Get access

Caesarean section in the absence of need: a pathologising paradox for public health?


Jeanie Douché, Senior Lecturer and Director of Midwifery, School of Health and Social Services, Massey University, PO Box 756, Wellington 6140, New Zealand. E-mail:


DOUCHÉ J and CARRYER J. Nursing Inquiry 2011; 18: 143–153
Caesarean section in the absence of need: a pathologising paradox for public health?

This qualitative study explored the discourses constructing women’s choice for a caesarean section, in the absence of clinical indication. The research was informed from the theoretical ideas of poststructuralism that presumes people’s reality is shaped discursively through the discourses they encounter. A Foucauldian discourse analysis was undertaken of the transcripts of participant’s interviews and the texts of both professional and popular media before inductively discerning the prevailing discourses that influence the choice of caesarean in the absence of need. In shaping women’s choice in childbirth the discourses of autonomy, convenience and desire alongside fear and risk were identified in the talk and texts of women, childbirth professionals and popular culture. For the purposes of this article we have confined our focus to the findings related to how caesarean is represented in both professional and popular discourse and include feminist discussions around childbirth as an embodied practice. We contend that the discourses of autonomy, desire and risk unite with broader societal discourses to expose a pathologising paradox in which normal bodily performance emerges as abnormal and the abnormal as normal. The trend has implications for both future healthy populations and the equitable distribution of maternity resources.