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Reading: Private View, Public Birth: Making Feminist Sense of the New Visual Culture of Childbirth


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Private View, Public Birth: Making Feminist Sense of the New Visual Culture of Childbirth


Imogen Tyler ,

About Imogen
Imogen Tyler is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and co-Director of the Centre for Gender and Women's Studies at Lancaster University. She is the author of the monograph Revolting Subjects (Zed Books, 2013). She was also the co-editor of a special issue of Feminist Review on 'Birth' (November 2009), the co-editor of special issue of Studies in the Maternal on 'Austerity Parenting' (2013) and the co-editor of a special issue of Citizenship Studies on 'Immigrant Protest' (2013). Other recent work on motherhood includes 'Naked Protest': The maternal politics of citizenship and revolt' in Citizenship Studies 17 (2); Pregnant Beauty: Maternal femininities under neoliberalism in R. Gill and C. Scharff (eds.), New Femininities: Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Identity; and 'Pramfaced Girls: The class politics of Maternal TV' in B. Skeggs and H. Woods (eds.), Reality Television and Class. Blog; email; tweet @drimogentyler.
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Lisa Baraitser

About Lisa
Lisa Baraitser is a Reader in Psychosocial Studies, in the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, and a psychotherapist in independent practice. She writes on motherhood and the maternal, feminist theory, ethics and subjectivity, affect, temporality and event. She is author of Maternal Encounters: The Ethics of Interruption (Routledge, 2009) which was joint winner of the 2009 Feminist and Women's Studies Book Prize for outstanding feminist scholarship. She has written on maternal publics, motherhood and materiality, and maternal time. Her current work is on gender and temporality, particularly the temporalities of repetition, delay, endurance, staying, waiting, duration and monotony and their relation to the contradictory and relentless temporalities of capitalism.
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In the last three decades, there has been a dramatic increase in media representations of childbirth across a range of platforms: cinema, reality television and television drama, online video-sharing platforms, pornographic film, and in fine art practice. As yet, however, there is little feminist scholarship on the implications of this new and varied visual culture of childbirth and its relationship to earlier feminist debates about the cultural taboo against the representation of birth. This paper focuses on two contemporary sites: the growing phenomenon of 'childbirth reality TV' and the birthrites collection, a unique art collection in the UK dedicated to the subject of childbirth. We explore the meanings and implications of this new visual culture of birth, and the ways its reception is challenging earlier feminist conceptualisations of motherhood and the birthing body. In particular, we argue that these new popular and artistic representations of birth trouble accounts of the birthing body as abject, and what could be described as the 'abject aesthetics' that has dominated the visual representation of birth. In place of abjection, we conclude by arguing for a more thoroughly social and political account of the place of birth in contemporary culture, based on forms of 'natal thinking', which we suggest that the birthrites collection proposes.

How to Cite: Tyler, I. and Baraitser, L., 2013. Private View, Public Birth: Making Feminist Sense of the New Visual Culture of Childbirth. Studies in the Maternal, 5(2), pp.1–27. DOI:
Published on 01 Jul 2013.
Peer Reviewed


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