Waterbirth and Russian-American Exchange: From the Iron Curtain to Facebook
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
The doctoral dissertation “Waterbirth and Russian-American Exchange: From the Iron Curtain to Facebook” presents the social history of the Russian waterbirth movement, from the Cold War epoch to the present. One of the first ethnographies to examine Russian-American cultural exchange, this study fills a number of gaps in both Russian and American cultural history, bringing together the issues of religion, science, gender, body politics and the state. By drawing on interviews with Russian and American birth practitioners, as well as participant observation of the birthing practices on both continents, I seek to define their agendas for the development of alternative ideologies and practices, as well as their specific effects, experienced on both global and local scales. In particular, I attempt to problematize the conventional narratives of globalization and biomedicalization, presenting “local” cultures either as passive victims of the dominant Western agent or rebels exercising futile resistance. Despite the turbulent effects of Western intervention into the Russian value system and everyday practices, the local culture of Russia proved capable of producing, promoting, and communicating to the world particular models and schemes that proved to be viable, went global, and affected the vision of the body and self in the Western world. By examining the case of the waterbirth movement, the project seeks to enrich current understanding of the information flows between Russia and the West. By looking at Russian and American utopian projects, which center on science, nature, tradition and globalization, and carefully tracing their sources, origins, mutual impacts and conflicts, we can get a better understanding of the formation and distribution of authoritative knowledge on global and local levels. An empirical study of this specific set of problems is expected to stimulate a valuable insight into the mechanisms governing the relationships between social orders, complex transnational identity formation, and global/local knowledge production in late modern societies.