Managing Natural Reproduction

Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, University of California, Berkeley

This paper analyzes how the concepts of "natural fertility" and "natural childbirth" incorporate human intention and intentional action. The paper first demonstrates that natural fertility treats nature as antithetical to intentional action, whereas natural childbirth requires maximally conscious decision-making to manage and maintain the "naturalness" of reproduction. The paper then argues that these different stances toward intentional action in the domain of reproduction arise out of a single, coherent view of nature and culture: the natural underlies and predates the cultural; it is what is left when social or technological innovations are stripped away. What differs between the representations of natural reproduction is the relationship between human intentional action and culture: for Coale, Henry, and their followers, intentional intervention in reproduction signaled the onset of culture; for Dick-Read, Kitzinger, and Bradley, by contrast, intentional management of the birth process could prevent technological intervention, recapturing nature in the midst of culture.

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Presented in Session 81: Desire, Intention and Behavior in Fertility and Reproductive Health