"Saving Embryos: Waking Up Christian Logics in Reproductive Technologies," 4S Conference, New Orleans, LA
First, I will reflect on lessons learned from scholarship in this tradition that addresses Christianity. Then, drawing upon ethnographic research from 2008-2018, I will offer a glimpse inside programs that manage embryos leftover from IVF, including a prominent “embryo adoption” program established by “pro-life” Christians (which I call Blossom) and a premier biobank for human embryonic stem cell research (which I call REDEEM Biobank). In my work, I have examined the medical, economic, and religious connotations of saving to trace the various alignments and stakes of them across these settings. Today, I use saving in a narrower sense to focus on the explicit and secularized Christian logics of salvation, resurrection, redemption subtending both programs that strive to convert IVF leftovers into renewed form. To conclude, I will trace how some of the same Christian logics are propelling the contemporary antiabortion movement, what this means for reproductive justice, and why we should care.... Louisiana is an exemplar place for seeing how Christian saving logics, expressed through embryo personhood politics, have real and wide implications.
Hot off the press! My colleague Sandra Bärnreuther and I co-authored an essay for the Reproductive. Sociology Search Group (ReproSoc) at the University of Cambridge in which we compare trends we noticed in our different research settings where sperm, eggs, and embryos are frozen and managed. Check out the full post here!
Here's a teaser:
Looking through an anthropological lens, it is safe to assume that reproductive substances in biobanks, like cryopreserved donor gametes and embryos, are constituted in distinct ways within Indian In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) hospitals as compared to US research laboratories or “adoption” programs. Our respective ethnographic research in these settings confirms that reproductive substances are “a cultural and historical product, and one which may well look different in the varied locations in which we work” (Marsland and Prince 2012, 462). More surprising perhaps are the similarities in how cryopreserved gametes and embryos are transformed, reconfigured, and manifest multiple potentialities in our respective fieldsites. We began discussing these commonalities during the 2016 conference “Biobanques: Quelles Reconfigurations Pour Le Vivant? Approches Interdisciplinaires et Comparatives” in Paris, from which we both developed articles for publication in New Genetics and Society within a special issue on “Biobanks and the Reconfigurations of the Living.” In this blog post, we share common aspects that we encountered across distinct fieldsites and discuss questions they invite about the transformation of frozen life in reproductive biobanks...(Read on here)
I'm excited to be joining the "Baby Markets Roundtable," chaired by Dr. Michelle Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. Previous roundtables contributed to the Baby Markets edited volume published in 2010 by Cambridge University Press. If it's not on your radar, it should be! I'll be discussing race as a marketable good within Christian embryo adoption.
Panel Description: Feminist STS and medical anthropology scholars of the past three decades have offered innovative theorizations of the entanglements between capitalism and reproductive and regenerative technologies. These technologies--from surrogacy to embryo “adoption,” gamete vending to cord blood banking, placenta exchanges to uterine transplants, and gene testing to gene editing--have much to tell us about how contemporary bioeconomies work. Scholars in this tradition have contributed to the proliferation of “bio-concepts” that draw critical attention to the political economies involved in shaping clinical, institutional, social, geopolitical, and cultural practices of assisted reproduction and social life more broadly. Taking the capitalizing practices that steer the global fertility sector as an object of inquiry, this panel uses, critiques, expands, and contextualizes this range of bio-concepts within the context of reproductive technologies. Drawing upon research from across the globe, this double panel addresses core themes: how centering economic analyses in scholarship on reproductive technologies and bio-exchanges interrupt and generate new understandings of late capitalism; which methods and disciplinary perspectives help to foreground configurations of value and power; and what opportunities exist for amplifying political economy analyses in STS scholarship. Together, these papers provide a critical take on what political economy contributes to long-standing feminist STS concerns with the imbrications of capital, reproduction, and technology.
Here's a preview of the paper I will be delivering that examines the Christian logics that propel reproductive remainders around the globe:
Paper Title: Sacred Assets: Christian Logics of Reproductive Remainder Economies
Paper Abstract: Frozen human embryos leftover from in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures have become a favorite example among science and technology studies scholars and medical anthropologists theorizing what happens at the junctures of capitalism, reproductive medicine, and biotechnologies. A range of “bio-concepts” have flourished in recent years to explain the role of capitalist logics in circulating and valuing entities like embryos within global markets. Despite some observations of Christian discourses within contemporary bioeconomies (e.g. rhetoric of salvation), few scholars in this tradition have addressed Christianity as a constitutive ingredient shaping the U.S. tissue trade. Drawing on ethnographic research (2008-2018) in the United States within programs that manage frozen embryos, including a premier biobank for human embryonic stem cell research and the world’s first “embryo adoption” program establish ed by evangelical Christians, this paper offers a reconsideration of feminist scholarship on bioeconomies by putting Christian logics at the center of analysis. Determining where embryos belong categorically and practically has inspired new forms of expertise, discourses, and practices through which these opposing groups came to share deep commitments to regeneration—a revaluing process of severing embryos from their past relations and redirecting their potentialities toward new futures. By examining the secularized and explicit Christian logics that subtend both practices, this paper contributes to a growing body of literature about the challenges of valuing potential—an increasingly common phenomenon within societies shaped by speculative forms of capitalism and Christianity.
I received news that funding for a second meeting with French and American colleagues to comparatively discuss governance of reproductive technologies has been approved! I look forward to reconnecting with these colleagues and developing a paper and presentation on embryo adoption for next May's meeting in Paris.
My colleague Lucy van de Wiel and I wrote a review of the fantastic "Remaking Reproduction" conference hosted by Cambridge University at the end of June. Check it out to see why thinking about reproduction is fundamental to understanding the wider social order:
Scholars of reproductive technologies are paying increasing attention to financial logics within IVF and its interface with stem cell research. In Melinda Cooper and Catherine Waldby’s (2014) analysis of clinical labor, they observed “uncanny hybridities of money, speculation, financialization, and in vitro tissues” within global tissue economies that are driven by desires to generate forms of value perceived to be latent within reproductive entities. Since the derivation of human embryonic stem cells in 1998, excess embryos left over from IVF and frozen for future have become a precious resource for stem cell researchers whose practices illustrate the uncanny hybridities of finance and reproductive remainder economies. Yet in addition to the expanding financial logics at the IVF-stem cell interface, more mundane accounting practices are at work too. Drawing on ethnographic research in a human embryo biobank based in a California university research lab, this paper analyzes one family’s donation of a diseased embryo for stem cell research that strives to “account for life” through care and cure. At the same time the donors hoped that their embryo could accelerate research toward a cure for the disease affecting their daughter and others in their community, they filed an unprecedented income tax exemption form to the United States Internal Revenue Service with an appraisal report estimating the value of the diseased embryo—a strategy they hoped could provide financial support in caring for their daughter. Such accounting practices may broaden how scholars of reproductive technologies examine the financialization of reproductive and regenerative medicine by reminding us to not overlook the banal, but no less speculative, instruments used to account for reproductive labor.