Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict

Intercourse: Encouraging Inter-Professional Dialogue and Collaboration

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict

Intercourse: Encouraging Inter-Professional Dialogue and Collaboration

Article excerpt


Models of care for pregnant women have historically described themselves in polarizing terms. Historian Judith Leavitt writes of two camps: "the 'brought to bed' in her own home to birth" and another, "drugged and 'alone among strangers' in an impersonal hospital" (1986, 196). Beyond the physical dichotomy of home and hospital, popular texts and academic studies continue with divisive rhetoric of either/or and persecution/revolution when discussing women's options for maternity care. In an attempt to remedy this divisive tendency, the idea was born to literally bring different birth professionals to the table for food and discussion in order to foster familiarity and cooperation between individuals from different groups. It became a monthly dinner series titled Intercourse.

"Intercourse," a series of semi-facilitated dinner discussions organized for birth professionals and based in Madison, Wisconsin, is a forum for peacebuilding. At the dinner, participants are openly invited to offer stories from their professional life and to listen without defensively "saving-face"; an occasion of mediated storytelling through "intercourse." We define peace as a place of intersecting boundaries from which professionals view their roles as complementary instead of oppositional. The productivity of social/professional relationship is put into a theoretical framework to answer the questions: How do social encounters foster professional connection? How can individuals see themselves as part of a collaborative health system conducive to referrals and cooperation? To this end, we review academic definitions of inter-professional peace and relate principles of inter-professional relations and clustered connection to the discursive format of "Intercourse."


What does it mean to intercourse? In Merriam-Webster's dictionary we find: "Intercourse: 1: connection or dealings between persons or groups 2: exchange esp. of thoughts or feelings: COMMUNION 3: physical sexual contact between individuals..." (Merriam-Webster 1996, 609). "Intercourse," a social-networking opportunity for professional peacebuilding, makes use of this wordplay to engage the diversity of professionals working with birthing women in Wisconsin. How is peace and peacebuilding defined in this context and why is it important? Peace researcher William Eckhardt has explored the importance of cooperation between peace educators, researchers, and activists, and provides a very applicable definition of peace.

At all levels of analysis, 'peace' refers to an ideal state of either no conflict at all or, more likely, to some optimum degree or kind of conflict which contributes to the growth and development of all the parties involved...Some conflict may be essential, to challenge us to higher levels of growth and development (Eckhardt, 1988).

Bringing different birth professionals together potentially fosters trust necessary to productively turn topics of conflict and disagreement to paths of collaboration and growth. More understanding among practitioners may result in the improved quality and continuity of patient care.

Since June 2012, the authors have invited birth professionals to a series of Intercourse dinners in Madison, Wisconsin. After the inevitable chuckle elicited by such a request, the invitees cannot help but be curious about what, exactly, they are being invited to do. The play on words in the Intercourse title references the relational nature of the word intercourse, a meaning used less and less frequently in English over the years. So, in fact, birth professionals- doctors, midwives, doulas, acupuncturists, nurses-are also reminded that, while sexual intercourse is the bread and butter of their profession, communicative intercourse is just as important to building a satisfying career as a collaborative birth professional.

Intercourse, the dinner series, provides a playful yet productive forum where professionals working within highly specialized clinical boundaries may listen to the experiences of each other. …

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