Social Theory & Health

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 299–318

Utopian Theory and the Discourse of Natural Birth

  • Julia Frost
  • Catherine Pope
  • Rachel Liebling
  • Deirdre Murphy
Original Article

DOI: 10.1057/palgrave.sth.8700076

Cite this article as:
Frost, J., Pope, C., Liebling, R. et al. Soc Theory Health (2006) 4: 299. doi:10.1057/palgrave.sth.8700076


This paper examines the endurance of an idealized version of birth – the natural (intervention free) birth – and the tensions between the discourse surrounding natural birth and the experiences of women who had operative deliveries (surgically assisted hospital births). The paper uses utopian theory to explore the discourse of natural birth. It draws on empirical research with 27 women who had experienced operative delivery. Interviews with these women highlight the contested and problematic nature of the natural birth discourse. While these women desire and support the idea of natural birth their own experience is of a range of medical and surgical interventions – an experience that was, for many of these women, difficult to reconcile. Notwithstanding this experience many of the women maintain a strong commitment to the natural birth ideal, indicating its enduring power. Rather than employing a traditional utopian approach ourselves (one that dictates the form and content of a possible future), we employ a more recent approach, drawing on the work of Levitas and Sargisson, and Foucault's notion of heterotopia, which has the potential to encompass and facilitate a range of possible birth experiences.


childbirthmaternity careoperative deliverywomen's experience of birthutopia

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Frost
    • 1
  • Catherine Pope
    • 2
  • Rachel Liebling
    • 3
  • Deirdre Murphy
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Nursing and Community Studies, University of PlymouthDrake CircusUK
  2. 2.School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of SouthamptonHighfieldUK
  3. 3.St Michael's HospitalBristolUK
  4. 4.St James's Hospital, Trinity CollegeDublinIreland