Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Kimber H. McKay

Commitee Members

Gilbert Quintero, Teresa Sobieszczyk


anthropology, home birth, interpretive, reproduction, risk


University of Montana


The purpose of this project was to use a social constructivist approach to understand the perception of risk by mothers making the choice to give birth at home in Missoula, Montana. Social constructivism assumes that knowledge about risk is filtered through “social and cultural frameworks of understanding” (Lupton and Tulloch 2002, 321). The information gained from participants in this study was interpreted as a representation of the individual’s culture, including their beliefs, values and upbringing, as well as the influences of the individual’s social network which can include family members, spouses, friends, and community members. Various phenomena, elements or constructs in society are viewed as realities by social groups whether they exist as reality or not. Social constructs in the United States create a reality around the normalcy of hospital birth and tend to paint a picture of home birth mothers as “risk takers” (Craven 2005) (Davis-Floyd 1992). However, in developing this study, I predicted that home birth mothers would construct a different type of reality around risk in order to explain their decision to have a home birth. By examining the interpretive repertoires of home birth mothers in Missoula, Montana, one can begin to understand how women interpret their individual risk concerning birth and respond according to their determined level of vulnerability. First, the mothers confronted the dominant social norm that home birth is risky. In response to accusations of making a risky decision, these home birth mothers responded by emphasizing the risks that they see in hospital birth. For home birth mothers, the importance of having minimal medical interventions during the birth of their baby outweighed other potential risks associated with homebirth identified by medical authorities or published studies. Furthermore, many of the women in this study emphasized feeling very positively about their home birth experiences and felt that going through with this decision helped them gain feelings of confidence and empowerment.



© Copyright 2008 Laura Ann St. Clair