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Commoning birth – Mobilizing the common good in abortion and childbirth

Research Workshop
Veranstaltet von

Institut für Europäische Ethnologie und Zentrum für transdisziplinäre Geschlechterstudien der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


We give birth, raise children, or terminate pregnancies collectively. Midwifery understands itself as a deeply communal practice of “being-with”. And even the biology of pregnancy can be understood as collective: The placenta is a shared organ, belonging to mother and fetus at the same time, enabling their shared being.

Law and public health policy in Germany consider obstetric infrastructures as a common good and thus do take into account certain collective notions of pregnancy and birth. This is apparent, for example, with regard to collective legal categories such as the "solidarity community" of health insurance members and conceptions of the social and welfare state, which grants "mothers" a constitutionally anchored “protection of the community." (Art. 6 (4) GG)

However, embedded in multiple crises care for pregnant and birthing people suffers under staff shortages, underpayment, and lack of resources for social reproduction and it seems: Birth doesn’t really matter to community. The push for "reproductive justice for all" also expands individualistic understandings of rights in light of abortion rights and freedom of choice in childbirth. In these fights, care workers, midwifery advocates, and reproductive justice activists not only mobilize for better health-care infrastructures but new notions of the commons and new visions of the "the general public" that these common goods are made to enable and support.

We will attempt to lay bare the implications and possible transformations of the tension between collectivity, individualism and neglect inherent in neoliberal racial capitalism in the political domain of pregnancy, abortion and childbirth. In this one-day hybrid workshop jointly hosted at Institute for European Ethnology and Centre for transdisciplinary Gender Studies at the Humboldt University Berlin at 29th June, we aim to discuss how the current political aspiration of "Good Births for All" is mobilized as commons to “transform birthing culture” while we are at the same time stuck within a neoliberal society wherein quality health care remains exclusionary.

Possible questions are:

- How do we come together in abortion and birthing? How do we conceptualize birthing as a shared political concern? Who is the subject of current birthing policies? What transformative political possibilities come forth out of the collective practice of childbirth?
- What problems and possibilities for collective action arise in light of legal frameworks applied by activist endeavors towards birthing rights, labore rights in care-work and reproductive justice? Can the practical, juridical and political relations constituting sexual reproduction be described as processes that either hinder or make possible a commoning of birth? What are their mobilizing effects?
- What current dangers become evident when we explore the relationship between individual and collective bodies when it comes to sexual reproduction?






Konzeption und Organisation

Michèle Kretschel-Kratz (she/her) is research assistant at the research project The commons as an imagination and practice, sub-project of the DFG Research Group Law-Gender-Collectivity. She is PhD-candidate at Institute for European Ethnology at the Humboldt-University Berlin and a midwife. She explores activism around pregnancy and childbirth from a legal gender studies and anthropology of policy perspective.

Rodante van der Waal (she/they) is a visiting scholar at Centre for transdisciplinary Gender Studies at the Humboldt University Berlin, a PhD-candidate in Care Ethics at the University for Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and a midwife in Amsterdam. They study obstetric violence, reproductive justice, and the philosophy of pregnancy from feminist, decolonial and abolitionist perspectives.





Weitere Informationen

Come and share your current work in an accessible way. Loose ideas, pieces from fieldwork, or outlines of research projects are just fine. Please email your 250 words abstract in English or German to till June 7th. This will help us to schedule the program. We look forward to continue the ongoing discussion on midwifery and sexual reproduction from a political theory and humanities perspective.


Semester: Sommersemester 2023


ZtG-Veranstaltungskategorie: Gender-Veranstaltungen der Institute/Fakultäten der HU