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.
"Cold Storage: Time, Temperature, and Transit in Feminist Science & Technology Studies" symposium, Hampshire College
“Interrogating the Intersections of Race and Reproduction in Medicine, Science, and Technology," Wenner-Gren Foundation workshop, New York
This workshop was once the seed of an idea long ago and it is a privilege to be part of the conversations planned by/for anthropologists on the intersections of race and reproduction. Our stellar grant-writers and organizers, Natali Valdez and Daisy Deomampo, organized a productive 2-day workshop sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation during which anthropologists from around the world discussed each participant's pre-circulated article-length paper. I presented a paper examining the enactments of race in US Christian embryo adoption. I will use feedback from this workshop to revise the paper for submission to a special journal issue arranged with Medical Anthropology.
Here's a description of the workshop's vision from the funding grant, and keep an eye out for the forthcoming journal issue!
This workshop brings ethnographic research on reproduction into conversation with anthropological debates about race and identity. While there is a rich literature that examines the social and cultural implications of reproduction, relatively few ethnographic studies have placed race and racialization at the center of analysis. The primary goal of the workshop is to convene a group of junior and senior scholars who have been working in diverse ethnographic sites--such as the neonatal intensive care unit, the infertility clinic, or the embryo adoption agency--to incorporate theoretical insights of critical race studies into recent anthropological work on reproduction. This two-day workshop will include anthropologists from the U.S. as well as the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Brazil, and Australia, during which participants will comment on papers that have been exchanged prior to the workshop. The goal is to produce a special journal issue on this topic.
Also I represented the Council on Anthropology & Reproduction on the "Health, Care, and Well-being in Trump’s America" roundtable featuring Special Interest Groups (SIGs) from the Society for Medical Anthropology (SMA).