The Birthplace

  • Barbara Katz Rothman
  • Wendy Simonds


The location of birth is one of the hotly contested issues of contemporary motherhood. From the earliest academic studies about pregnancy and birth, particularly the feminist analyses offered by Nancy Stoller Shaw in Forced Labor (1974), Barbara Katz Rothman in In Labor: Women and Power in the Birth Place (1982, 1991), and Emily Martin in The Woman in the Body (1987, 2001) through the classic cross-cultural work of Brigitte Jordan, Birth in Four Cultures (1983, 1993) and the more recent work of Robbie Davis Floyd (1992, 2003), to ongoing work such as ours1 (Simonds, Rothman and Meltzer, forthcoming) we have now a richly developing sociology and anthropology of birth. Some of us have looked at the sociology of knowledge: how do we know what we know, and who has the power and authority to know. Some of us have looked at the inter-personal relations in childbirth. Some have looked at the inter-professional relationships, between midwives and obstetricians; between the various “types” of midwives themselves; and, as Bari Meltzer is currently doing,2 between the newest birth occupation, the doulas and these other players. Much of the discussion about birth focuses on practices: epidurals, inductions, episiotomies, fetal monitoring, cesarean sections. But practices are located in space. It is this dimension, the place of birth, that we focus on in this chapter.


Home Birth Hospital Birth Birth Experience Birth Center Birth Place 
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  1. 1.
    Nancy Stoller Shaw, Forced Labor: Maternity Care in the United States (New York: Pergamon Press, 1974);Google Scholar
  2. Barbara Katz Rothman, In Labor: Women and Power in the Birth Place (New York: Norton, 1982; 1991);Google Scholar
  3. Emily Martin, The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987; 2001);Google Scholar
  4. Brigitte Jordan, Birth in Four Cultures: Yucatan, Holland, Sweden, and the United States, 2nd ed. (1983; Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1993);Google Scholar
  5. Robbie Davis Floyd, Birth: An American Rite of Passage, 2nd ed. (1992; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Wendy Simonds, Barbara Katz Rothman, and Bari Meltzer, Laboring On (New York: Routledge, forthcoming).Google Scholar
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    Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, “Foetal Images: The Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction,” in Reproductive Technologies, ed. Michelle Stanworth (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987), 57–80.Google Scholar
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    Compare, for instance, Henci Goer, and Rhonda Wheeler, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth (New York: Perigee, 1999);Google Scholar
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  12. Ole Olsen, “Meta-Analysis of the Safety of Home Birth,” Birth 24, no. 1 (Mar. 1997), 4–16; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Catherine Taylor, Giving Birth: A Journey into the World of Mothers andMidwives (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 228.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Sarah Hardy and Caroline Wiedmer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara Katz Rothman
  • Wendy Simonds

There are no affiliations available

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