Mayblin, “Madness of Mothers”

June 13, 2012

Mayblin, Maya. 2012. The Madness of Mothers: Agape Love and the Maternal Myth in Northeast Brazil. American Anthropologist 114(2): 240-252.

Abstract: In Northeast Brazil, the question of whether motherhood predisposes a woman to love her children, and whether children can be socialized effectively even in the absence of love, is a source of debate. I explore how motherhood references different configurations of the essential nature of things by charting how concepts of mother love map onto the Christian concept of agape. The analogical link between mother love and agape, I argue, offers people a set of conceptual tools for reflecting on a range of problems emerging from contrasting ontologies implicit within local forms of Christianity. Problems include the nature of the human-divine relation, the concept of primal animation, and the profound imbalance of power that a creature-Creator relationship entails. Debates about motherhood can thus be understood in terms of “ontopraxis,” whereby social agents situate themselves in relation to shared ontological categories and negotiate ambiguous and even contradictory cosmological schemes.

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