Critical perspectives on maternal health inequalities in Zambia
Presented by: Laura Sochas (University of Oxford, Department of Social Policy and Intervention) ; Discussant: Heini Väisänen (Ined)
“Categorical thinking” in social science research has been widely criticised by feminist scholars for conceptualising social categories as natural, de-contextualised, and internally homogeneous. This paper develops and applies a mixed-methods approach to the study of health inequalities, using social categories meaningfully in order to challenge categorical thinking. The approach is demonstrated through a case study of socio-economic (SES) inequalities in maternal healthcare access in Zambia.
The study finds that meso-level institutions, “health service environments”, explain a large share of SES inequalities in maternal healthcare access. Women’s work, marital status, and levels of “autonomy” have heterogeneous implications for healthcare access across SES categories. Disadvantaged categories and their reproductive behaviours are stigmatised as ’backwards’, in contrast to advantaged categories and their behaviours, which are associated with ’modernity’ and ’development’. Challenging categorical thinking has important implications for social justice and health, by rejecting framings of a specific category as problematic or non-compliant, highlighting the possibility of change, and emphasising the political and structural nature of progress.
Biography of Laura Sochas
Dr Laura Sochas is a social demographer with a background in public health, political science and economics. She conducts health inequalities research from a critical perspective, using multidisciplinary social science theories & mixed methods. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the political economy of health at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford. She is also a visiting fellow at the International Inequalities Institute, LSE. She obtained her PhD in Demography in 2020 from LSE, where she researched the structural determinants of maternal health inequalities in Zambia.