Degree Name

Master of Arts (Hons.)


Department of History and Philosophy of Science


The first part of this thesis describes the historical evolution of the new obstetrics concentrating on the major changes that occurred in birth practice over the last two centuries. The recent debate concerning the new obstetrics centres on these major historical changes in birthing practices and is the subject of Parts II and III of this thesis. Part II provides a critical assessment of the debate, which is polarised around the issue of low/high technology, or the hospital/homebirth setting. The main protagonists of this debate are the medical establishment and the traditional back-to-nature homebirth movement; traditional feminist theories, while not directly addressing the new obstetrics in a high/low technology framework, can be positioned within the range of the debate. More recently the Women*s Health Movement and traditional feminist theories have introduced the issue of male dominance into the debate and it is this contribution to the controversy which is evaluated in Part III. None of the participants in the debate are able to provide an adequate understanding of the nature of technology and the social forces responsible for the institutional setting of birth practices. In conclusion this thesis details the nature of a modified socialist feminist theory capable of revealing the social, economic and political forces responsible for shaping the new obstetrics.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.