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Challenging Medicine: Law, Resistance, and the Cultural Politics of Childbirth

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Whereas most sociolegal studies concerned with hegemony and resistance focus on the resistances of ordinary citizens in everyday life, this article focuses on the development of a particular social movement—the alternative birth movement—and analyzes the process by which this movement emerged and has achieved significant legislative victories. The analysis makes several contributions to the literatures on hegemony, resistance, and the law. First, by demonstrating the importance of medicine's assertion of its authority for the expansion and mobilization of the alternative birth movement, we show that the mobilization of the law by a dominant group may trigger the emergence of social movements seeking to resist hegemonic understandings and arrangements. At the same time, by examining how birth activists' organizational resources developed over time and were rendered meaningful in legislative debates, our study demonstrates the importance of avoiding dichotomous conceptions of structure and culture. In addition, by analyzing culture as a process of meaning-making rather than an independent and hierarchical set of values, the analysis shows how cultural and legal hegemony—even that of modern medicine—may be destabilized, even as it sets the terms of the effort to destabilize it and shapes the nature of the hegemony that will replace it.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology and the Law, Societies & Justice Program at the University of Washington 2: Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ohio University

Publication date: 2005-03-01

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