Anthropology - Childbirth Historical Data

An anthropologist is a person who specializes in anthropology and who has completed extensive post-secondary education. Anthropology, by definition, is the study of humanity and past and present cultures. When most people think of anthropology, they have images of scientists finding exciting discoveries in archeological digs or working in museums. But the American Anthropological Society says that those who wish to pursue anthropology careers have wider job options available to them than this and are "particularly well suited [to work] in the 21st century" due to the way the workforce is becoming increasingly international and diverse.

Types of Anthropology Jobs

Anthropology is a type of social science study where all aspects of humankind are studied including behavior and cultural development. The American Anthropological Society says there are four primary fields: physical/biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, socio-cultural anthropology and archeology. Those who study these four primary fields can specialize in one or more geographic areas. A newer highly specialized field called forensic anthropology deals the application of the biological development of the human species in a legal setting, often in criminal cases where a human body has been found in advanced stages of decomposition.

Physical/biological anthropology is the study of the evolution of the human body. These types of anthropologists look for the origins of human life as well as analyze the relationship between culture and biology. Linguistic anthropology is the study of language affects various cultures. Archeology is the area of anthropology that receives the most exposure. It's the process of examining material evidence from past human cultures to determine the living customs of cultures of that culture or era of time. Archeologists recover and examine items such as tools, pottery or ruins of ancient buildings. Socio-cultural anthropology is the study of customs and cultures of groups both in our modern time and in other times in history. These types of anthropologists are more likely to study things like childbirth history and how it currently affects modern views of childbirth and methods of labor and delivery.

Anthropologists who study health- and reproductive-related issues in humans are also sometimes called medical anthropologists. The term was first used in 1963 to describe specialized anthropologists who studied the "social processes and cultural representations of health, illness, and the nursing/care practices associated with these."

Anthropology and Childbirth

One of the better known childbirth anthropologists is Brigitte Jordan. In what was considered her groundbreaking 1978 work of Birth in Four Cultures, Brigitte Jordan is credited with bringing childbirth and anthropology closer together with her cross-cultural examination of labor and delivery.

Jordan's focus was on more modern birthing techniques and attitudes in various cultures around the world, but what she discovered can also be applied to overall attitudes toward birthing throughout history.

Jordan describes a "top down system of authoritive knowledge about childbirth" where women appear to be devalued and are given "no authority of knowing." This describes childbirth history in the 1800s and the early to mid 1900s where birthing became more of the domain of doctors. Women didn't have much say in what was going on or even in what position they would labor. By the mid-1800s it became standard for women to labor and deliver on their backs with their knees up for the convenience of doctors. Traditionally a woman was allowed to move around and labor in the upright position. In the 1920s women were drugged as a way to provide relief from labor pain. They felt no pain, but the downside was that they had no choice in the matter and didn't remember any of the labor. This drugged labor pain relief became known as Twilight Sleep.

Jordan also describes "lateral systems" of childbirth where knowledge was shared between the woman and her (usually) female attendants. This describes more of the traditional method of giving birth that was practiced with midwives before having a baby became more of a scientific, medical procedure. It is still practiced in many cultures across the world today. Recently the lateral systems of childbirth have increased in popularity for women in developed countries as well.


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