The Authoritative Knowledge of Motherhood
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Childbirth culture in the twentieth century has been a growing area of study since the 1970s. In the 1980s, anthropologist Brigitte Jordan developed the concept authoritative knowledge while studying different cultures’ child birthing methods. This theory states that in a hierarchical situation, such as doctor-patient, some knowledge is legitimized while other knowledge is delegitimized. The combined interdisciplinary notions of authoritative knowledge, expertise, and autonomy are used to understand late twentieth century childbirth culture and add to the historiography of the history of knowledge. Using traditional historical sources and innovative methodologies, this thesis aims to answer the question: How did the distribution of authoritative knowledge between mothers and their practitioners change in the 1970s and 1990s in the United States? This thesis discovered that in the 1970s, authoritative knowledge was achieved by mothers outside the hospital delivery room by their consumer actions. However, once they were in the hospital, the doctor still had full authoritative knowledge. In the 1990s women were capable of seizing authoritative knowledge within the delivery room, but only if they gave a performance of expertise. The additional personnel in the delivery room, including the father and nurses, played a large role in the mother’s success or failure in establishing their authoritative knowledge.
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