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Bodies of risk: Constructing motherhood in a Mexican public hospital


  • Smith-Oka, Vania


This article addresses the connection between risk and motherhood at an urban obstetrics hospital in Mexico. It primarily aims to explore the ways that clinicians define risk as well as how they conflate risk with bad motherhood. It discusses how clinicians' perceptions of their patients' social lives shape their interactions and decisions about the women's health. The study was based on interviews and participant observation in June 2008 and June–July 2011 with 71 obstetrical patients, 30 physicians, 9 nurses, and 12 midwives in the city of Puebla. Results show that birth itself was defined as a risky event, clinicians conflated social factors with biological factors in their management of risk, and the patients were a priori classified as bad mothers. This article proposes a reproductive habitus to explain the connection between health institutions, class, responsibility, blame, and clinical decision-making to analyze how risk is managed and blame enacted upon women's bodies.

Suggested Citation

  • Smith-Oka, Vania, 2012. "Bodies of risk: Constructing motherhood in a Mexican public hospital," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(12), pages 2275-2282.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:12:p:2275-2282
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.08.029

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Smith-Oka, Vania, 2009. "Unintended consequences: Exploring the tensions between development programs and indigenous women in Mexico in the context of reproductive health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(11), pages 2069-2077, June.
    2. Miller, Amy Chasteen & Shriver, Thomas E., 2012. "Women's childbirth preferences and practices in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(4), pages 709-716.
    3. Berry, Nicole S., 2006. "Kaqchikel midwives, home births, and emergency obstetric referrals in Guatemala: Contextualizing the choice to stay at home," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 62(8), pages 1958-1969, April.
    4. Brunson, Jan, 2010. "Confronting maternal mortality, controlling birth in Nepal: The gendered politics of receiving biomedical care at birth," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(10), pages 1719-1727, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Fleuriet, K. Jill & Sunil, T.S., 2015. "Reproductive habitus, psychosocial health, and birth weight variation in Mexican immigrant and Mexican American women in south Texas," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 138(C), pages 102-109.
    2. Smith-Oka, Vania, 2015. "Microaggressions and the reproduction of social inequalities in medical encounters in Mexico," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 143(C), pages 9-16.


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