Three decades of ethnographic and theoretical work on birthing systems have produced a substantial and empirically grounded anthropological literature. Case studies from North America, Europe, and societies of Asia, Africa, and Latin America have generated the material for anthropological analyses of multiple "ways of knowing" about birth. Anthropologists have begun to address not only the encounter between low- and high-technology birth systems, but also the diverse paradigms of maternity and birth held by different categories of women within heterogeneous societies (Browner & Sargent, 1996, p. 232). In addition, a scant but important literature explores the topic of men in relation to childbirth (e.g., Ebin, 1994; Romalis, 1981; Whiteford & Sharinus, 1988).
In spite of the global spread of biomedical obstetrics, a substantial body of research illustrates the continued viability of midwifery and low-technology birthing systems. Biomedicine has emerged as the dominant state-sponsored system worldwide; local midwives are often subordinated to government nurse-midwives and hospital births increasingly have supplanted home births. Nonetheless, local birthing systems have demonstrated remarkable resilience in contesting high-technology obstetrics (Daviss, 1997; Kaufert & O'Neil, 1993). While much of the anthropology of birth has worked to validate midwifery and low-technology birthing systems, the risk of an anthropological romanticizing of traditional childbirth has also been identified (Rozario, 1998). In the 1990s, influenced by postmodernism and feminism, the anthropology of birth has moved to include reflexive narratives that represent birth as a subjective experience, in addition to continuing empirical and theoretical investigations of birthing systems in relation to broader social structures and ideology.
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