Sociology and Anthropology Seminar Series
Thursday, 29th, April, Cultural Collections Reading Room, Auchmuty Library, 3:00-4:30pm
New midwifery and professionalization: prospects for change in Australia.
Dr Ann Taylor, BA (Hons.) PhD Sociology
School of Humanities and Social Science.
The issue of the professional identity and power of midwifery is of interest, not only because it is topical in Australia at a time of health reform under the Rudd Labour government, but because it addresses a central concern of the sociology of health and illness, which is the extent to which the dominance of the medical profession is being diminished by challenges from governmental regulation, the professionalising projects of other health occupations or by consumer demand for choice. Apart from its intrinsic interest and importance to childbearing women and to those who work in it, midwifery provides a series of interesting case studies for examining changes in professional power both because of its relationship to medicine and because it is highly gendered. The variety of legislative arrangements and levels of professional status of midwives across national boundaries provides a series of ‘natural experiments’ for the discussion of issues of professional power and social change. This presentation will outline the extent to which midwifery has been dominated, limited or excluded by legislation which grants monopoly power to medicine in various countries. It will examine changes in childbirth practice which are bringing about a discourse of ‘new midwifery’ and the tensions which arise in response to this. It will then focus on developments in Australia based on an analysis of the submissions to the 2009 Commonwealth Review of Maternity Services. The theoretical basis of the sociological literature on professions is broadly Weberian in that it defines professions as ‘monopolistic bodies seeking to regulate market conditions in their favour in face of competition from outsiders'(Saks, 1994). While this approach has been productive, it has been suggested that there is scope to examine the ways in which the identity and practice of midwifery is constructed in discourse. A debate about whether ‘profession’ is the relevant model for the highly gendered challenge from midwifery has been more recently altered to a discussion of the extent to which ‘profession’ itself is a multiple and shifting concept.