EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Alliances, networks, and oppositions: the transnational circulation of medical reproductive technologies

Location S-238
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00


Venetia Kantsa (University of the Aegean) email
Aglaia Chatjouli (University of the Aegean) email
Eugenia Georges (University of the Aegean) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

In the last decades reproductive technologies have rapidly spread from metropolitan research centers to countries that differ enormously in a number of terms. This panel will discuss how such technologies are invented, dispersed and imported into various contexts where they are locally "translated".

Long Abstract

In the last decades a revolution has taken place in the field of human reproduction. Medical reproductive technologies -ultrasound, assisted reproduction, prenatal diagnosis- changed the way we experience conception, gestation and birth, while introducing new possibilities and choices -reproduction without sex, freezing of genetic material, posthumous reproduction, sex choice, genetic screening. These technologies have rapidly spread from metropolitan research centers to countries that differ enormously in terms of religion, ethical reasoning, legal system, state intervention, kinship formation, reproduction needs and desires.

This panel will discuss how medical reproductive technologies are invented and dispersed through the collaboration of doctors, research centers, patient groups, public/private funding, and via practices of knowledge exchange, such as participation in international conferences, circulation of publications and visual material, manufacture and acquisition of novel laboratory equipment. Additionally, it aims to problematize how these global technologies are imported into various cultural contexts where they are locally "translated", transformed, accepted or contested while being appropriated by users through networks of interested parties.

Papers may address the following issues:

-Global and local histories of medical reproductive technologies focusing on the networks between professionals

-The transnational circulation of key texts, films and equipment

-The formation of legal/ethical/religious committees that interpret and adjust global medical technologies to fit local contexts

-The creation of networks among patients/activists that enable or discourage the proliferation of such technologies

-The transmission of personal experience and advice regarding the use/misuse of reproductive technologies (via internet forums, word of mouth, support groups)

Chair: Venetia Kantsa
Discussant: Aglaia Chatjouli, Eugenia Georges

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Acronyms for the many ways to make a baby: thoughts about medical surveillance and moralities

Author: Deanna Trakas (University of the Aegean)  email

Short Abstract

Through the prism of reproductive technology anthropological research addresses issues of kinship, gender and sexuality but has not taken the challenge of exploring the moralities of privacy and intimacy. The paper discuses these delicate matters which have been intruded upon by science, medicine and politics

Long Abstract

In all fairness to acronyms, the story of the medical intervention in human reproduction from the 1970s to the present should begin with NRT - new reproductive technology such as ultrasound, amniocentesis and electronic fetal monitoring (EFM). The CS should be mentioned, but the history of the caesarian section is beyond the boundaries of this paper. Essentially all of the NRTs of the 70s were invasions of women's body and it is not by chance that this coincided with an era of stubbornness among women who read Our Bodies, Ourselves, talked in "rap groups" and dared to make plans for home births. In northern Europe and the US, the move to return birth to home was countered in the "developing countries" which encouraged the policy of birth placed clearly in the hands of biomedicine. Meanwhile anthropological fieldwork in the "third world" found that women mysteriously refused the generous care of foreign implemented maternity hospitals and preferred their local midwives. Medically assisted reproductive technology (MART) can reduce the process to a simple four letters - usually three (IVF) - but the anthropology of birth and kinship, and indeed affection, is devoured by the medico-legal technology of conception.

The unintended consequences of sex education: an ethnography of a development intervention in Latin America

Authors: Erica Nelson  email
Alexander Edmonds (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

In this ethnographic “meta-study” we consider how various social actors interpreted, responded to, and sometimes repurposed the language and practices of a multi-country adolescent sexual and reproductive health intervention in Latin America.

Long Abstract

This paper will present an ethnography of a multi-disciplinary, adolescent sexual and reproductive health intervention that included ethnographic fieldwork. Its focus is a four-year, European Commission-funded project in Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. An important goal of the project - and of the larger global field of adolescent sexual and reproductive health-- is to create more open parent to teen communication. This paper analyzes the project's efforts to foster communication and how social actors variously interpreted, responded to, and repurposed intervention language and practices. While the intervention emphasized the goal of "open communication," participants more often used the term "confianza" (trust). This norm was defined in ways that might - or might not - include revealing information about sexual activity. Questioning public health assumptions that parent teen communication on sex, in and of itself, is key to healthy sexual behaviours, this paper explores the pragmatics of communication on sex that includes silence, implied expectations, gendered conflicts, and temporally delayed knowledge.

Lost in translation? Patients' activism around ARTs in Poland and Sweden

Authors: Elzbieta Korolczuk (University of Gothenburg)  email
Jenny Gunnarsson Payne (Södertörn University)  email

Short Abstract

The question we aim to answer is how local ideals and practices of motherhood and fatherhood are reflected in the types of political grammars employed by Polish and Swedish organizations for infertile people.

Long Abstract

Many scholars observe that reproductive experiences are shaped by and are reflective of large-scale political, social and economic processes (Browner and Sargent 2011, Knecht et al 2012). Contradictory views on biotechnological innovations regarding reproduction which circulate in contemporary societies influence and are influenced by various discourses, practices and regulations, both nationally and internationally. Thus, the problem of "translating" and "adjusting" global ideas and discourses to fit local conditions becomes a key issue not only for experts but also patients involved in the field of assisted reproduction.

In our presentation we look at how discourses on assisted reproductive technologies function in specific cultural and political contexts of Poland and Sweden; how they are locally appropriated, translated and/or contested. We focus specifically on the activities of organizations and networks of patients in these two countries. The question we aim to answer is how local ideals and practices of motherhood and fatherhood are reflected in the types of political grammars employed by Polish and Swedish patients' organizations. We base our conclusions on the analysis of texts published by patients' organizations on-line, individual interviews with activists and qualitative analysis of Polish and Swedish media.

Personal stories of infertility and assisted reproduction: What is shared and what is kept to oneself

Author: Aglaia Chatjouli (University of the Aegean)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing from ethnographic research in Greece this paper discusses the decisions made by involved parties to share or not experiences of infertility and ARTs, further pointing to the local mediation of novel technologies and the reconceptualization of (in)fertility, parenthood and childnessness

Long Abstract

Within experiences of infertility and medically assisted reproduction different kinds of personal narratives, relevant stories regarding experiences of kin and friends, pieces of information on specific difficulties and on different technologies, memories of failed or successful attempts, are either spoken or kept private according to contexts. This presentation draws from ongoing ethnographic research on assisted reproduction in Greece and aims to discuss and problematize the nature of the decision making process made by the involved parties (women, men, couples, kin and close friends) to share or not their experiences of infertility and assisted reproduction. Modes of relating to the biosocial embodied and gendered self, to technological promises and dilemmas, to close kin, family and the proximal other, to the reflective temporality of experience; all seem to organize the particularities and levels of disclosing reproductive challenges. By focusing on the travelling of personal experience the author wishes to reveal the underlying assumptions framing the local mediation of novel reproductive technologies as well as the changing cultural patterns organizing the conceptualization of infertility(ies), reproduction, motherhood, fatherhood and childnessness. Furthermore, this is taking place in an era where the personal is easily channeled to public spaces and where medical information is negotiated in nonmedical socialities both on local and transnational levels.

Unsecular life: on ARTs and religion in Italy and in the Mediterranean context

Author: Giulia Zanini (University of Padova)  email

Short Abstract

Religion is part of actual modernities of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). Drawing on an ethnographic research in Italy and among Italian reproductive travellers, the present paper presents the emergence of the “unsecular” in the cultural, moral, religion and political Italian context.

Long Abstract

Recent anthropological research has shown how religion is part of actual modernities of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). It surfaces in multiple ways at different levels in the regulation, implementation, performance and experience of ARTs and serves various needs in different localities. Italy, which has been known for having seen the issue of a very restrictive national law on assisted reproduction in 2004, constitutes an interesting case of how religious and secular claims and practices overlap and interact in the public and private understanding of ARTs, making room for the emergence of the "unsecular" in the way in which both policy-makers and prospective parents approach ARTs. Drawing on an ethnographic research in Italy and among Italian reproductive travellers, the present paper presents this peculiar cultural, moral, religion and political context. In particular, it analyses the way in which different Catholic approaches to ARTs co-exist; explores the religious claims and practices among reproductive prospective parents as well as the official and unofficial stances of the Roman Catholic Church's representatives; and maps the use of Catholic-inspired principles in politics and family and reproductive policies. Finally, this papers compares existing literature on religion and ARTs in different Mediterranean countries in order to examine how religion differently affects geographically contiguous and partially interactive reproductive modernities both at institutional and individual levels.

Contesting their own worlds: assisted reproductive technologies and Muslim women in northern Greece

Author: Pinelopi Topali (University of the Aegean)  email

Short Abstract

Muslim women in Greece embrace Islamic pronatalism and engage in ARTs. However, they reject their religious communities’ attempts to control their morality and actively appropriate the ART experience to form, at least provisionally, a self-centered subjectivity related to freedom and modernity.

Long Abstract

Women of the Muslim minority in western Thrace, Greece, embrace Islamic pronatalism and highly value procreation. Following the religious duty to reproduce, they engage in Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) (usually intrauterine insemination and in vitro fertilization), except of third party gamete donation which the Sunni Islam strictly prohibits.

However, the use of ART by Muslim women results in strict community control by various communities (relatives, in-laws, neighbors, villagers, Muslims). Women are suspected for using sperm of another man and not their legal husband, thus, of committing adultery. Under the pressure of procreation, of accusations of adultery and the embodied experience of ART, Muslim women acquire a critical stance on Muslim communities and contest their own worlds.

More specifically, Muslim women, using ART, reconstruct, through the ART experience, webs of relationships and hierarchies of alterity. Their worlds, the minority, the village, doctors, relatives, friends and husbands become re-situated on a new map of intimate or distant relationships. Drawing this map entails following forms of speech on ART. Silences, insinuations, quips, honest, open talking by interlocutors are thoroughly assessed. Styles of speech and contents pointing to a disclosure of the ART experience are related to women's autonomy and freedom and are highly valued. Silencing, on the contrary, is rejected, being related to the past and to women's control. Through the agential practices of appropriating the language on ART usage, and not ART usage per se, Muslim women relate themselves to modernity and the future and construct, at least provisionally, a self-centered subjectivity.

Transnational networks of surrogacy: a case study from Germany

Author: Anika König (Freie Universität Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

Surrogacy, which constitutes one particular form of assisted reproduction, takes place in a highly diverse and transnational setting. This paper deals with the experiences of German ‘intended parents’ and how they negotiate their way in this transnational context, particularly in internet forums.

Long Abstract

Surrogacy is the carrying of a child to term by a so-called 'surrogate mother', who, after having given birth, hands the child over to the commissioning 'intended parents'.

While some countries permit surrogacy, others prohibit the practice altogether. Germany, as a country whose laws concerning assisted reproductive technologies in general are among the most restrictive world-wide, belongs to the latter. As a result of this restrictive legal situation most intended parents from Germany commission a surrogacy outside their home country - the main destinations for this form of assisted reproduction being Asian and Eastern European countries and the United States. However, the laws as well as the ways in which agencies, doctors, clinics, and lawyers work differ greatly depending on the respective national and socio-cultural contexts.

Most intended parents find it difficult to negotiate their way in this highly diverse and transnational setting. This is especially true for German intended parents, who, due to the legal situation, are unable to rely upon official guidelines, counseling or advice. As a result, they seek information and advice on the internet, mostly in discussion forums. Here, more experienced intended parents share their experiences and knowledge and give advice to newcomers. This ranges from recommendations concerning particular agencies, doctors, or lawyers to personal stories of success or failure, etc.

This paper deals with this virtual exchange of knowledge and experiences and how this overlaps with people's real-life experiences in the transnational surrogacy industry.

Learning to adopt on Greece: educating maternal bodies

Author: Irini Papadaki (University of Aegean)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how infertile women become adopted mothers through "technologies of knowledge". Building a maternal body on reading popular phycology and making public their adoption status they contest the normative cultural script that defines a mother as a reproductive being.

Long Abstract

This paper examines how infertile women become adopted mothers through "technologies of knowledge". I perceive adoption as a reproductive technology that has to be examined parallel with NRT (Melhuus & Howell 2009) as both of them produce maternal bodies. Based on two years field-work, mostly in Athens, the paper focuses on the gradual entry of these women in the world of adoption's "unnatural procreation". The vast majority of these women have suffered from unsuccessful efforts of assisted conceptions. Through reading and sharing these traumatic experiences via internet forums they are trying, initially, to overcome the "cultural intimacy" of "blood", while placing the social dimension of parenthood as central part of their subjectivity. The more knowledge these women get, the more experience they share, the more "conscious" mothers they become. Gradually, adopted mothers become so well educated about motherhood that they carry with them the appropriate vocabulary and the theory tools to "answer" both to others as well as to their own growing kids. Building a maternal body on reading popular phycology and making public their adoption status they contest the normative cultural script that defines a mother as a reproductive being. This is an emotional difficult, painful and continuous work, that through its constant demands on psychological knowledge proves the earned and nonnegotiable maternal quality.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.