Plastic Bodies

Sex Hormones and Menstrual Suppression in Brazil

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 12 photographs Published: April 2016

Author: Emilia Sanabria

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Brazil, Science and Technology Studies > Feminist Science Studies

In Plastic Bodies Emilia Sanabria examines how sex hormones are enrolled to create, mold, and discipline social relations and subjectivities. She shows how hormones have become central to contemporary understandings of the body, class, gender, sex, personhood, modernity, and Brazilian national identity. Through interviews with women and doctors; observations in clinics, research centers and pharmacies; and analyses of contraceptive marketing, Sanabria traces the genealogy of menstrual suppression, from its use in population control strategies in the global South to its remarketing as a practice of pharmaceutical self-enhancement couched in neoliberal notions of choice. She links the widespread practice of menstrual suppression and other related elective medical interventions to Bahian views of the body as a malleable object that requires constant work. Given this bodily plasticity, and its potentially limitless character, the book considers ways to assess the values attributed to bodily interventions. Plastic Bodies will be of interest to all those working in medical anthropology, gender studies, and sexual and reproductive health.


"Emilia Sanabria’s Plastic Bodies is a captivating book and a much needed study on perceptions on menstruation and associated biomedical practices. . . . Plastic Bodies is a pleasure to read; it is beautifully written and has a style that at times merges with the genre of travel writing enabling readers to accompany Sanabria to Salvador de Bahia where she conducted her fieldwork."
  — Ángela Lavilla Cañedo, Centre for Medical Humanities

"Clearly written and engaging, Plastic Bodies will make an excellent addition to both graduate and undergraduate reading lists, in particular in courses on the anthropology of the body, reproduction, and science and technology studies. It will also be of interest to those who teach courses on Brazil and the Brazilian Northeast region." — K. Eliza Williamson, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"Plastic Bodies is a timely and exhilarating project that contributes to a constellation of emergent, multidisciplinary, feminist scholarship about bodies, hormones, biopolitics, and materiality." — E. Hella Tsaconas, Feminist Formations

"Rich in ethnographic detail and rigorous in interpretation, Plastic Bodies is a deeply researched, complex, and innovative exploration of an important topic.... [T]his book is a fascinating analysis of gender, the medicalization of the body, and the socialization of biochemistry that has wide applicability across disciplines." — Okezi T. Otovo, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

"Plastic Bodies powerfully convinces us that Bahians do not conceive of their bodies as a given, already constituted thing." — Elena Calvo-González, Somatosphere

"Sanabria’s work is innovative and inventive, responding to the impacts of neomaterialism, feminist studies of science and the “ontological turn” in anthropology. Instead of taking the bodies’ frontiers for granted, Sanabria prefers to focus on the very process of their making. This is a great contribution to contemporary studies of the body." — Daniela Tonelli Manica, Somatosphere

"Plastic Bodies is an extraordinary monograph, produced from a decade of careful engagement with techniques of place-making, othering, and ethnographic theory. Anthropology at its very best, this is work that makes evident the plasticity of the binary. Through gripping stories of the self in the other, the here in the there, nature in artifice, and the beauty in mess, readers come to understand that binaries are always socially made." — Emily Yates-Doerr, Somatosphere

"A highly readable and sophisticated ethnography, Plastic Bodies will appeal to scholars in the fields of Brazilian studies, women and gender studies, global health, science and technology studies, and pharmaceutical anthropology." — José Amador, The Latin Americanist

"Sanabria has produced a subtle, well-researched and beautifully written book that could be used in graduate and advanced undergraduate courses in Science and Technology Studies, Latin American Studies, the Sociology or Anthropology of Health and Medicine and the Globalization of Sexuality and Gender." — Rafael de la Dehesa, International Feminist Journal of Politics

"Plastic Bodies is nuanced and richly detailed. . . . It delivers everything it promises." — Andrea Ford, Medicine Anthropology Theory

"Convincingly argued and engaging, Plastic Bodies is an ethnography that would work well in a variety of both undergraduate and graduate courses in anthropology, exploring reproduction, medicine, the body, gender, science and technology studies, health policies and inequalities, or in courses focusing on Latin America or Brazil specifically." — Karolina Kuberska, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Read this book and you’ll never think about hormones the same way again.  Emilia Sanabria takes us into the Brave New World of Brazilian gynecology, where experimental contraceptives (sometimes containing testosterone) are taken to suppress menstruation, improve body shape, 'give fire,' or manage relationships.  Plastic Bodies is a fascinating account of how hormones came to have multiple forms and uses in Brazil.  A beautifully written ethnography, it is also an intimate portrait of women’s experiences of these pharmaceuticals." — Alexander Edmonds, author of Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex, and Plastic Surgery in Brazil

"This book belongs to a new generation of ethnographies that are reinventing our conceptions of gender, health, embodiment, and medicine. In her lucid exposition of hormonal practices in Bahia, Emilia Sanabria both introduces us to a new form of biological control and challenges existing models of self, agency, and matter. By meticulously charting the relative biologies of her informants, she persuasively argues that their plastic bodies are also ours." — Sarah Franklin, author of Biological Relatives: IVF, Stem Cells, and the Future of Kinship


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Emilia Sanabria is Maîtresse de conferences in Social Anthropology at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction. Plastic Bodies  1

1. Managing the Inside, Out: Menstrual Blood and Bodily Dys-Appearance  43

2. Is Menstruation Natural? Contemporary Rationales of Menstrual Management  71

3. Sexing Hormones  105

4. Hormonal Biopolitics: From Population Control to Self-Control  129

5. Sex Hormones: Making Drugs, Forging Efficacies  159

Conclusion. Limits That Do Not Foreclose  187

Notes  207

References  223

Index  241
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Honorable Mention, Diana Forsythe Prize for feminist anthropological research on work, science, or technology by the General Anthropology Division (GAD), CASTAC, and SAW of the American Anthropological Association.

Winner, 2017 Michelle Z. Rosaldo First Book Prize, presented by the Association for Feminist Anthropology section of the American Anthropological Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6161-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6142-8
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