Contemporary attempts to ‘organise’ risk and manage uncertainty are remaking many ‘industrial-era’ institutions – including maternity hospitals. Health policies are encouraging a shift away from hierarchical, medically dominated structures towards new governance systems and ‘women-centred’ care, often led by midwives. To understand the resulting contestation, in this article we argue for a wider conceptual frame than a focus on neo-liberal state regulation of the professions. We utilise theories of the ‘second modernity’, in particular those concerning socio-cultural changes associated with shifts in risk regimes, to interpret findings from qualitative research studies undertaken in Australian maternity hospitals. Whereas analysis confined to macro or institutional levels emphasises stability and hegemony, we demonstrate that when cultural and interactional levels are examined, considerable fluidity and uncertainty in the identification and negotiation of risk is evident, resulting in new work practices with inevitable shifts in professional identities and allegiances.
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