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Abstract

Although much of the early sociological and feminist analysis of medicalization focused on reproductive issues and childbirth, attention has moved away from this topic over time as new conditions have become subject to the medicalization process. At the same time, one of the major concepts within this analytical framework, the dichotomy of ‘natural’ versus ‘medical’, has not been sufficiently problematized. In this article, we call for a renewed examination of the medicalization of childbirth from a critical perspective that neither takes for granted the meaning of this dichotomy, nor presupposes feminist perspectives or those of privileged groups of women. We revisit sociological frameworks and feminist critiques of medicalization, specifically around childbirth, and review scholarship that addresses their limitations. We propose a research agenda that goes beyond the traditional assumptions about ‘natural’ and ‘medical’ childbirth and examines more closely how medicalization processes both shape and conflict with women's subjective experiences of childbirth.