Controversies, instabilities and (re)configurations : an actor-network account of abortion in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Thesis DisciplineSocial Work
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Abortion is an object of enduring controversy. Perhaps not surprisingly, abortion has been the focus of a significant body of research and academic debate. This body of research has addressed abortion prevalence, methods and circulation across different localities, legislative frameworks, as well as cultural and social practices. Despite this plethora of academic literature there is an absence of material that addresses the complexities of abortion networks by considering the relationships between the human and non-human actors. This study joins an emerging trend in social work research that looks beyond the traditions of centring the person as the focus of the research endeavour to explore non-human agency. Such approaches offer new methodological possibilities for understanding human/non-human relations and the non-human actors that populate ‘social’ worlds.
In this thesis, Actor-network theory (ANT) is the methodological toolkit for exploring the assemblages of abortion. ANT-inflected research is distinct in the way it takes seriously the analytical currency of both human and non-human actors. Its sensibilities of ‘slow research’ have aided this study to closely follow the controversies that can be found where heterogeneous relationships are formed. In this way, this research has been responsive to multiplicities and contradictions that thread through articulations of abortion, and its practices.
This ethnographic study provides rich descriptions and ‘snapshots’ of practices at Lyndhurst Day Hospital (Lyndhurst) in Christchurch, New Zealand. The observations, interviews and document analysis on which this thesis is based were generated from the concurrent activities of research fieldwork and social work practice at Lyndhurst from 2008 to 2011. Even with a local focus, this research shows that abortion is not a stable phenomenon, but mutable, multiple, and uncertain. The descriptive text of this thesis reveals glimpses into some of the complex abortion practices and (re)configurations that emerge in and through the relational work between human and non-human actors.
The ANT-inflected descriptions in this thesis reveal that abortion controversies can be followed, and that descriptions of these controversies can extend beyond a dichotomous split. Controversies emerge in the relations between human and non-human actors, through their interests, their disagreements, and the compromises they make. Moreover, that they can be traced to reveal multiple abortion ‘truths’, realities, and networks.