Placenta-Eating and the Epistemology of Ignorance


  • Cressida Heyes University of Alberta


Placentophagy, epistemology of ignorance, childbirth


This article argues that human postpartum placentophagy—eating one’s placenta—is an example of an epistemology of ignorance. Placentophagy has been stubbornly resistant to conventional scientific inquiry, but has nonetheless been the subject of considerable epistemic speculation based on very little evidence. To remain ignorant about placentophagy takes epistemic work. Tracing the form the epistemology of ignorance takes—disdain for female bodies, visceral disgust—this article argues that placentophagy deserves a more nuanced treatment as a practice that meets the under-served needs of women who fear postpartum depression and as a practice taking place in a context of the biomagnification of environmental pollutants.

Cet article affirme que la placentophagie après l’accouchement humain—manger son placenta—est un exemple d’une épistémologie de l’ignorance. La placentophagie a été obstinément résistante à une enquête scientifique conventionnelle, mais elle a néanmoins fait l’objet de spéculations épistémiques considérables, fondées sur très peu de données probantes. Rester ignorant au sujet de la placentophagie exige du travail épistémique. Retraçant la forme que prend l’épistémologie de l’ignorance—dédain pour le corps des femmes, dégoût viscéral—cet article soutient que la placentophagie mérite un traitement plus nuancé à titre de pratique répondant aux besoins souvent négligés des femmes qui craignent la dépression post-partum et à titre de pratique ayant lieu dans un contexte de bioamplification des polluants environnementaux.


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Author Biography

Cressida Heyes, University of Alberta

Cressida Heyes is Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality, and Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. She is the author of Self-Transformations: Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies (Oxford University Press, 2007), and, most recently, “Dead to the World: Rape, Unconsciousness, and Social Media” (Signs 41:2 [2016]).


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