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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Understanding the Role of Intimacy in the Controversy Over Homebirth in the Czech Republic

Public Policy
Eva Hejzlarova
Charles University
Eva Hejzlarova
Charles University
Anna Durnova
Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna

While the Czech home birth rate is average compared with that of other European countries, as are perinatal mortality rates, the Czech discourse on this health care choice is marked by an exceptionally vivid controversy over whether or not to allow homebirths and, even more importantly, over who is the legitimate voice in such policy debate. Drawing on discourse analysis of the Czech media debate during the past twenty years, we identify two main semantic boundaries - intimacy and security - that shape such legitimacy in the policy debate on homebirth. While the security discourse was initially represented by medical professionals and with that by those who were arguing against homebirth, it became later embraced also by home-birth activists. Analogically, starting as women’s requirement to see their bodily sentiment respected during labour, intimacy became an argument for doctors, especially those who claimed that respectful birth practices and intimacy can be inhabited within hospital settings.
Based on our data, we therefore suggest to look beyond the traditional gendered understanding of intimacy as the competence of women to decide upon what happens with their body and to frame ‘intimacy’ a set of knowledge informing the particular choice of giving birth. At the same time, echoing studies on emotions in sociology, along with Foucaldian notion of power, we provide a wider reflection on intimacy as an arena enacting and structuring values, beliefs and interests of a policy debate through which intimacy acquires a central power dimension.
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