Title: When art and science collide: towards a political philosophy of humanised birth
Speaker: Elizabeth Newnham
Facilitator: Red Miller
In this presentation I draw together the various threads of my work to propose a political philosophy of birth space and practice. I first examine how the ‘science’ (of knowledge production) affects the ‘art’ (of midwifery practice) using the example of epidural analgesia, water immersion and constructions of ‘safety’ in obstetric discourse. From this, I introduce the conceptual framework of the ‘institutional paradox’ – the framing of particular practices as safe or risky, the effects of ‘institutional momentum’, and the precarious positioning of midwives as ‘guardians of normal’ within a system that views birth as, at best, risky, at worst, pathological. I then show how the influence of this institutional paradox leads to a form of rhetorical informed consent that enables dehumanising birth practices, before using the lens of care ethics to turn to the work of humanising birth, with a focus on relationality and the concept of attentiveness.