18 July 2011

Science! Science, I Say!

While making scones I was thinking about how breastfeeding and childbirth have been damaged by the attempt to make them more "scientific".  (yes, I have random thoughts when baking, or any time, really) My train of thought then went to my days of studying archaeology and learning about "New Archaeology" (or Processual Archaeology), wherein some declared that what archaeology needed was to be more scientific.  I find it interesting that these major interests of mine can be united by the fact that all, at one time or another, were under some kind of pressure to conform to a scientific method.  With breastfeeding and childbirth, this took the form of schedules and time limits and various procedures, instead of going with the natural flow of things; with archaeology this took the form of putting archaeology under anthropology and trying to be more scientific in analysing artefacts and an assumption that all aspects of a culture could be analysed through the material record.

Now, science certainly has its place within the study of breastfeeding, childbirth, and archaeology, and the scientific study of these things has led to greater understanding in some ways.  The problem, however, comes in trying to force these things to fit within a certain framework (obviously it's a bit different with archaeology, since we're not talking about a natural biological function but the study of past societies and that study must be thorough and rigorous, but the human element still remains).  Thankfully "new archaeology" was soon criticised for its shortcomings, and thankfully the "scientific" rules for breastfeeding are, in general, no longer in vogue.  We're getting there with childbirth, but there's still a ways to go.

The underlying assumption, really, is that the unpredictability and organised chaos of human systems is somehow deficient and inferior to a purely logical, scientific approach.  Seeing as we are not Vulcans, though, our bodies and societies do not, and will never, conform to a rigid system.  This is part of the beauty of breastfeeding, childbirth, and archaeology, in my opinion.  The way science can, and has, helped in these areas is by giving us greater understanding of them instead of trying to force them to conform to arbitrary standards in the name of "science".

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