Reproductive Borderwork: Feminist Approaches to the Anthropology of the State

A conversation with Dr. Eda Pepi, Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University.

Talk Abstract

Situated at the intersection of political anthropology and interdisciplinary studies of gender and migration, ongoing ethnographic projects in Jordan, Western Sahara, and the Canary Islands have helped Dr. Pepi theorize an analytical framework that she calls “reproductive borderwork.” Her talk introduces this framework by drawing primarily from her first monograph in progress on marriage, statelessness, and citizenship in Jordan. This research on social reproduction and dependent nationality in Jordan examines a specific iteration of what is ultimately a global movement—seen from India to the Dominican Republic and the US—to restrict citizenship by intervening into family life. Territorial borders have become impossible to police effectively, even as policies have grown more spectacular. Waves of Palestinian, Syrian, and Iraqi refugees have turned Jordan into the sixth largest refugee hosting country in the world. As a result, states like Jordan have turned to the family to regulate their borders in the interior of the nation. With noncitizens comprising more than a third of the population, Jordan polices its borders by regulating mixed-nationality marriages. The government calls upon women to perform the work of the state at home—to engage in what Dr. Pepi calls “reproductive borderwork,” which represents the political economic investment of a collectivity, like the state or a transnational diasporic network, in what is understood as merely biological processes of childbirth and reproduction. Dependent nationality forbids Jordanian women (but not men) from transferring their citizenship to the children they have with foreign spouses. Ultimately, it enables the Jordanian state to deny welfare to swaths of its citizenry by converting certain racialized groups of would-be citizen children into noncitizens. Reproductive borderwork helps us understand how states govern their populations when they are unable or unwilling to effectively police their territorial borders. The framework engages feminist anthropologists of kinship, who have argued that we must read across the cultural domains of kinship, economy, nation, and religion in “prohibited ways.” It helps us read across the cultural domains of kinship and the state by bringing feminist and Black Marxist scholarship on social reproduction together with the scholarship on borders, sovereignty, and biopolitics. This feminist approach highlights how political and economic problems around the world are increasingly managed through families, and in relation to existing inequality and global exclusion

More about Dr. Pepi

Eda Pepi is a sociocultural anthropologist of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. She is Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University, where she works at the intersections of feminist studies, political anthropology, and the anthropology of kinship. Her research and publications focus broadly on the cultural and historical processes through which gender, ethnicity, citizenship, sovereignty, and the state have been forged in contemporary MENA territories. Pepi is completing her first book, Marital States: The Reproductive Politics of UnCitizenship in Jordan, which explores how states manage political and economic problems, like statelessness, through families. This project examines ethnographically how Jordan polices its borders by regulating the marital and reproductive choices of Jordanian women, showing that our understandings of the state cannot stand separate from analyses of gender and kinship.

She is currently at work on a second book project, provisionally titled Grounds for Divorce: Gender and Transnational Kinship in Western Sahara. This multi-sited, multi-year ethnography asks how Sahrawi women and men negotiate new transnational domestic arrangements across different kinship regimes — from Western Sahara to Spain. Despite the widespread stigma against divorce across the world, the practice is celebrated in Sahrawi culture. Recognizing this longer tradition of celebrating divorce, Grounds for Divorce nevertheless explores the disciplinary aspects of multiple divorces across transnational regimes that alternate between pro-natalism in Western Sahara and “modernizing” expectations for small, nuclear families in Spain, the previous colonial power and a primary migration destination for Sahrawis.

After completing her undergraduate degree at Harvard University and working at the Social Science Research Council for several years, Pepi received her MA and her PhD from the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University.  Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the Fulbright Program, and the Yale Macmillan Center and the Program on Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Humanitarian Responses.

March 7, 2022
3:30 – 5 pm EST, Zoom
Admission: Free, with registration

Registration HERE

View the full spring schedule here.

Skip to toolbar