Risky distances : Peripheralisation and normalisation in the case of a maternity ward closure in Sweden

Abstract: This thesis explores risk, peripheralisation and normalisation in the case of the maternity ward closure at Sollefteå Hospital, located inland in the Swedish region of Västernorrland. When the ward closed in 2017, it drew significant media attention and political discussions on the continuous cuts to Swedish maternity care and the growing economic gap between urban and rural areas – discussions that actualised questions of power and risk. This thesis, building on newspaper articles and interviews with expectant parents and midwives in Sollefteå, uses feminist risk theory to 1) investigate the experiences of those directly affected by the closure, i.e. expectant parents and midwives at the ward and 2) explore how the theoretical approach of ‘doing risk’ can be used to deepen our understanding of the processes of peripheralisation and normalisation. The two aims are addressed in four empirical studies and in the Discussion and Concluding remarks. I conclude that three peripheralisation processes were at work in the closure of BB Sollefteå: peripheralisation of women’s risks, periheralisation of people in rural municipalities from the welfare state and peripheralisation of small-ward work practices in the healthcare discourse. I also found that the closure made Swedish norms on childbirth and discourses on family visible, predominantly manifested through the ‘gender-equal nuclear family’ norm, which repeated in the material. Further, addressing the thesis’ second aim, I conclude that normalisation and peripheralisation can be seen as regulatory practices, which in different ways are structured around risk and power. In this context, ‘doing risk’ helps to theorize how these concepts intersect, and relate to ideology, and thus contributes to a better understanding of ideological processes in contemporary societies.