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An Australian history of the subordination of midwifery

By Kathleen Fahy


This paper analyses the history of the subordination of midwifery to medicine and nursing. With the important exception of Evan Willis’ work on medical dominance and Annette Summers’ work on the takeover of midwifery by nursing, other histories of Australian midwifery have taken a neutral approach to issue of power and control. The aim of analysing this period is to identify the strategies of power that were used to subordinate midwifery. With increased consciousness of how power has operated in the past, midwives and woman of today can be more empowered when seeking to promote normal birth and midwifery models of care. Concepts of ‘power’, ‘the state’ and midwife are defined and discussed. A summary of the decline of midwifery and the rise of obstetrics in Europe and the United Kingdom (UK) gives a background against which to understand the Australian experience. The historical account given here draws to a climax by focussing on the period 1886–1928. It was during this time that medicine forged an alliance with nursing and achieved both legal and disciplinary control of midwifery. Knowing how this was done is important because it helps us to recognise the power strategies that are currently being used by medicine. This is helpful when planning how these strategies might be matched or countered by contemporary woman and midwives when seeking to promote normal birth and midwifery models of care

Topics: History, power, sociology, nursing, midwifery, politics, Maternal, Child Health and Neonatal Nursing, Medicine and Health Sciences, Nursing, Nursing Midwifery
Publisher: ePublications@SCU
Year: 2007
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Provided by: ePublications@SCU
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