Controversies on Childbirth: from Epistemology to Practices (VOICEs)

We are delighted to announce that Stella Villarmea‘s Marie Slodowska Curie Fellowship project, Controversies on Childbirth: from Epistemology to Practices (VOICEs), has been funded.  Stella will be spend a secondment at  Medical Humanities Sheffield, where she will work with Annamaria Carusi and others. We’re looking forward to welcoming Stella to Sheffield!


Project Controversies on Childbirth: from Epistemology to Practices (VOICEs)

Host Faculty of Philosophy and The Center for Values-based Medical Practice at St Catherine’s, University of Oxford


Department of Philosophy, University of Southampton

Medical Humanities University of Sheffield

School of Community Health and Midwifery, University of Central Lancanshire



VOICEs addresses some current debates on childbirth from engaged philosophy and medical humanities. It applies the epistemological theory of controversies to the values embedded in decision-making in the field aiming at developing a particular section of values-based practice to be used in a variety of clinical contexts around childbirth. VOICEs is directed to individuals and organizations representing the three key stakeholder groups involved: service users, professionals, and policymakers.

Most current debates on childbirth, VOICEs will defend, are ‘controversies’ in the following technical sense: they reflect deep disagreements in factual, methodological, or conceptual matters. Interpreting obstetric debates as controversies is a key element in changing medical practices. VOICEs will advance scientific knowledge in this area using the realist research frameworks of situated epistemology and values-based practice of what works, for whom, and in what circumstances. The action searches for applied and measurable consequences of critical epistemology on childbirth. Obstetric controversies are a perfect experimental space for evaluating the gender, epistemic, and evaluative biases that are present in dominant discourses on childbirth.

The research will assess the emancipatory interest embedded in childbirth practices insofar they are concerned with exercising knowledge and freedom. The kind of knowledge that serves this interest will be explored with the use of critical theory, Wittgenstein’s conception of knowledge and certainty, feminist standpoint theory, and epistemology of resistance. Understanding the epistemic basis of emancipatory action is the core motivation of this proposal.

Women throughout Europe are demanding less medicalized care in childbirth that makes fuller use of midwifery skills. Other women request elective cesareans for non-medical reasons. The action addresses the autonomy, agency, and multiplicity of voices on childbirth; as shown in its acronym, ‘VOICEs’.

Stella Villarmea

Professor of Philosophy, University of Alcalá, Spain

Marie S. Curie Fellow, University of Oxford