Modern women or tree-hugging hippies? A Foucauldian discourse analysis of the New Zealand media's representation of waterbirth.

Ashcroft, Shelley
Payne, Debbie
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

This study has identified the discourses surrounding water birth and analyses how these discourses are utilised by the media in New Zealand to represent water birth. The philosophical approach that underpins the study is that of philosopher Michel Foucault and his theory on discourse, power and the subject. His framework is used in a discourse analysis to reveal three main discourses: the scientific medical discourse, the natural birth discourse and the dive reflex discourse. Data used for this study consisted of 30 newspaper articles containing the word 'water birth' collected over a five-year period (2000-2005) from New Zealand's eight main broadsheet newspapers. Analysis was a two-part process: Foucauldian discourse analysis and a media discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1995b).Firstly, the discourse analysis showed the subject and the power positions each discourse offered women for positioning themselves in that discourse. The literature and texts revealed Foucault's theory on power relations and resultant subjectivity within institutions and how waterbirth within institutions is disciplined, surveilled, excluded and circulated. The second part of the analysis revealed how the media chooses to deploy the three identified discourses that represent waterbirth in New Zealand. This textual analysis followed the framework of Fairclough's (1995b) media discourse analysis, showing media strategies that are used to promote the discourse deemed to be ideologically significant by the media outlet. Textual analysis identified that the scientific medical discourse contests waterbirth as an unsafe, unproven practice that puts babies' lives at risk. This discourse categorises women who choose waterbirth as unsafe, irrational, alternative, tree-hugging hippies who favour perceived benefits of waterbirth for themselves above the safety of their baby. The natural birth discourse contests that waterbirth is a safe practice that has encountered few problems since its emergence as a validated birthing practice in the late 1980s. It promotes waterbirth as having multiple benefits for both mother and baby and as a way of enhancing the physiological process of birth through non-intervention. The dive reflex discourse underpins the issue of babies drowning when born into water. This discourse details a reflex that suppresses the normal breathing mechanisms in neonates at birth. Literature debates its existence and troubles the overall trustworthiness of such a reflex to prevent a baby drowning when born into water. It is this discourse that sways people's views and positioning on the overall discourse of waterbirth.

Foucault , Discourse analysis , Water birth , New Zealand media , Newspapers , Ideologies
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