This research project is aimed at representations and practices of birth. Taking research conducted in historical and pedagogical anthropology as a background, the project will use qualitative methods to reconstruct images, ideals, ideologies, expectations, and practices of birth and birthing. The starting point is the hypothesis that is to be examined: that the practice of birthing is subject to two mutually antagonistic processes. The first of them is characterized by the fact that the male-dominated field of medicine has assumed responsibility for the practices surrounding birth, which are primarily implemented by women, a development that can be seen as an expropriation of birth and birthing. The main feature of the other process is that in counterpoint to the technologically oriented birth practices established in medicine, people are again turning (or returning) to “natural” practices such as home births, and that this development can be viewed as a (re-)feminization of birth and birthing. Both dynamics are of central importance to the representations and practices surrounding birth. The act of a child’s emergence into the world is overlaid with images and expectations arising from development and social structuring. In our representations of birth, images of nature and biology overlap with those of culture and technology. These images include representations of our origins, of beginnings, of freedom and newness as well as expectations regarding the cutting of some bonds and formation of others and regarding the generative process. Research into the representations of birth also enables reconstruction of the differences between these representations and the practices (medical, technical, educational, political, social) surrounding birth and birthing. To be able to describe and analyze representations and practices of birth, the project applies qualitative methods including interviews, group discussions, image and video interpretation, and participatory observations in the areas of the family and birthing institutions. In conjunction with this, the project will also analyze the representations of birth as portrayed in television entertainment.
The project will examine four theses:
1. As part of the human condition, the process of birth creates historically and culturally inflected representations of birth and the practices associated with it.
2. Research into the representations of birth, the teaching activity involved in these representations, and the generation and modification of these representations through actual practices makes an important contribution to the field of education studies and to the education-related activities involved in it.
3. The representations of birth express important aspects of the relationship between parents and children.
4. The relationship between institutionally framed medical practices and the actual behavior of parents and children – for example with respect to practicing rituals of infant care, nursing, or physical therapy for birth-related adverse consequences suffered by the child – should also be understood as a field of behavior with an educational aspect, and one that calls for greater consideration within education studies as well.