What disasters can reveal about techno-medical birth: Japanese women’s stories of childbirth during the 11 March, 2011 earthquake

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Social researchers of childbirth have argued that techno-medical routines of managing childbirth risk are underpinned by worst case scenarios involving disastrous deliveries, with catastrophic consequences for maternal and neonatal health and life. This article looks into childbirth stories that ended safely amidst serious ruptures in techno-medical surveillance. We draw on the childbirth stories of women who gave birth during the 11 March 2011 disasters recorded by the first author in February 2016 and on an array of childbirth stories published in a journalistic book in 2012. The stories reveal the navigations of women and care providers between two different types of risks: risks associated with birth in the techno-medicalised model of care and risks associated with earthquakes. Underlying the safety management imperatives of each are divergent space and time lines. Significantly, the techno-medical surveillance of risk associated with childbirth proved to be secondary to the earthquake risk. Rather than high technologies, it was low-tech necessities and human care that proved crucial for the management of safe births. Though women interpreted the safe conclusion of their birth as miracle, their stories suggest that childbirth, especially when attended by skilled birth attendants, can take place relatively safely, even in the direst of conditions. Accounts of childbirth in the midst of disasters offer evidence and important insights in developing a critique of technological birth in the social scientific and midwifery literature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-184
Number of pages21
JournalHealth, Risk and Society
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • childbirth
  • disaster culture
  • hierarchy of risks
  • space-time
  • techno-medicalisation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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