This panel traces the effects of biotechnology on personal identity in different contexts. Using the cases of IVF, surrogacy programs, cosmetic surgery and skin care, we demonstrate how biotechnologies help define the body and acceptable bodily practices and interventions across the globe.
STS scholarship on biotechnological modification of the human body has troubled the boundaries between binaries such as male/female, white/nonwhite, individual/other, natural/artificial, and unitary (that is, whole)/fragmented. STS scholars who study the relation between personal identities and biotechnologies have demonstrated how certain kinds of bodies are selectively invoked to support a given social order, and how bodies are disciplined by biotechnology into fitting social hierarchies. Scholars have remarked on the power of biotechnology to reinforce, police and legitimate typologies of social difference. But experts do not simply act on bodies to discipline them; the effect of biotechnology on ideas about the body may be subtle and unintended. Individuals may also seek out biotechnologies to express aspects of their identities or realize new identities, a fact that companies have used to distinguish themselves in a crowded and sometimes transnational marketplace.
This panel traces the role of various biotechnologies, mundane and advanced, in shaping the physical body in multiple national and transnational contexts. Continuing a line of STS research that argues body boundaries are not self-evident, this panel illustrates the effects of biotechnology on personal identity in different state and market contexts. Using the cases of IVF, surrogacy programs, cosmetic surgery, and more, we will trace how biotechnologies play into the politics of defining acceptable bodies and bodily practices across the globe. This panel explores the extent to which individuals tie their identities to their bodies, showing how individuals relate to their bodies under particular political and economic conditions.
This track is closed to new paper proposals.
Constructing A Perfect Ten: Acceptable Cosmetic Surgery in Multicultural Societies
This paper analyzes how personal identity and the physical body are linked through the biotechnology of cosmetic surgery in the U.S. and Malaysia. It argues that surgeons define acceptable bodily modifications in terms of the identities they are discursively connected to.
Cosmetic surgery is a worldwide phenomenon associated with local manifestations. The countries perhaps best known for expertise in and popularity of cosmetic surgery are Brazil and South Korea. But these cases represent extremes; this paper explores the motivations that surgeons and patients express for undertaking cosmetic surgery in two multicultural societies, the U.S. and Malaysia, with careful attention to what is considered acceptable and good and what is considered bad. It argues that surgeons conflate what is seen as technically possible with what is socially/morally possible and desirable with respect to cosmetic surgery outcomes. Flagging surgeons' use of a discourse of natural/artificial to describe outcomes, it shows how cosmetic surgery is used to realize or enhance certain personal identities, such as race, gender, and class in two distinct multicultural contexts. That is, this study demonstrates how surgeons define acceptable interventions as enhancement or mitigation of certain culturally-specific identities. Based on semi-structured interviews with cosmetic surgeons and patients in Malaysia and the U.S., this paper takes up how personal identity and the physical body are linked through the biotechnology of cosmetic surgery. This study investigates cosmetic surgery as a medical technology, but also considers how the technologies that surgeons use affect eventual outcomes. Attending to race and gender, this paper aims to advance STS thinking about the relationship between the biotechnology of cosmetic surgery and social identities by exploring the binary boundaries that cosmetic surgery in multicultural societies reinforces as well as those it disrupts.
Defining Skin as an Individualized Surface: American Post-War Marketing and the Products of Identity
This paper explores how American men and women began to regard their skin as a highly individualized organ in the 1950s and 60s. I show how this understanding emerged in part due to marketing of consumer goods (e.g. soap) drawing on the Ernest Dichter papers, periodicals and advertisements.
In a speech before the Whitting Indiana Science Club in March of 1965 Ernest Dichter proclaimed: "The consumer of 1970 will be more of an individual.... 'My hair is different. My skin is different. My needs are different.' We find such statements occurring more and more in our research studies." Dichter, the noted leader of an American marketing firm, was positioned to make such a claim on the basis of hundreds of in-depth interviews his staff conducted on behalf of companies like Lever Brothers and Proctor & Gamble, in which they asked everyday consumers questions probing the psychology of their purchasing decisions. This included questions about how they felt about their skin.
Drawing on the the reports and papers of the Ernest Dichter collection, published periodicals and advertising materials I explore how American men and women began to understand their skin as a highly individualized organ in the 1950s and 60s. What did it mean for skin to be regarded as personal, unique, and differing from a mass norm? How did this understanding emerge and in particular what role did the marketing of consumer goods such as soap play in its development? This paper explores these questions situated within a growing academic literature on skin and complicates the admirable literary analysis by Claudia Benthiem that describes the body's outermost organ during this period as an increasingly closed, hard, or alienated surface.
Minority Women and Making Use of Government Regulated Reproductive Technologies
Regulations of and experiences with in vitro fertilization (IVF) reflect states’ ideologies, their approach to different groups, and definition of ideals. This paper examines the relationship between political religion, IVF technology, and infertile minority women’s negotiations their reproduction.
The concepts in and around race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion, and class play role in determining which bodies, bodily categories and lives are recognized and made to matter and which are not. Science and technology scholars has long illustrated that the emergence of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) has opened new windows for power holders to implement social regulations, control bodies, and attempt to re-define aforementioned concepts within and beyond their nations. This study aims to investigate if and how this is achieved through precarization by focusing on minorities' experiences with their infertility. This paper specifically examines how infertile women belonging to different groups define themselves and perform their identities in their politically changing environment in relation to government regulated reproductive technologies. This study is the result of preliminary and ongoing dissertation research that investigates how the relationship between in vitro fertilization (IVF), political Islam, and changing ethnic-minority status shapes the reproductive experiences and negotiations of infertile Sunni Kurdish women in Turkey. Because this research is multisited, this paper also compares and contrasts the role of IVF—that is regulated by the state by racialized discourse—in the definition of womanhood and in women's infertility experiences across time and space. Thus, this paper will also address to the question of how women living in overlapping pronatalist systems (state and societal) respond to and utilize the racialized reproductive technologies and collective state interests to fulfill their own reproductive needs.
The Market for Wombs: A Study of the Transnational Surrogacy Industry in Mexico
Drawing on ethnographic research in Mexico, this study explores the processes through which international networks, complex regulatory regimes, and local economies converge in the formation of international surrogacy programs, and how, in turn, women’s bodies are refashioned to serve global markets.
Over the past decade, a multi-billion dollar global surrogacy industry has emerged in which intended parents cross national borders to contract women to gestate and birth a child. This global industry exists in part because surrogacy is banned in many jurisdictions, either entirely or for certain groups like same-sex couples, and in part because of the cost variation of contracting a surrogate mother in different countries. The landscape of the transnational surrogacy industry is constantly shifting as surrogacy destinations shut down due to regulatory changes and others emerge in their place to meet market demand. Using the Mexican surrogacy industry as a case study, I explore how international networks, complex regulatory regimes, and local economies converge in the formation of new transnational industries and how, in turn, women's bodies are refashioned to serve global markets.
The state of Tabasco, Mexico rose to prominence as a global surrogacy destination, particularly for gay men, after restrictions on surrogacy were announced in India in 2013. In December 2015, the congress of Tabasco shook up the industry by passing a bill limiting surrogacy to Mexican heterosexual couples. Drawing on ethnographic research in Mexico over the past two years, my study looks at the creative ways that markets respond to changing regulations. Based on interviews with a range of actors in the Mexican surrogacy industry, my research illuminates the processes through which different places become "visible" or legible as possible surrogacy tourism destinations and which wombs become "available" as a result of these global searches.
This track is closed to new paper proposals.