Pregnancy and birth are unique human experiences, not comparable to any other. They involve the generation of a new human being through a deeply intimate process, that can transform not only the pregnant and labouring woman´s body, but also her understanding and assessment of herself and her environment. Our concepts of pregnancy and childbirth reflect our view of the world and of human being. Pregnancy and birth raise philosophical problems in epistemology, metaphysics, political philosophy and ethics. Obstetrics is a fruitful field to explore questions and answers such as citizenship, health, body or the relationships between knowledge, power and practices. Which assumptions underlie contemporary Obstetrics? Our project uncovers and addresses the issues arising “when the subjects get pregnant” and aims to explain some of the historical, epistemic, phenomenological, existential, political, ethical and anthropological premises that are embedded, often in an unrecognised manner, in current obstetrical practices.

The Philosophy of Birth has an added value when it is supported by empirical data and medical practices analysis. The philosophical questions, arguments and results in our work both originate and respond to current debates on obstetrics.

Main hypothesis: in relation to the notion of pregnancy, labour and birth we risk our concept of the world and human being. Research in the Philosophy of birth is closely linked to innovation and knowledge transference, as it is the case of medical humanities in general.

Aim: to rethink the origin, addressing the “pregnancy of the subject” To explore genealogy in a proper sense, as logos of genos

Secondary aims: to analyse the conceptual, historical, metaphysical, phenomenological, existential, bioethical, anthropological and clinical premises related to childbirth.

Methods: an analytical pattern will be adopted to consider the linguistic and argumentative study of the issues addressed, based on the instruments of philosophical, historical, anthropological and medical analysis around childbirth. Empirical research on the cognitive and emotional biases surrounding pregnancy care and hospital delivery and allocation of responsibilities in cases of obstetric violence will be taken into account.

Particular methodology is no different from that of academic research in philosophy and medical humanities. Techniques as discussion groups, focal groups, fishbowl and dynamic charters will be used to promote participation, debate and agreement among groups of interest, conflicting parties and executive instances.

Results: Philosophy of Birth is a new research area within the currently fruitful field of Medical humanities. The philosophical analysis of the normative challenges raised by contemporary obstetrics links research and innovation, with the aim of producing results that are likely to influence policies and governances, advance participatory democracy and permeate the boundaries between humanities and science.


Principal investigator (IP)

Research team

  • Ángeles J. Perona, Philosopher, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain.
  • Ibone Olza Fernández, Child and Perinatal Psychiatrist, Universidad de Alcalá, Spain.
  • Dolores Ruiz Berdún, Midwife, Universidad de Alcalá, Spain.

Associate team

  • Sara Cohen Shabot, Philosopher, University of Haifa, Israel.
  • Elselijn Kingma, Philosopher, University of Southampton, United Kingdom.
  • Sarah LaChance Adams, Philosopher, University Wisconsin Superior, United States.
  • Dawn LaValle, Historian, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
  • Fernando Ojea, Philosopher, emeritus, Spain.
  • Michelle Sadler, Anthropologist, Universidad de Chile, Chile.
  • Christina Schües, Philosopher, Universität zu Lübeck, Germany.
  • Rosana Triviño, Philosopher, Universidade de Coruña, Spain.
  • Fiona Woollard, Philosopher, University of Southampton, United Kingdom.


PHILOSOPHY OF BIRTH: RETHINKING THE ORIGIN FROM MEDICAL HUMANITIES (FFI2016-77755-R) has been awarded a grant by the Program for Research, Development and Innovation Oriented to Societal Challenges of the Ministry of Economy in Spain, 2017-19.

PHIL-BIRTH members Stella Villarmea, Ibone Olza Fernández, Dolores Ruiz Berdún, Michelle Sadler and Sara Cohen participate in COST ACTION IS1405 Building Intrapartum Research Through Health – an interdisciplinary whole system approach to understanding and contextualising physiological labour and birth (BIRTH) funded by the EU.