Oral Histories From The Pioneers of America’s Space Program

Professor Davis-Floyd, I am writing a PhD dissertation at MIT on the history of flight simulation covering the period from World War II through the Apollo missions to the moon. David Mindell is my primary faculty advisor. You may be familiar with his books, Between Human and Machine and Digital Apollo. I also teach the Engineering Apollo course at MIT with David Mindell and Larry Young, who is also on my dissertation committee. This course examines the detailed technical and historical exploration of the Apollo project as an example of a complex engineering system, with emphasis on how the systems worked, the technical and social processes that produced them, the mission operations, and Apollo’s historical significance. I recently read about […]

Open and Closed Knowledge Systems, the 4 Stages of Cognition, and the Cultural Management of Birth

This conceptual “think piece” looks at levels or Stages of Cognition, equating each of the Four Stages I examine with an anthropological concept. I equate Stage 1—rigid or concrete thinking—with naïve realism (“our way is the only way,” fundamentalism (“our way should be the only way and those who do not follow it are doomed”), and fanaticism (“our way is so right that everyone who disagrees with it should be either converted or eliminated”). I equate Stage 2 with ethnocentrism (“there are lots of other ways out there, but our way is best”). The next two Stages represent more fluid types of thinking—I equate Stage 3 with cultural relativism (“all ways are equal in value and validity”), and Stage 4 […]

Home birth emergencies in the U.S. and Mexico

Home birth emergencies in the U.S. and Mexico : The Trouble with Transport Robbie Davis-Floyd Ph.D. This article appears in a special issue of Social Science and Medicine, called Reproduction Gone Awry, edited by Marcia Inhorn and Gwynne Jenkins, Vol. 56, No. 9, 2003,pp. 1913-1931. Abstract: Proponents of the global Safe Motherhood Initiative stress that primary keys to safe home birth include transport to the hospital in cases of need and effective care on arrival. In this article, which is based on interviews with American direct-entry midwives and Mexican traditional midwives, I examine what happens when transport occurs, how the outcomes of prior transports affect future decision-making, and how the lessons derived from the transport experiences of birthing women and […]

Space stories

Space stories : Oral Histories From The Pioneers of America’s Space Program An Oral History Project conducted in conjunction with the Houston Chapter of the AIAA and Honeywell Corporation Official histories often make it appear that nations make big decisions based on thorough research and understanding. But when the individuals intimately involved in those big decisions are given voice, a very different story emerges–one of hops and skips, personality clashes and chats between friends, and bootlegged designs that lead to billion-dollar programs. With funding from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Houston Chapter, and from the Honeywell Corporation, Robbie Davis-Floyd and Kenneth J. Cox have embarked on the project of collecting oral histories from a number of individuals who […]

The technocratic body

The technocratic body : American Childbirth as Cultural Expression This article appeared in Social Science and Medicine 38(8):1125-1140, 1994 Abstract The dominant mythology of a culture is often displayed in the rituals with which it surrounds birth. In contemporary Western society, that mythology–the mythology of the technocracy–is enacted through obstetrical procedures, the rituals of hospital birth. This article explores the links between our culture’s mythological technocratic model of birth and the body images, individual belief and value systems, and birth choices of forty middle-class women–32 professional women who accept the technocratic paradigm, and eight homebirthers who reject it.

The rituals of american hospital birth

The rituals of american hospital birth This article appears in Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, 8th ed., David McCurdy, ed., HarperCollins, New York, 1994, pp. 323-340. Permission is hereby granted by the author and copyright holder, Robbie E. Davis-Floyd, to reproduce this article for educational purposes Why is childbirth, which should be such a unique and individual experience for the woman, treated in such a highly standardized way in the United States? No matter how long or short, how easy or hard their labors, the vast majority of American women are hooked up to an electronic fetal monitor and an IV (intravenously administered fluids and/or medication), are encouraged to use pain-relieving drugs, receive an episiotomy (a surgical incision […]

The art of grieving gracefully

The art of grieving gracefully: Robbie Davis-Floyd’s Suggestions for Coping with Loss and Pain Begun in January 2002, completed for the moment June 2005 My daughter Peyton Elizabeth Floyd died as the result of a car accident in September 2000, four days before her 21st birthday. These are some of the things I learned from the experience of coping with this devastating loss. They begin with suggestions for the immediate period after a loved one’s death, and move on to the different coping methods I found useful over the long – term. At the end I include suggestions for what to say (and not to say) to those who are bereaved.

The technocratic model of birth

The technocratic model of birth Robbie E. Davis-Floyd This chapter appeared in Feminist Theory in the Study of Folklore, eds. Susan Tower Hollis, Linda Pershing, and M. Jane Young, U. of Illinois Press, pp. 297-326, 1993. “But is the hospital necessary at all?” demanded a young woman of her obstetrician friend. “Why not bring the baby at home?” “What would you do if your automobile broke down on a country road?” the doctor countered with another question. “Try and fix it,” said the modern chaffeuse. “And if you couldn’t?” “Have it hauled to the nearest garage.” “Exactly. Where the trained mechanics and their necessary tools are,” agreed the doctor. “It’s the same with the hospital. I can do my best […]

Storying corporate futures

Storying corporate futures: The Shell Scenarios An Interview with Betty Sue Flowers This chapter appeared in Corporate Futures, Volume V of the Late Editions Series, George Marcus ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Introduction This chapter contains two interviews that I conducted with Betty Sue Flowers about her writing and editing of Shell International’s 1992 and 1995 futures-planning scenarios. I first met Betty Sue at a men’s conference (a la Robert Bly and the mythopoetic men’s movement) in Austin, Texas, where she and I were two of only four women speakers, and the only two present the night we met. It took me a while to spot her in a huge ballroom filled with 800 men and two women–she […]

Bucky balls, fullerenes, and the future

Bucky balls, fullerenes, and the future: An Oral History Interview with Professor Richard E. Smalley January 22, 2000 Nanotechnology is the art and science of building materials and devices at the ultimate level of finesse: atom by atom. Like a tiny poem with every word and space wisely placed, a thing built by nanotechnology has every atom in its place, and never two where one will do. . . .Today we begin a collaboration with NASA to develop a new kind of nanotechnology, one that starts with a perfect carbon structure that biology cannot make: fullerene nano-tubes and fibers. The promise of this new technology is vast: cables 100 times stronger than steel at only one-sixth the weight and with […]

On reproduction

On reproduction Robbie Davis-Floyd and Sarah Franklin This article appears in the Sage Encyclopedia of Anthropology, Sage Publications, 2005. “Reproduction” in anthropology refers to the processes by which new social members are produced — specifically, the physiological processes of conception, pregnancy, birth, and child-raising. In its larger sense, “reproduction” is used to encompass the processes by which societies are reproduced for the future. The term is thus fraught with biological, cultural, and political meanings; power is a central focus in reproductive studies, as those who have the power to influence the process of reproduction can control large populations for better or for worse.


Midwifery Robbie Davis-Floyd and Gwynne L. Jenkins This article appears in the Sage Encyclopedia of Anthropology, Sage Publications, 2005. Attendance at birth has been suggested to be essential in facilitating mother-child survival as the physiology of birth changed during human evolutionary history. “Midwife,” an Anglo-Saxon term meaning “with woman,” aptly describes the role that women have long assumed as birth attendants. The anthropology of midwifery is the study of non-physician primary birth attendants within and across cultures. The birth attendant is not always a specialist, nor do all cultures have specifically delineated roles for birth attendants. Thus our definition of the anthropology of midwifery is expansive enough to include a wide range of biomedical and non-biomedical, formal and informal birth […]

Sages birth 4

On birth This article appears in the Sage Encyclopedia of Anthropology, Sage Publications, 2005 Until recently in human history, birth has been exclusively the work of the work of women as they labor and bear down with their uterine muscles to push their babies from the private inner world of their wombs into the larger world of society and culture. Yet today increasing numbers of women around the world have their babies pulled through the vaginal canal with forceps or vacuum extractors, or cut from their wombs via cesarean section. The medical definition of birth is the emergence of a baby from a womb—a definition that ignores all issues of women’s involvement and agency. This definition and its implications encode […]

Reproductive technologies

Reproductive technologies Sarah Franklin PhD, Dept. of Sociology, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK Robbie Davis-Floyd Ph D,Research Fellow, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Texas Austin This article appears in the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women, New York: Routledge, 2001. All human societies in all historical periods have developed techniques to prevent and to facilitate conception, and to shape culturally the physiological processes of gestation, labor, birth, and breastfeeding. There is, however, no precedent for the rapid expansion of reproductive technologies in the latter half of the twentieth century—an expansion that has dramatically redefined the parameters of biological reproduction. From the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby in 1978 to the cloning of a higher vertebrate from an adult cell in […]

On Childbirth

On Childbirth This entry appears in the Blackwell Dictionary of Anthropology. Thomas Barfield, ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996 Childbirth is the work of women as they labor and bear down with their uterine muscles to push their babies from the private inner world of their wombs into the larger world of society and culture. Although childbirth is a universal fact of human physiology, where, how, with whom, and even when a woman gives birth are often culturally determined.