer is this; The Prolife Movement’s original framework of society was accepted and as others with various cultural beliefs related to the movement joined, there became larger mobilization and more cultural interpretation of initial norms.

To explain, the initial activists in this movement had a distinct idea of what their society was and what it valued. Furthermore, the core religious membership participating believed that idea was a result of correct interpretation of their culture.  As time moved forward, interaction of activists with other cultural groups (who in one way or another related to principles and values found in the movement) caused a mash up of opposing ideas and then compromises. These compromises caused:

1. Easier membership into the movement, producing more visible support in the movement and

2. An exchange of cultural beliefs that could influence members of the movement to interpret societal norms and language differently, place different amounts of value on gender responsibilities, statuses, and roles.

So when all is said and done, Pro-life is like… a pot of chili at a Texas City Fair (forgive me for the terrible simile… its dinner time and I’m hungry).  Everyone knows about chili but everyone adds their own individual ‘flavor.’ In regards to Pro-Life, if you’re the spicy religious, the medium conservative, or the mild in favor for what you believe to be right activists, you’re bound to be all bundled up as a “chili” in one way or another.


Eriksen, T.H.

1995 Small Places, Large Issues. 3rd edition. Vered Amit and Jon p. Mitchell, eds.

Pluto Press: New York


Bowls of Chili


Society and Social Life: The Rocks and Sand Analogy

Have you ever head the story where someone will ask you to fit a fixed amount of rocks in to a glass jar in addition to sand?  It can only be done if the rocks are placed into the jar first and then the addition of the sand last allows all the extra space to be filled. There is an intriguing thought introduced by Raymond Firth (T.H Eriksen. 2010) which illusrtates the same point about society and social life. The idea is society is the framework and structure of a culture established by patterns of rules, customs, and institution (the “rocks”) while social life is the dynamic fill in around this structure being what people actually do (the “sand”).

In relation to the anti-abortion movement, and the scattered opinions concerning it, we need to understand the difference between its society and its social life. Although there is a set structure and purpose of the movement; it’s not that those actors who participate are always breaking the norms set in place, but that the structure laid out doesn’t always match how people are to act (T.H Eriksen. 2010).  In summary, activist member of this group relates to the basic ideals of the movement in some way, but the social life they live is not a rigid structure but the dynamic messy in between of those ideals they connect with.

An example given by Barbara Hewson (2001) caused me to think how I personally perceive the ideas of anti-abortion and social organization provided by the Government, or state. Lawyers are often compelled to act at their clients bidding to do something that would strike many people to be immoral but the law entitles them to do. My feelings that abortions are an immoral act are balanced with an understanding that by supporting for government laws to regulate it feels fair to me.  This is just one person’s opinion… imagine how many in Canada, out of  a population of over 33 million, have a different idea of abortion and government control and so forth. There’s a chance I have others who agree with exactness but an even greater probability that it would be drastically different if not contrary.


Eriksen, T.H.

1995 Small Places, Large Issues. 3rd edition. Vered Amit and Jon p. Mitchell, eds.

Pluto Press: New York.

Hewson, Barbara

2001 Reproductive autonomy and the ethics of abortion.  Supplement Article, Journal

Of Medical Ethics 27: ii10-ii14

Gender Responsibilities… what are yours?

I speak of gender as defined by the World Health Organization in being “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.” For the society found in this movement I wish to focus on the women and the gender roles they encourage among themselves and in the places they inhabit. Will looking at the culturally understood ideas has on gender responsibility helps us understand why activists are often divided? Simply put, yes. Many activists don’t subscribe fully to the idea that the woman’s responsibility is to her children and family above all else, at her own sacrifice and thus you will find a staggering amount of opinions that define a women’s responsibility having more importance on other things first and foremost.

In the four decades since the organization of this movement, the social demographic trends have dramatically changed. Although still apparent in this culture is the importance of religion you can very well see an increase members not affiliated with a religion who feel it is against humanity to take another life.  We also have seen in recent years “women’s labour force participation rose… non marital sexual activity increased, and a decline in real wages for men caused more families to depend on two incomes (Strikler et al.188).” There is a connection between women in the work force and less focus in raising families in the home. Because this movement often is concentrated in developed countries, women are given more choices outside of being a wife and mother that was once the fundamental responsibility of women.

Pro-Life, to begin, was a core of conservative Christian religious folk focused on bringing back western “family values” they felt were threatened by abortion and it becoming legal. These cultural values include having children, no premarital or extramarital sexual relations (International Gallup Poll. 1997), and woman in position as and the primary care giver and nurturer who should remain in the home. With increasing numbers of less conservative young mothers, business orientated woman and so forth becoming a part of this movement we see that some responsibilities of woman have different values placed upon them. Such values include the right to develop a career, to have as many sexual partners as they feel appropriate, and to limit the number of children they bring into the world.

There are many like myself, who although find huge fault in the participation of abortion, understand that different circumstances must be taken in account and therefore legalization would help monitor the safe practice of abortion. As a Christian I was taught at a young age the responsibilities of my gender as outlined by my God and given through his prophets. Chief among these responsibilities is motherhood and the sacred role it has. I was taught and have come to fully believe that after marriage “motherhood is a woman’s noblest calling… a partnership with God in bringing his spirit children into the world [and] bearing children is one of the greatest of all blessings (Gospel Principles. 215).” Those values taught to me in my home are, with a surety, the reason I believe abortion as casual birth control to be wrong. However I am an independent woman who does value a career and seeks one now as I attend classes at my local university. Although I value the traditional gender responsibilities, in the mean time I have placed my efforts elsewhere, and until I find myself in a position to uphold what is the socially constructed appropriate behaviour in my culture, that’s where I’ll be.


“Gender, Women and Health.”  World Health Organization. Accessed Mar 19th, 2012.

Global Study of Family Values.  Published Nov. 7 1997  International Gallup Poll.  Princton N.J.Accessed Mar 19th 2012

Strickler, Jennifer and Nicholas L. Danigelis

2002 Changing Frameworks in Attitudes toward Abortion. Sociological Forum. 17 (2)

pp 187-201. Springer.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

2009 (1978) Gospel Principles. Second Edition. Teaching Manual pp 215. Intellectual

Reserve Inc : USA


“Retro Housewife”

“Business Woman”

Role and Status: Playing a Part II.

Personhood for the extreme activist in Pro-life defines a person at the moment of conception. The religious core of the movement firmly holds the role of a mother is a sacred duty and one that is ascribed. “If one is adamantly opposed to abortion (and is in the strictest form Pro-Life), one is committed to some set of values which require that a women who becomes pregnant must endure the process of pregnancy and birth, no matter how distressing, painful, and risky it is for them (Hewson. 2001).” The abortion of a fetus by a woman is defined as the slaughter of a child to activists in this movement, not a terrible ordeal for the woman making that choice.  It is understood that the woman’s suffering would be a much smaller evil, than the termination of a child’s life (Hewson. 2001).

As I imagine accepting that value and supporting it, my mind draws up so many examples that question if a mother’s suffering ought to be the punishment for an unwanted pregnancy. Situations involving rape, incest, or when the child has been genetically determined to have monstrous and fatal defect should cause the most devote pro-lifer to pause and rethink.

 Libertyville Abortion Demonstration Video

The video I’ve included has the interviewer ask activists and protester if abortion was to be illegal, should there be and what should be the punishment if women still get an abortion. It disturbed me to watch as they didn’t have an answer or if they did it was rather irrelevant and terribly explained. Why did activists not think there should be a punishment if abortion is murder and a crime against another human being? To me it appeared that punishment was to go through the pregnancy and birth and then forced to raise the child. I highly doubt that the classical western role of mother, to be nurturing and self-sacrificing for her child, would be developed in such a woman forced into motherhood by such means.

To conclude, I felt rather embarrassed by the interviews found in the video. I am a Christian woman who in response to that question would answer that abortions should be legal and highly regulated as you need to take in the personhood of the biological mother into account. The majority of abortions performed are not just so women can have a back-up plan for being a harlot in the eyes of religious protesters. If regulations are broken a penalty or punishment should follow and the severity should be circumstantial as in the case of any murder.  If one is to stand up for something, it’s my hope that there is some self-reflection and an open mind. In other words, there should be a better understanding of the status and roles that are placed and acquired by women in a society.

So does this not make me a Pro-Lifer? I still believe that life begins at conception but I also believe that a woman’s life is just as important and there should not be such a huge divide of extremes. How could one tell a woman who was a victim of rape that she must keep the baby and nurture the being as her child? I cannot with any validity say I understand what it could feel like to have to make that decision of abortion and bear any feelings of the consequence of that choice. I can’t be Pro-Choice and a Christian…? I’ll just have to see about that!


Hewson, Barbara

2001 Reproductive autonomy and the ethics of abortion.  Supplement Article,

Journal of Medical Ethics 27: ii10-ii14

Lee Goodman dir.

2005. Libertyville Abortion Demonstration. 7 min. At Centre Network Media.


“You Decide”

Role and Status: Playing a Part.

Shakespeare “As You Like It”: Act 2 Scene 7

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,”

So let’s start at a base. In Anthropology, a human being is one who can act out of his own agency and reflecting on his behaviour as an actor (T.H Eriksen. 1995). Like an audience takes in an actor on the Broadway stage, social anthropology focuses on the actor’s status and role in cultural contexts.  It is my conclusion that as this social movement encompasses so many persons who put different levels of importance on their statuses and roles that it would logically make sense that its support is divided.

A status is socially outlined and defines the “social relationships [of the actor] and entails certain rights and duties [he has] in relation to others (T.H Eriksen.1995).”  Linton (Gottfried Lang. 1956) defines roles as “the dynamic aspect of a status…When the [the actor] puts the rights and duties which constitute the status into effect he is performing a role.” Members of this movement come from all walks of life but one of the fundamental members is women: understandably so as termination of pregnancy has a direct impact on them physically. In places where anti-abortion is a social conflict, women share many of the same statuses.  A prominent status found in Pro Life is Motherhood and whether it is an achieved or ascribed status to the individual is a source of what causes the scattered support in Pro Life.  Whether culturally believed to be ascribed or achieved, the status of motherhood will determine the role a woman might play.

Like a player’s entrance, is motherhood ascribed, in that you cannot opt out when conception has happened? Or is it as a players exit in that motherhood is achieved and until a woman feels it is time to become a mother she can put it off? Although all activists in the movement value life, it is the definition of when does a person become a person that makes it difficult to form a concrete answer to the aforementioned questions.

The definition of one’s self is a cultural construct and in the cultural definition of life in this movement it is no exception. This definition is one of the fundamental causes for the diversity of opinions and with much passion has spanned the globe. As M. Jean Heriot (1996) has put “the nature of these social constructions [of a person] becomes readily apparent in the context of the abortion debates in American society because in these debates the nature of the self -what counts as a full-fledged human person and what does not- is the focus of an intensely contested cultural domain.”


Eriksen, T.H.

1995 Small Places, Large Issues. 3rd edition. Vered Amit and Jon p. Mitchell, eds. Pluto Press: New York.


Heriot, M. Jean

1996 Fetal Rights versus the Female Body: Contested Domains. Theme issue, “The

Social Production of Authoritative Knowledge in Pregnancy and Childbirth,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 10(2):176–194


Lang, Gottfried

1956 The Concepts of Status and Role In Anthropology: Their Definition and Use. The American Catholic Sociological Review 17 (3): 206-218.


Shakespeare, William

1997 As You Like It (1600) The Folger Library Shakespeare Edition. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine eds.

Washington Square Press: New York

The Use of Language

Language is a human universal. It is a symbolically based system one uses to create meaning and thereby accomplish a task. As a social construct language will provide “a significant source of knowledge about [a cultures] mode of thought (T.H Eriksen, 240).” As I have looked at journals, articles and papers on both Pro Life and Choice, the words and slogans chosen are strikingly contrast, and understandably so. I have read many times the word ‘Fetus’ or ‘Embryo’ in literature discussing and encouraging Pro Choice. ‘Baby’ and ‘Child’ are constantly used in regards to Pro Life. So why not use one word for the tiny growing body of cells in a woman’s womb? Well that’s just a matter of Semantics right?  Wrong.

Within my home the word baby and child means something different than it would to another due to my cultural practices and experiences I relate to that word. With reference to the photo above, I squirm a bit inside. My own meaning of the word baby encompasses such things as 1. Watching a sister hurt as she finds her and her husband cannot have one, 2. Little warm and soft nieces and nephews I got to hold for the first time, and 3. Eskimos kisses and small voices saying ‘I love you’.  Looking at that sign, my mind screams “Yeah! Stop killing those wonderful little human beings who can bring so much joy! (Albeit a few stinky surprises as well)!” That one word sways me to think that my support in that social movement will protect those meanings I associate with the word.

Murder is also another word used to antagonize the legalization of abortion.  It can be defined in our society as “This word has common associates with the idea that it is against human nature and we often hear it associated with the term ‘cold blooded,’ denoting that is less human in our minds (Oxford. 2001). Pro Life has utilized this word as a direct reinforcement of their cultural belief that a from conception that growing mass of cells in a human being who deserves the right to live no matter the external circumstances that surround his creation or eventual birth into the world. Murders antonyms would be along the lines of save, protect and preserve which are the fundamental cultural beliefs this movement is embracing on behalf of the unborn children.

I’m a student in the sciences, and in particular, genetics and immunology. Fetus and embryo are words we use to describe the larger system that contains the genetic processes analyzed. My experiences and feelings towards words such as fetus and embryo are contrast to those in the Pro Life movement slogans. The feeling of dispensability and animal like are some of the first thoughts to come into my mind. I was taught culturally as a genetic student that this is acceptable and necessary as it will help us better understand the education of the body. Generally the embryos or fetus’ I work with and learn examples of come from animal sources and are then applied to human models. The word choice of the Pro Choice movement I feel approves the idea of “human personhood and right to life of the fetus and yet still conclude that a woman may legitimately choose to abort since her rights take over those of the fetus (Murphy.1985).”


Eriksen, T.H.

1995 Small Places, Large Issues. 3rd edition. Vered Amit and Jon p. Mitchell, eds.

Pluto Press: New York.


Murphy, Timothy F.

1985 The Moral significance of Spontaneous Abortion. Journal or Medical Ethics 11

(2): 79-83


Oxford University Press

2001 The Oxford Companion to the Body. Colin Blakemore and Sheila Jennett eds.

Oxford University: New York, USA



‘Stop Killing Babies’

‘Abortion is Murder’

‘Hos Before Embryos’

Pro Life Movement, seemingly divided.

Ok cool, you’re reading this! I promise not to bore you to tears! In all honesty this is kind of an exciting topic and it can only be made boring by this kid if I don’t do it justice.

First off, this is a research and analysis project for an anthropology class at the University of Alberta. I pick a social movement, dive in and analyse some of its unique cultural characteristics. It’s my hope that as I do so I can answer what is it specifically that causes the multiple standpoints on the issue of abortion. I ask this as it seems this movement contradicts some of its necessary characteristics such as solidarity and shared beliefs. We will come to understand why there are many divisions of opinions caused in a large part by use of language and its cultural meanings, statuses and roles of women among Pro-Life activists, gender responsibilities of woman in this movement and the ideas of society and social life.

So are you kind of blurry on what a Social Movement is? I was, so let’s clear this up a bit. Common characteristics of a social movement include: Informal networks of people, based on shared beliefs and solidarity, mobilizes around issues of conflict, and uses forms of protest and has the intention to change something that is the status quo (Porta and Diani 1999:16). And it is important to note that a protest is not a social movement but an isolated event or an occurrence because of a movement.

It’s going to be an interesting social movement for myself as I won’t have an objective opinion. I was raised in a religious home, continue to be an active member of that religion and I whole heartily stand by the ideas of Pro-Life, as I understand them thus far. Perhaps this might change as I do my research.  I promise to try and give a good amount of reflexivity on my part. I don’t intend nor desire to color my report with an unnecessary bias.


Ok so an introduction to Pro-Life! It’s a fairly recent social movement emerging in the late 1960’s, and has circled the globe from the North Americas, Ireland, India to Australia.  Pro-Life consists of a central idea that the government is to take ultimate control in the protection of all human life regardless of quality of life, viability, and intent. This not only encompasses the main intent of anti-abortion but also assisted suicide, the death penalty, and war (Munson 2008). It’s opposing movement is Pro Choice which emphasis’s a woman has a legal right to terminate her pregnancy and fight for reproductive freedom. In between these two poles is a grey area with a plethora of diverse opinions.

I wish only to focus on the main intent of the movement being anti-abortion and the variability of attitudes towards it. These attitudes, at first thought, can be  due to the differences in  a woman’s circumstances, “what if’s”, and most importantly the definition of a human being. All of which are culturally based. An additional cultural factor is the attitudes of pregnancy found around the world. Barbara Hewson illustrates this by saying that “attitudes to pregnancy are…inextricably bound up with how society views sex, woman, and fertile woman in particular (pg 10).”

I hope that as you continue to read you will be pleasantly surprised at the notion that analyzing a culture doesn’t require one to travel off to distant lands as it happened in the beginnings of anthropology. You can just walk right outside into your community and be surrounded by the exotic and strange ways of life you live. The culture in which we embrace is no less strange to the BaMbuti of the African continent than theirs is to us.


Hewson, Barbara

2001 Reproductive autonomy and the ethics of abortion.  Supplement Article, Journal of Medical Ethics

27: 10-14


Munson, Ziad W.

2008 The Making of Pro-life Activists: How Social Movement Mobilization Works. The University of

Chicago Press: Chicago Illinois USA.


Porta, Donatella della and  Mario Danini

1999 Social Movements An Introduction. Second Edition. Blackwell Publishing: Malden,

Massachusetts USA