Whitney Arey Wins the Marie J. Langlois Dissertation Prize

April 7, 2021

Whitney AreyWhitney AreyThe Pembroke Center is pleased to announce that Dr. Whitney Arey, who just completed her PhD in the Department of Anthropology at Brown, has won the Marie J. Langlois Dissertation Prize for “Abortion as Care: Affective and Biosocial Experiences of Abortion Access and Decision-Making.”  The Langlois Prize recognizes an outstanding dissertation in areas related to gender studies or feminist analysis, and confers a $1000 honorarium.

The dissertation, which is based on 18 months of ethnographic field research that Arey conducted in and around two abortion clinics in her home state of North Carolina, considers how the politicized space of the abortion clinic makes possible novel forms of care.

Describing her work, Arey says, “I argue that this politicization makes the formation of temporary biosocial relationships with strangers possible. I explore the role that family, friends, partners, healthcare workers, and anti-abortion protesters play in abortion access. I show how patients’ already constrained access abortion care is made possible by, and sometimes made more difficult by, their relationships with others.”

Arey conducted her ethnographic research during a time when North Carolina and a number of other states were passing numerous laws to restrict abortion access. Daniel Jordan Smith, professor of anthropology, Charles C. Tillinghast ’32 Professor of International Studies, and Arey’s dissertation advisor, described the dissertation as grounded in empirical observation and informed by cutting-edge theory. She created “a contextually-grounded account and a nuanced understanding of an issue about which conventional narratives provide simplistic, black-and-white interpretations,” Smith said.

Katherine A. Mason, Vartan Gregorian Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Brown and Arey’s mentor, concurred: “Whitney’s dissertation is a transformative account of abortion in the US that gets away from tired conversations about personal choice and personal responsibility, and instead shows us how abortion decisions, procedures, and recovery – as well as the meaning that people make of these experiences – are the results of complex negotiations between the pregnant person and a number of other parties.”

Arey, who is a 2020-21 Interdisciplinary Fellow at the Pembroke Center and was the head teaching assistant for the Gender and Sexuality Studies program course “Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies,” charted new territory by attending to the conversations that women considering an early, routine abortion have with their partners and with other family members and friends as they make the decision about whether to have an abortion or not, according to Smith, and her dissertation promises to make significant contributions to scholarship on the anthropology of reproduction, the anthropology of bioethics, and to broader humanistic studies of gender, ethics, kinship, and violence.