Western medical approaches to childbirth typically locate risk in women’s bodies,making it axiomatic that ‘good’ maternity care is associated with medically trainedattendants. This logic has been extrapolated to developing societies, like Vanuatu, anIsland state in the Pacific, struggling to provide good maternity care in line with theWorld Health Organization’s Millennium Development Goals. These goals include thereduction of maternal mortality by two-thirds by 2015, but Vanuatu must overcomechallenging hurdles – medical, social and environmental – to achieve this goal.Vanuatu is a hybridised society: one where the pre-modern and modern coincide inparallel institutions, processes and practices. In 2010, I undertook an inductive study of30 respondents from four main subcultures – women living in outer rural communitieswith limited access to Western-trained health workers; women from inner urbancommunities with ease of access to medical clinics; traditional birth attendants whoare formally untrained but highly specialised and practised mainly in remote communities;and Western-trained medical clinicians (obstetricians and midwives). I invitedall the participants to comment on what constituted a ‘good birth’. In this article, Ishow that participants interpreted this variously according to how they believed theuncertainties of childbirth could be managed. Objectivist approaches that define risk asan objective reality amenable to quantifiable measurement are thus rendered inadequate.Interpretivist approaches better explain the reality that social actors not only findrisk in different sites but gravitate towards different practices, discourses and individualsthey can trust especially those with whom they feel a strong sense of community.Strategies are, therefore, formed less through scientific rationality but according tofeelings and emotions and the lived experience. The concept of risk cultures conveysthis complexity; they are formed around values rather than calculable rationalities. Riskcultures form self-reflexively to manage contingent circumstances.
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