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PhD studentship: The Representation of Childbirth and Early Labour

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The media plays a vital role in contextualising and re-contextualising important discourses of the day to its various audiences. Its role is to integrate the audience (members of society) into certain agreed norms, and to continually reinforce these. Media has a social responsibility to report and reflect on social issues in a responsible and ethical manner, yet cultural perceptions and societal attitudes have been shown to influence women’s decisions about when to enter hospital in labour.

Nearly 45 per cent of pregnant women are admitted to UK hospitals in early labour each year. Of those, 54 per cent receive medical interventions in the form of electronic monitoring, epidurals and caesareans, costing the NHS nearly half a billion pounds p/a (NHS 2013). The media is increasingly important as most women will only witness birth through the “eye of a television camera” but reportedly take their cues on when to enter hospital based on what they have seen on television (Luce et al., 2016). This supervisory team’s recent systematic review, the third most accessed and downloaded article for BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth in 2016, found that unrealistic media representations have the potential to influence women’s behaviour around birth.

Building on the experience of a successful media tool for suicide (Luce, 2016), the studentship will develop and validate an innovative, societal intervention to address the problem of admission in early labour. The media-based intervention will be theoretically informed and developed through:

  • Discourse analysis of newspapers and television programmes to determine the common discourses around childbirth and early labour in the media
  • Focus groups with women and families to determine how media representations of labour and birth are interpreted.
  • Interview engagement with media producers to determine whether the media can be harnessed to correct misinformation and change the discourse around labour and birth.
  • Stakeholder workshop to validate the tools for the media intervention.

The studentship will advance our understanding of the relationship between the media, culture and health-related behaviour and develop a media intervention, which will be built around an educational resource for media professionals. Changing behaviour requires a complex intervention, thus this resource will be tested via a stakeholder workshop, towards the end of the studentship. The specifics of the intervention will be determined by the findings of the qualitative work, but it is expected that professional guidelines would be created in an effort to change the way that birth is represented in popular television programmes. It has been suggested that the media play a significant role in influencing health-seeking behaviour in childbirth; the aim of this research is to help media portray childbirth in a more responsible and ethical manner. The supervisory team has experience of developing a similar resource for media professionals in relation to Media Reporting of Suicide (WHO, 2008, 2017) and Blogging Guidelines for Suicide, both of which have proved successful (IASP and SAVE, 2017).

View the full project description here.

The closing date for applications is 10 May 2017.

Source: Bournemouth University

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