• ethnography;
  • birth centre;
  • discourse;
  • nomadism;
  • care as gift


An ethnographic study of a free-standing birth centre uncovered a site of intense contestation. Two prominent childbirth discourses attempting to inscribe their orthodoxies on staff and women users encountered stern and persistent resistance. Using postmodern theory, this resistance is conceptualised as nomadic activity, as space is made at the margins of discourse for a difference and diversity to manifest. The relationship between discourse and women's agency is layered and non-linear as the presence of dissonant data indicates. The birth centre, however, actualises a number of contrasting ways of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ that appear to serve the interests of staff and women well. In particular, ‘nomadic’ midwifery practice and a ‘care as gift’ orientation challenges the biomedical model that defines the parameters of normal and the ‘vigil of care’ discourse that regulates the professional/patient relationship. Birth centres may encourage novel and eclectic ways of providing childbirth care.