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Soc Sci Med. 1998 Oct;47(8):1067-76.

A ship upon a stormy sea: the medicalization of pregnancy.

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Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Linfield College, McMinnville, OR 97128, USA.


This is an empirical illustration of the role of biomedical rhetoric in the rise of medicine's cultural authority. Using the case of pregnancy in the United States I delineate how biomedical rhetoric was key in the historical process of medicalization. The first systematic attempt to introduce women to a medical interpretation of pregnancy was the public health campaign of the United States Children's Bureau in the early twentieth century. A cornerstone of the Children's Bureau campaign was its publication "Prenatal Care," first published in 1913 and distributed to well over twenty-two million women by the mid-thirties. Prenatal Care represents the biomedical interpretation of pregnancy as it was first introduced to women. Through an analysis of this document I demonstrate the discursive mechanisms through which biomedicine reconceptualized pregnancy as medically problematic rather than as experientially and organically demanding. Prenatal Care demonstrates the ways in which the "universal" claims of biomedicine can advance a particular class and racial/ethnic composite of woman.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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