Anthropology Faculty Publications and Presentations

Childbirth and medical pluralism in multiethnic Mexico

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This chapter asks how intersecting birth models in Mexico might unfold on the physical and social body in disparate ways, depending on the geographical context, socioeconomic status, and education level of patients. I address the hybridization of birth attendant roles and medical pluralism with respect to birth practices. As different birth attendants engage in “traditional,” biomedical, and humanized birth models (each described in detail, below), at times, their “awkward engagement” (see Tsing 2005) has a profound impact on the health of women and newborn children. The contradictions produced by hybridization can be examined to reveal profound structural inequality in Mexico. Only through problematizing pluralism in birth practices in Mexico can we truly understand the challenges that continue to undermine gender equity, reproduce maternal mortality, and limit the development of effective and appropriate health care across ethnicity, space, and place. I examine the models and methods applied by different groups of birth attendants in Mexico—“traditional” and “professional” midwives (the terms “traditional” and “professional” will be problematized, below), obstetricians, and obstetric and perinatal nurses—to respond to the reproductive health care needs and preferences of Mexican women across ethnic groups, socioeconomic class, and geopolitical divisions. While studying the multiple struggles about gender, health, birth, human rights, and inequality in which these different groups engage, I avoid either/or types of analysis (see Montoya 2011). That is to say, I resist the temptation to condemn obstetricians and romanticize midwives, and vice versa. I am attentive to the ways medicalized birth, cesarean section, and technological interventions are desired and provide reassurance for some women. Also, it is possible that even the humanized birth movement can perpetuate certain forms of violence and discrimination


© Carocci. Original published version available at

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L'Uomo Società Tradizione Sviluppo