Obstetric violence within students’ rite of passage: : The reproduction of the obstetric subject and its racialised (m)other

Rodante A. B. van der Waal, Veronica Mitchell, A. A. M. (Inge) van Nistelrooij, Vivienne Bozalek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademic


Building on the work of Mbembe (2019) and Silva (2007), we theorise how the obstetric institution can still be considered fundamentally modern, that is, entangled with colonialism, slavery, bio- and necropolitics and patriarchal subjectivity. We argue that the modern obstetric subject (doctor or midwife) representing the obstetric institution engulfs the (m)other in a typically modern way as othered, racialised, affectable and outer-determined, in order to constitute itself in terms of self-determination and universal reason.

While Davis-Floyd (1987) described obstetric training as a rite of passage into a technocratic model of childbirth, we argue that students’ rite of passage is not merely an initiation into a technological model of childbirth. The many instances of obstetric violence and racism in their training make a more fundamental problem visible, namely that students come of age within obstetrics through the violent appropriation of the (m)other.

We amplify students’ curricular encounters in two colonially related geopolitical spaces, South Africa and the Netherlands, and in two professions, obstetric medicine and midwifery, to highlight global systemic tendencies that push students to cross ethical, social and political boundaries towards the (m)other they are trained to care for. The embedment of obstetric violence in their rite of passage ensures the reproduction of the modern obstetric subject, the racialised (m)other, and institutionalised violence worldwide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-53
Number of pages18
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2021


  • obstetric violence
  • obstetric racism
  • obstetric and midwifery training
  • Denise Ferreira da Silva
  • Achille Mbembe

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