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Towards an ‘optics of power’: technologies of surveillance and discipline and case-loading midwifery practice in New Zealand

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Midwives in New Zealand achieved professional autonomy in 1990 with an amendment to the Nurses Act 1977. Predicated on a natural approach to childbirth it was envisaged that midwifery would counter the trend of increasing medicalisation of childbirth. Some 20 years later, we continue to be concerned by increasing rates of intervention in childbirth including caesarean section operations. Midwifery practice is no longer supervised in a hierarchical arrangement with the obstetrician at its peak, however, we suggest that new and more subtle disciplinary mechanisms have come to the fore post-1990. Drawing on Foucault's concepts of the ‘medical gaze’ and the ‘panopticon’ we describe the ways in which midwifery practice (and through them the bodies of childbearing women) continues to be disciplined to conform to obstetric norms.
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Keywords: Foucault; autonomy; autonomía; childbirth; disciplina; discipline; medicalisation; medicalización; midwifery; partería; parto

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Professor of Midwifery, Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, ACT, 2601, Australia 2: Professor of Nursing (Applied Research), Australian Catholic University, St Vincent's Private Hospital, 406 Victoria Street Darlinghurst, NSW, 2010, Australia

Publication date: August 1, 2013

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