Socially reproducing South African cities through infrastructures of donor human milk

Authors: Carolyn Prouse*, Queen's University
Topics: Urban Geography, Gender, Economic Geography
Keywords: social reproduction; infrastructure; tissue economy; gendered labour; urban political ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In South Africa donor human milk banks have been collecting and redistributing breast milk since 2000. Yet it wasn’t until 2011 that the banks became key components of the public health establishment, when South Africa committed to promoting exclusive breastfeeding in order to fight the HIV/AIDS crisis. As a result, the donor tissue economy expanded. Inspired by recent work in urban political ecology, in this paper I think of donor human milk banks as socio-material infrastructures that facilitate the flow of milk. I ask: how do various governing logics, discourses, and technologies articulate to make this donor economy function and to make milk move? And how does considering these banks as infrastructure allow us to understand the centrality of gendered labour and bodily tissue in socially and biologically reproducing the city? To answer these questions I draw on global, national, and provincial policy with respect to human milk feeding, as well as on interviews conducted with leaders in human milk banking in three provinces in South Africa. I argue that milk flows through an infrastructure that is shaped by the articulation of numerous discourses and processual logics that include, but are not limited to, (bio)medicalization, formalization, secularization, capitalist patriarchy, racialization, and anti-colonial sentiment. Using this lens makes visible how social reproductive labour is being re-cast in conjuncturally-specific ways and, in so doing, is transforming the very socio-ecological reproduction of the city.

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