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 attendants. Important elements of study in this field include the definition, education, practices, identities, and knowledge systems of midwives.