Seminar - A Comprehensive Theorisation of Obstetric Violence by Jessica Rucell



While human reproduction is a social process, maternity and childbirth are carried out by women. Thus discourses on, and analysis of reproduction often narrate this process as solely concerning women, or women and their foetuses, or newborns. This perception, while maintaining an essential focus on women’s role –and accordingly rights to control their bodies and capacity to reproduce– neglects a key aspect of this process. Namely, that human reproduction is a social process. In other words, this approach removes women and reproduction from the inherently social and kin context of reproduction, and furthermore it erases the social meanings of reproduction. I argue such narrow thinking has had consequences for the theorisation of, and meanings attributed to forms of violence facing women in maternity (and their foetus’ or newborns). In 2014 the World Health Organization singled out the global problem of violence against women who are in maternity by healthcare systems. This paper critiques and expands on the nascent theorisation of this violence against women. Particularly, I develop the term ‘obstetric violence,’ a notion used as a legal concept and theoretical tool to describe this type of violence. To date theorisations of obstetric violence have concentrated on the direct forms that it often takes, namely: physical, psychological, and medical violence in health facilities effecting individuals, and specific communities who are discriminated against because of their race, economic and disease statuses, amongst other characteristics. My analysis based on an extensive qualitative study of obstetric violence in public health services in South Africa, and literature reviews of existing theorisations aimed at analysing reproductive injustices. Taking the social context and meaning of reproduction seriously, I demonstrate obstetric violence is a particular form of violence against women which has taken both direct and structural forms. I argue obstetric violence is particular in at least four ways it: endangers a pregnant woman as well as her foetus or newborn; it often has a direct impact on her kin; it can impact entire groups; and is carried out by health institutions and or policy.

Date: Monday, 9 October 2017 
Time: 13h00-14h00
Venue: Sociology Seminar Room, Leslie Social Sciences Building (Upper Campus), Room 4.51