Where Science Meets Culture

Humans have been reliant on technology throughout the course of history. Technology forms the basis of culture: it shapes us, and we shape it. Starting with the fundamental question "what is technology," anthropologists study the assumptions that surround our knowledge of technology and culture.

Another pertinent question is whether or not there’s room for human diversity in the current systems of technology that have come to dominate our lives. How is technology shaping the human condition and lived experience?

Childbirth provides one of many examples to examine the intersections of technology, culture, and science. The physiological experience of childbirth may be universal, but the experience and medical practices surrounding birth vary from culture to culture, illuminating cross-cultural health beliefs and practices. For example:

  • The Dutch see childbirth as a natural process that often takes place at home with no pain medication.
  • In Mexico, Mayan women labor with their midwife and extended family present, usually while resting in a hammock. Birth is perceived as incredibly difficult, yet without fear; it’s a process that transforms a woman into a mother.
  • In Sweden, delivery rooms in the hospitals are very quiet, with women deciding whether to use and administer their own pain medication.
  • In the United States, birth is typically a highly medicalized, technological event where patients are admitted and monitored, and the medical staff administers pain medication.

As we study other cultures, we become better able to see, understand, and reflect on our own.