Dr. Mom? Conversational Play and the Submergence of Professional Status in Childbirth

Human Studies 29, 77-105, 2006

Hervé Varenne and Mary E. Cotter


Hospital delivery Through a close analysis of various moments within two hours of video-taped interaction, we investigate properties of the setting that the participants cannot ignore even as they transform them in various ways. These properties are not under local control. What is under control is revealed in the participants' “play” with the properties, including dangerous, “deep” play. In this process, some properties of the participants are rarely mentioned (e.g., that the laboring woman is an MD), others are repeatedly emphasized (e.g. the strength of contractions). And others appear in ways that have not been dealt with adequately in current theoretical frameworks. To deal with life-threatening lies, and jokes about lies, we must move away from theories of hegemonic particularity that rely on a habitus. Rather we must acknowledge the practical understandings revealed in the collective submergence of that which may be actively noted as potentially relevant and then set aside so that other tasks can be foregrounded and achieved.


childbirth - conversation analysis - ethnomethodology - medical interaction - play

[Available on line from Human Studies and here]

Further analysis of the same case is also available on this site.