Midwifery and Midwives: A Historical Analysis


Najla Barnawi, Solina Richter and Farida Habib

Midwifery, the first holistic profession in the world in which “care” has always been a women-centered phenomenon. It is a socially constructed practice that has gone through many historical transitions. Many of these have involved social controversies in terms of the meaning of care, the scope of its practice, and its standardized skills. The purpose of this paper is to explore and critically examine the major transitions on midwifery during history, looking in particular at the socio-cultural circumstances that are associated with these transitions through an historical analysis. Two objectives are intended to be explored; first, identify the major “macro” socio-cultural factors that shaped different meaning of “concept of care” in midwifery. Second, identify the major “micro” socio-cultural factors that changed the scope of practice in midwifery. Two main search approaches are used to collect the retrieved data; textbooks searching, and computer searching. Textbooks searching phase aims to identify the historical knowledge gap and different views of midwifery transitions based on four historical intervals ranging from Stone Ages era to Early Modern time. Computer searching phase aims to critique the different scholarly views that focus on the major social and cultural factors that shaped the practice scope midwifery during history. During this strategy a comprehensive review of the major electronic databases of MEDLINE, PubMed, and CINAHL was conducted. Midwifery is a woman-centered phenomenon and a socially constructed practice where macro and micro socio-cultural factors played a key role in its transition over the history. Power of social organizations, consistency of civilizations, and productivity of industrialization are the major macro social factors that changed the concept of “care” in midwifery from individualized concern to holistic approach. Gender identity, social class and authority, and accessibility of formal education are the main micro socio-cultural factors that changed the practice of midwifery from un-standardized practice to advanced scientific profession.

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