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Learning to birth, mastering the social practice of birth: conceptualising birthing women as skilful and knowledgeable agents

Dagustun, Johanne (2017) Learning to birth, mastering the social practice of birth: conceptualising birthing women as skilful and knowledgeable agents. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

In this thesis, I draw inspiration from Bourdieu’s theory of practice to inform a conceptualisation of birthing women as skilful and knowledgeable agents. The study contributes to geographical knowledge about spaces of birth and about how these represent key sites of learning. Empirical data were collected in 2011/12 through in-depth semi-structured interviews with 26 women living in North-West England (involving 68 childbirth experiences). Two key themes emerged from the women’s narratives: the prevalence of trouble (and how this is accepted as ‘just the way things are’) and routine (and non-medically indicated) diversions from an undisturbed physiological birth process. This thesis argues that rather than representing a space in which women might learn to protect the physiological process of birth, successive experiences of birth seem to represent a space in which many women learn to shut down that possibility. Rather, they prioritise defensive action to protect themselves against emotional and physical harm, with some women learning that a physiological approach to birth is unnecessary, abnormal and dangerous. Whilst there is evidence that some women learn to birth physiologically over their childbearing careers by drawing on their experiential knowledge, the main finding is that being skilful and knowledgeable as a birthing woman frequently works in the opposite direction. The study thus offers new understandings of birthing women as skilful and knowledgeable agents and explores the diversity of women’s learning about birth by drawing a distinction between how women come to master the social practice of birth and how they learn to birth physiologically over their childbearing careers. For the wider academy, this study brings a renewed emphasis on the key role of childbearing women in the social practice of birth.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: birth, geography, women, skill, knowledge, learning, mastery, Bourdieu
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Environment (Leeds) > School of Geography (Leeds)
Depositing User: Ms Johanne Dagustun
Date Deposited: 24 Aug 2017 09:37
Last Modified: 24 Aug 2017 09:37
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/18031

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