Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2012

Document Type




First Advisor

Donna Goldstein


In this study, I explore how clinical practices and systems of decision-making influence the use of Pitocin during labor in the hospital setting. I study these processes by understanding women’s reflections on their experiences as well as comparing the diverse philosophies of medical practitioners, midwives, and doulas. In using ethnographic accounts of women’s experiences giving birth as a “slice through ‘multiple regimes of truth,’” we can recognize how Pitocin fits into a broader narrative of biomedicine (Delvecchio Good 2007; Foucault 1982). By understanding the broader biomedical context in which Pitocin exists, we can understand how dynamics of the medical system are created and sustained, the implications of birthing in the hospital environment, and the relationships between practitioner and patient. I argue that the factors that influence the current use of Pitocin during labor are a result of the ways in which women giving birth are made to be subjects in hospitals, fitting them into a prescribed medical discourse of illness, treatment, and standardization. In this discourse, the presence of Pitocin normalizes the management of an ideal labor curve, which has emerged through philosophies of actively managed birth. In this thesis, I discuss how protocols, ideals, and subjectivity are integrated into the medical discourse of Pitocin use; I talk about the concept of risk aversion, the implications of other types of medical interventions, the effects of hospital settings, and the process of decision-making as related to Pitocin use. These different aspects of clinical care inform perspectives on the need for Pitocin in individual ways, but they fit into a broader narrative of what constitutes medical discourse through a biotechnical lens.