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Soc Sci Med. 2016 Aug;162:177-84. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.06.021. Epub 2016 Jun 15.

Mothercraft: Birth work and the making of neoliberal mothers.

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University of Illinois Chicago, Department of Sociology, 1007 West Harrison Street (MC 312), Chicago, IL 60607-7140, USA. Electronic address:


The literature on neoliberal health governance explores how macro-economic neoliberal policies as well as individual attitudes and behaviors reflect an increasingly individualized construction of health and citizens' responsibility over it. This study contributes to this literature and expands it in important ways. Drawing on qualitative interviews from 22 midwives and birth workers (doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants) practicing in the US, this study explores how midwives and birth workers act as "experts of conduct" who promote certain neoliberal values in their logics of care and interactions with clientele. The findings reveal that midwives and birth workers promote a form of maternal neoliberal health governance by: 1) making distinctions between their clientele that signal differences in health competence and resources, 2) encouraging autonomy and responsibility over birth experiences, and 3) promoting an empowerment discourse that hinges implicitly on an exclusionary consumer choice rhetoric. Midwives and birth workers are crucially implicated in shaping maternal subjectivities through pedagogical interactions I refer to as "mothercraft." This study illustrates how the promotion of certain health identities by experts further stratifies patient populations, exacerbating differences between women based on their socioeconomic status, racial-ethnic, and cultural positions.


Birth work; Experts of conduct; Health care disparities; Midwifery; Mothercraft; Neoliberal health governance; United States

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