History of Medicine


An Open Access Journal

The history of childbirth as the subject of social and humanitarian studies in Russia*

DOI: 10.17720/2409-5834.v6.3.2019.04d

Natalia A. Mitsyuk1,
Natalya L. Pushkareva2,
Anna V. Belova3
28 Krupskoy St., Smolensk 214019, Russia
32a Leninsky ave., Moscow 119334, Russia
33 Zhelyabov St., Tver 170100, Russia

The purpose of this article is an interdisciplinary comparative historical analysis of historical, ethnographic and sociological studies of maternity culture in Russia between the 19th and 21st centuries. The topic was first announced in the 19th century in ethnographic and historical medical studies. An interdisciplinary framework was laid: ethnographers focused on studying the traditional maternity culture, and medical historians concentrated on the development of professional obstetrics. From the 1920s, the superiority of Soviet obstetrics was being substantiated in historical and medical works. During the 1960s and 1970s, demographic and sociological studies of birth rate based upon quantitative methods became relevant. A significant gap between domestic and Western historiography was observed in the 1970s. The topic received an impetus for the development under the new methodological situation of the 1990s. Ethnographers were proving the stability of folk obstetrics amongst the commoners. Social anthropologists turned to the study of the “labour rite” in the urban environment, putting forms of interaction between the doctor and the patient and the symbols of the birth and postnatal period, rather than “institutions”, at the centre of the study. Sociologists unearthed the costs of an etacratic (statist) gender order in the reproductive sphere, which led to women becoming dependent upon medical institutions, turning them from active participants in the process of childbirth into “fragile patients”. Gender historians examined the culture of childbirth through the influence of patriarchy, dependence and medicalisation, and actively introduced a qualitative methodology, which was based upon the study of women’s autobiographical texts. The development of the topic in accordance with new approaches and methodological trends was hampered by the rigid interdisciplinary framework, the conservatism of historical and medical works, the dominance of descriptive research and the lack of analytical work with vast generalisations.

Keywords: history of medicine, sociology of medicine, historiography оf parturtion, history of childbirth, history of obstetrics, maternity culture, medicalisation of childbirth

*The study was funded by a grant of the President of the Russian Federation for young Doctors of Science MD-3743.2018.6. “Formation and development of the institute of Maternity and Infancy in the history of Russia of the 17th-20th centuries”, and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (project “Women’s Social Memory as a Consolidating Potential of a Multi-Generation Family and Strengthening of Statehood and the Russian Nation (18th-21st centuries)”, No. 19-09-00191).


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