The geopolitics of birth

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25 Citations (Scopus)


Birth is usually depicted as a moment of celebration, of love and tenderness. The often sanitised image of birth, however, belies the ways in which birth spaces are spaces of acute geopolitical contestation. At the centre of this contested space is the birthing body. That body is a strange hybrid: it belongs in part to the woman who labours, the becoming-mother, and in part to the not-yet-child she is working to bring forth. In part it belongs to the labouring process, the flood of hormones and waves of contractions that carry a woman off to labour land. Or, it is a body that becomes subject to the tools and technologies of a medicalised birth. What the sanitised images of birth conceal is that a woman's birthing body is overdetermined by competing rationalisations of obstetricians and nurses, midwives and doulas, and her own hopes and expectations about the kind of birth she wants. Here the discursive and the material intermingle in the spaces of birth and in the moment in which both a new child, and his or her new mother, come into being in the world. In this paper I begin to map the networks of human and non-human actors that shape the space of birth and compete to govern the birthing body. Working with preliminary results from ethnographic research with mothers I argue that a closer examination of the intricacies of birth experiences reveals this as the site of an intimate geopolitics, where women's bodies are the territories contested through multiple and overlapping claims of diverse actants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-291
Number of pages7
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


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