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Hospital birth as ritual: Ethnographic reasoning

Observations about Robbie Davis-Floyd's, "The Rituals of Hospital Birth in America" (1994)

Let's discuss the use of scholarly sources in writing. Below, I want you to look at several statements. Don't just pay attention to their content. Instead, examine how well they express the reasons behind their ideas.

These are statements I have written based on my reading of Robbie Davis-Floyd's writing on hospital birth in the United States. In your view, which of these is the most effective use of empirical (real-world, factual, observable) evidence, and why? Which is the worst, and why?

  1. The process of giving birth in a hospital in the United States is a rite of passage because “ritual is a patterned, repetitive, and symbolic enactment of a cultural belief or value” (Davis-Floyd 1994, 324). Thus, hospital births in the US are rituals that move women into the new social status of mother.
  2. One interesting pattern in hospital births in the US was the emphasis on time measurement as a symbol of a good, healthy birth. For instance, doctors make sure that a woman's cervix is dilating on schedule, and, if it isn't, administration of the synthetic hormone Pitocin to speed up labor so that birth can take place within the required 26 hours (Davis-Floyd 1994, 328). This illustrates how hospital birth as a ritual uses the duration of labor into a sign of a “good” delivery.
  3. Davis-Floyd argues that US hospital births as rituals use symbols of medicine and professional expertise to express the idea that the body of the mother is only valuable as a source of life for the baby. Many of the people she interviewed describe how the hospital equipment and routines seemed to detach women from their own bodies and from the experience of birth itself. One woman even described how doctors and nurses focused on the monitors to which she was connected, as if the machine was giving birth and not her (Davis-Floyd 1994, 333).
  4. In her study of hospital births in the US, Davis-Floyd notes that many of medical routines of delivery are based on the metaphor of the woman's body as a machine. For example, one medical resident she interviewed said that it was “hard not to see it as an assembly line.” What this resident observes was that doctors are trained to see every birth as the same, and treat every delivery exactly the same way. I believe this demonstrates that the birth process, as a symbolic statement, represents the control of nature through science as a cultural ideal.


Davis-Floyd, Robbie E. 1994. “The Ritual of Hospital Birth in America.” In Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, edited by James Spradley, 323–40. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

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