Debates on Gender and Technology: Cesarean Births in Taiwan

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Cecilia Van Hollen


Cesarean sections, Gender politics, Taiwan, Technology, China

Subject Categories



This dissertation analyzes the gender politics of Cesarean births in Taiwan by investigating and reinterpreting the so-called maternal requests for Cesarean sections. Since the 1990s, the Taiwanese Cesarean rates have been reported as among the highest in the world. The government and public discourse in Taiwan exclusively attributed the high Cesarean rates to women's demand for this technological intervention in childbirth. This dissertation reacts to this argument by analyzing how the entangled political, economic, cultural, and gendered forces at work produce one of the highest rates of Cesarean births in the world. This research also illuminates the specific context in which Cesarean births become a structurally determined "choice." In this context, obstetricians rely on Cesarean sections to address their stressful work when women feel compelled to seek this technology in order to avoid risk based on medical information they are given, and to avoid the often dehumanizing and painful procedures of vaginal births.

Moreover, through reinterpreting maternal requests for Cesarean sections as women's strategic responses to the medical system in the Taiwanese context, this dissertation engages in feminist debates regarding the relationships between gender and surgical births. I argue that when confronting technological intervention in childbirth Taiwanese women are not simply victims, nor self-motivated users of technology, which is in contrast to a Western feminist focus on empowerment and resistance in the face of biomedical management of childbirth. By analyzing how women in Taiwan construct pragmatic responses to institutionally structured power relations, I show that maternal requests for Cesarean sections are often at the intersection between women's Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance. control over childbirth and their agency with the medical system.

In doing so, this ethnographic study counteracts the unjustifiable blame on women for the high Cesarean rates, and adds new knowledge to feminist theorization of gender and technology. As shown in the case of maternal requests for Cesarean sections in Taiwan, the various possibilities of women's confrontation with technology are already embodied in women's active and pragmatic responses to technological interventions in childbirth.


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