Abstract

In this essay, we (re)present Brigitte Jordan’s concept of authoritative knowledge via a three-way conversation or trialogue with Jordan, who passed away in 2017. We excerpt and adapt her original writings alongside commentary driven by our own fieldwork with midwives and obstetricians in multiple ethnographic contexts. We, like many anthropologists of birth and midwifery, were deeply shaped by Jordan’s work—challenged and refashioned as we spoke across our respective generations, geographic areas, and expertises. Starting around the time of her passing, we have attempted to put into writing some of the hoped for and imagined conversations that never came to pass, or never felt completed, as our time with Jordan was ultimately cut short. In this trialogue, we discuss authoritative knowledge as it applies to ways of thinking about and performing childbirth, and revisit Jordan’s examination of the differences between experiential and didactic modes of teaching and learning about birth—both of which play critical roles in shaping what counts as knowledge, how we acquire it, and how it is transmitted. We expand on Jordan’s critique of didactic training programs for traditional midwives, consider similarities and differences in training approaches through the lenses of our own fieldwork, and ultimately attempt to unsettle the binary between experiential and didactic modes of knowledge transmission.

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