ReproSoc hosts various events throughout the year from public lectures to conferences and workshops. Please find details of our past events below, with links to video and audio podcasts where available.
The Maternal Body as Environment
Autism, Risk, and the New Science of Resposibility
29th March 2017 | 12:30 - 2pm | Sociology Seminar Room
Research exploring the causes of autism spectrum disorder has increased significantly in recent years. This talk develops the concept of the maternal body as environment to describe how studies focused on environmental risk factors are producing women's bodies as sites of growing consequence for understanding childhood difference today. I argue that this science reflects new spatial and temporal dimensions of parental responsibility, and new ideas about the relationships between bodies and environments in the post-genomic era.
Lives, Times and Technologies
31st March - 1st April 2017 | Alison Richard Building
Convened by Branwyn Poleykett and Karen Jent
The Biocircularities meeting explores the diverse ways in which technoscientific innovations in epigenetics, bio-banking and regenerative medicine challenge and redefine traditional life course models. Questioning the methodological assumption that lives are ‘lived forward’ from birth to death in the linearity of successive steps, speakers foreground the circularities of life and the loops of bodily experience. The registration is now open.
Professor Ayo Wahlberg (University of Copenhagen) will give the public keynote address on 'Exposed biology and the reproduction problem' on 31 March 2017 at 5pm, Alison Richards Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT.
There are postgraduate bursaries for MPhil and PhD students available to attend the conference. Please get in touch with email@example.com.
Fertility Marketing and "Consumer Self-Spectacularisation"
1st March 2017
The fourth-wave feminist movement has been celebrated as a revival of feminism that is driven by the power of the Internet and social media to challenge gender inequity. Through a rhetorical deconstruction of customer online testimonials from three American fertility websites I challenge the liberatory claims attached to fourth-wave expression. What emerges through this investigation is the user-generated complicity of consumers who are encouraged to buy into an infertility cure but who also inadvertently compound gendered perceptions of reproductive health.
The Annual ReproSoc Public Lecture
Cosmopolitan Conceptions in Global Dubai
A Reprolexicon for 21st Century Reprotravel
Professor Marcia Inhorn
20th October 2016
We are honoured to have Professor Marcia Inhorn delivering our second ReproSoc annual lecture.
In her lecture, Marcia Inhorn, one of the world's leading medical anthropologists, explores the global market in fertility services drawing on her many years of fieldwork in Dubai -- now a major hub of assisted reproductive technology (ART). By exploring the demanding and complex journeys of 220 'reprotravellers' from 50 countries to Dubai's 'cosmopolitan' fertility centres, Inhorn argues we underestimate the costs of these often disappointing fertility odysseys, leading her to call for new forms of activism to address unmet reproductive health needs.
Making a Good Life Book Launch
An Ethnography of Nature, Ethics, and Reproduction
by Katie Dow
20th October 2016
Making a Good Life takes a timely look at the ideas and values that inform how people think about reproduction and assisted reproductive technologies. In an era of heightened scrutiny about parenting and reproduction, fears about environmental degradation, and the rise of the biotechnology industry, Katharine Dow delves into the reproductive ethics of those who do not have a personal stake in assisted reproductive technologies, but who are building lives inspired and influenced by environmentalism and concerns about the natural world's future.
Moving away from experiences of infertility treatments tied to the clinic and laboratory, Dow instead explores reproduction and assisted reproductive technologies as topics of public concern and debate, and she examines how people living in a coastal village in rural Scotland make ethical decisions and judgments about these matters. In particular, Dow engages with people's ideas about nature and naturalness, and how these relate to views about parenting and building stable environments for future generations. Taking into account the ways daily responsibilities and commitments are balanced with moral values, Dow suggests there is still much to uncover about reproductive ethics.
Analyzing how ideas about reproduction intersect with wider ethical struggles, Making a Good Life offers a new approach to researching, thinking, and writing about nature, ethics, and reproduction.
Julian Huxley's Reproductive Futures
23rd May 2016
If the futures of assisted reproductive technologies are being created now, our own present was created by past generations. This is both strange and sobering, given how swiftly ideas, technologies, needs and desires change. Retrospects as well as prospects are important. In this lecture I consider the reproductive futures envisioned by one of the twentieth-century’s most intriguing polymath-biologists, Julian Huxley. Author of Evolution: the Modern Synthesis, inventor of the term ‘transhumanism’, first Director-General of UNESCO, Huxley synthesised and communicated the work of the great geneticists, molecular biologists and reproductive physiologists of the day. Many of them (Crick, Pincus, Lederberg, Muller) met at a conference in 1963, “Man and his Future”. This lecture focuses on this meeting, one that opened with Huxley’s visions for the “biological future of mankind”. In 1963, the future hinged on assisted reproductive technologies as a solution, but not on infertility as a problem.
Alison Bashford is Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. Most recently, she is author of Global Population: History, Geopolitics and Life on Earth (Columbia, 2014) and co-author, with Joyce E. Chaplin, of The New Worlds of Thomas Robert Malthus: Re-reading the Principle of Population (Princeton, 2016).
Changing Fertility: Social, Demographic and Ethical Consequences of Assisted Conception Technologies
23rd May 2016
So far, less attention has been given to the significance of ARTs in relation to theories of fertility change, birth rate decline, or other forms of what are known as ‘demographic transition theory’. At the same time, we know that in every country where IVF and other ARTs have been developed, the consequences for reproduction have been complex and multifaceted. The effort, then, to ‘situate fertility’ more precisely in relation to the impact of ARTs represents a crucial, but largely unexplored, area of study. These issues are directly linked to policy implications regarding the level of spending on ARTs and the question of whether demographic or fertility implications should play a part in how these technologies are monitored, provided, or regulated. This forum addressed these questions by bringing together scholars from various disciplines, leading figures in the ART sector, and policy makers from the UK and abroad.
Book Launch for Before and After Gender by Marilyn Strathern
5th May 2016
Sara Ahmed will chair the panel with Alain Pottage, Nanneke Redclift, Sarah Franklin, and discussant Barbara Bodenhorn who will be joined by Marilyn Strathern.
Followed by the launch of Marilyn Strathern’s 1974 book Before and After Gender: sexual mythologies in everyday life, which was never published after it was written but has since been edited for release by Hau Books.
Edited by Sarah Franklin with an Afterword by Judith Butler, this book will be launched at this special event chaired by Rebecca Cassidy.
Pasts, parents, and 'adult childness' in US graphic memoirs
4th March 2016
By visiting speaker Siobhan Magee
This talk analyses a popular and culturally impactful strand of graphic novels: the graphic memoir. The affinity between the respective works of Alison Bechdel (Fun House: A Family Tragicomic; Are You My Mother?), Roz Chast (Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?), and Art Spiegelman (Maus) and contemporary thought on gender, reproduction, and kinship is clear. Graphic memoirs provide detailed and by definition subjective accounts of relationships that take nothing about relatedness (biological or otherwise) for granted.
Focusing on parent-child relationships (which are, amongst many other things, an idiom that we use to talk about social change) graphic memoirs tell of the ways in which relationships are informed by critical legal, scientific, and political events. These include progress in LGBTQ and women’s rights and the enduring ethical loadedness of reproducing both histories and lines of descent after the Holocaust. These demonstrate how technological advancements from the development of new reproductive technologies to research on age-related dementia inform intergenerational relationships.
In this talk, I suggest that a key theme amongst graphic memoirs is ‘adult childness’. This describes the state of possessing a nagging awareness of ill-defined sets of obligations to one’s parents regarding gender, class, and (sometimes) faith-based social reproduction on the one hand and care, contact, and (sometimes) the ‘provision’ of grandchildren on the other. Academic and mainstream media discourses increasingly frame parenthood as a verb, something one does: ‘parenting’ (see Lee, Bristow, Faircloth, and Macvarish 2014). In contrast, I argue, the adult who reflects on their role ‘as offspring’ is less in a state of ‘-ing’ than inhabiting a state of being: a ‘-ness’. When being an ‘adult child’ means thinking about both one’s parents’ biographies and the socio-political context in which one was born and came of age, experiences of reproduction are just as much about conceptualizing pasts as they are about planning futures.
22-24th October 2015
In recent years the development and use of assisted reproductive technologies have exploded in China. Since China's first IVF baby was born in 1988, over 350 treatment centres have opened, potentially offering services to the over 90 million estimated infertile individuals in the country today. In addition to IVF, prenatal screening and genetic testing have also increased. This increase in reproductive technologies corresponds with a rise in popular concern about the impact of China's rapid social and environmental change on the nation's reproductive health. Such scientific action and medical attention takes place as the nation struggles to strengthen the quality of the Chinese population while managing population quantity after decades of explicitly eugenic governmental policies.
Our international, interdisciplinary conference, China Repro Tech, offers historical, sociological, and anthropological perspective on these issues. Held at University of Cambridge, the conference is programmed to reflect the topical specializations of our participants - from the implications of IVF and infertility to the medicalization of gendered bodies and population policies. Our goals include, sharing research, methodologies, and discussion on the socio-cultural, economic, political and historical landscapes shaping reproduction in China today.
Organised by Dr. Janelle Lamoreaux
The Egg & The Sperm 2.0 - Emily Martin
22nd October 2015
The language and imagery of many biological sciences carries with it cultural assumptions about gender. In this illustrated lecture, I examine how reproductive biology and popular culture portray the saga of the sperm as it moves through the female reproductive tract and meets the egg. Some of these cultural assumptions make popular and technical accounts of biological processes misleading about research findings in biology itself.
Have feminist accounts that are critical of the cultural overlay on biological language made a difference in the last 20 years? Have the increasing commodification of reproductive processes or the increasing variety of lived sexualities made a difference in the popular and scientific portrayal of the egg and the sperm?
IVF Histories and Cultures Public Lectures
22nd-23rd June 2015
Human Embryos: A History in Series
22nd June 2015
Nick Hopwood (University of Cambridge)
Metabolic, Filmic, and Genetic Accounts of Time in Embryonic Life
23rd June 2015
Hannah Landecker (UCLA)
IVF Histories and Cultures Seminar 3
22-23rd June 2015
In this, our third ESRC-funded workshop, we considered the question of embryonic development as a visual and serial sequence, with particular reference to the recent introduction of time lapse imagery into clinical IVF. Described as one of the most significant technological improvements to modern IVF, time lapse imagery is also a technique that has a long history in the context of basic experimental science. In this workshop, we looked both forward and back at images of embryonic development and their key importance to IVF histories and cultures. Among the changing temporalities we considered are both those of embryological development and technological change. These are brought together in the context of IVF with implications this workshop will explore from an interdisciplinary vantage point.
The Xenopus Pregnancy Test: A Performative Experiment - Dr. Eben Kirksey
22nd May 2015
Performative experiments exhibit standard scientific protocols and modes of knowledge production for critical inspection. Drawing on “the performative turn” in science and technology studies, as well as queer theories of gender performance, these experiments often exaggerate, parody, and critique the norms of conventional science. We conducted a performative experiment, a pregnancy test, using a live Xenopus lavevis frog and urine from one of our own bodies. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, if present in urine, causes Xenopus frogs to lay eggs, signaling pregnancy. By staging this anachronistic pregnancy test, which we retrieved from the annals of medical science, we investigated modes of choreographing human ontologies and expanded the tool kit of ethnography with novel methods and tactics. There is an appreciable gap between the biochemical condition of “being pregnant” and the social condition of experiencing oneself and being recognized by others as pregnant—a gap that technology can serve to narrow or widen depending on how one chooses to stage an ontological state. A positive pregnancy test at a very early stage with a pee-stick or blood test often presages an early miscarriage. Performing the Xenopus Pregnancy Test requires waiting for human bodies to enter a more stable ontology.
Dr. Eben Kirksey, Ph.D. is an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow, 2014-2017, a permanent faculty member in Environmental Humanities at UNSW Australia and visiting research scholar at Science Studies, The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the editor of The Multispecies Salon (Duke 2014).
Feminist Classics Revisited 3
1st May 2015
Co-sponsored by The Centre for Feminist Research and ReproSoc
Michele Barrett's The Anti-Social Family
(co-authored with Mary McIntosh)
Women's Oppression Today
Biology meets Society: A debate around stem cells
4th February 2015
In her talk, Dr. Dajani will discuss recent efforts to develop a legal regulatory framework for stem cells in Jordan and address the ethics of human embryonic stem cells in research and therapy. Considering insights for similar controversial issues, the talk also explores the natural scientist’s role in observing society and human practices in order to develop innovative and cutting edge hypotheses to benefit both the social and the natural sciences.
IVF Histories and Cultures Seminar 2
11-12th December 2014
In this second workshop we are focused in more depth on two key periods and two key sites in the development of IVF: the period from the mid-1960s to 1978 when IVF was developed at Oldham, and the early 1980s when Edwards and Steptoe moved to Bourn Hall. We were extremely fortunate so many of whom were active in these periods, and at these sites, were able join us, and we heard reflections, memories and thoughts about these times and places, which have had a lasting effect not only in terms of modern IVF technology but how we think about reproduction and fertility.
We were also fortunate to have with us the filmmaker Peter Williams, who lead our opening discussion of 'early IVF', and a number of early IVF patients and practitioners. We also had with us several leading academics specialising in the study of assisted conception, who drew on their expertise in social science, bioethics, history, law and the visual arts.
IVF Histories and Cultures Workshop
11th December 2014
A History of Events Leading to the Birth of Louise Brown
Speakers: Prof. Martin Johnson (Cambridge University) and Dr. Kay Elder (Bourne Hall Clinic)
Between 1969 and 1978, Robert Edwards, Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy worked in Oldham and Cambridge to try to translate their successful IVF into a live birth.This was eventually achieved in July 1978 and January 1979 with the birth of the world's first two so-called 'test tube babies'.
Recent access to the archive of the late Robert Edwards has enabled a clear history of the approaches used in solving the many problems encountered to be determined.
This lecture will describe the clinical, scientific and ethical problems that the three researchers encountered over this nine and a half year period, and how they went about resolving them.
Con/Tested: Sperm Science, Sterility and Masculinity, Nineteenth Century to Present
11-12th September 2014
Interdisciplinary Workshop 11-12 September 2014
(image reproduced from Weisman, 'Spermatozoa and Sterility')
IVF Histories and Cultures Seminar 1
23-24th June 2014
The Inaugural Workshop of the IVF Histories and Cultures Project was the outcome of several intersecting projects over many years. This workshop was the outcome of several intersecting projects over many years, and its design reflected an ongoing desire to leave room for different strands of the study of IVF cultures and histories to overlap and diverge. Encouraging interdisciplinary dialogue is one thing: developing and sustaining it successfully over time is another.
By starting from disparate perspectives, and bringing with us diverse forms of expertise -- but by limiting our field to a select range of images and questions -- our aim was exploratory and experimental, collaborative and inquisitive. Using conversation and dialogue as our experimental equipment, we exchanged perspectives and share demonstrations that revealed new questions.
Sex Cells: The Medical Market for Eggs and Sperm
22nd May 2014
Unimaginable until the twentieth century, the clinical practice of transferring eggs and sperm from body to body is now the basis of a bustling market in the United States. In this talk, Rene Almeling provides an inside look at how egg agencies and sperm banks do business. Although both men and women are usually drawn to donation for financial reasons, Almeling discusses how clinics encourage sperm donors to think of the payments as remuneration for an easy "job." Women receive more money but are urged to regard egg donation in feminine terms, as the ultimate "gift" from one woman to another. She argues that the gendered framing of paid donation, as either a job or a gift, not only influences the structure of the market for sex cells, but also profoundly affects the individuals whose genetic material is being purchased.
Rene Almeling is an assistant professor of sociology at Yale University. She is author of the award-winning book, Sex Cells: The Medical Market for Eggs and Sperm (University of California Press, 2011). Her current research includes a national survey of American attitudes toward genetic risk, a survey of women's experiences with in vitro fertilization, an article for the Annual Review of Sociology on reproduction, and a new book project on the history of men's health. Her research on reproductive technologies, genetic testing, gender, and medicine has been featured in national and international media, including The New York Times and the BBC.
Feminist Classics Revisited 2
1st May 2014
Following last year's sold-out launch of this series focused on the work of Professor Ann Oakley, the Department of Sociology and the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc) are pleased to confirm that this year's symposium on 1 May 2014 from 1 to 4pm will be focused on two of the most influential feminist anthologies addressing reproductive technology to be published in the 1980s. Made to Order: the myth of reproductive and genetic progress, edited by Patricia Spallone and Deborah Lynn Steinberg, and Reproductive Technologies: gender, motherhood and medicine, edited by Michelle Stanworth, were both published in the UK in 1987. All three editors of these key texts will join us at our second FCR symposium to discuss a variety of themes, including the challenges of combining activism and publishing, the insights of early feminist analysis of NRTs, the struggle to define a feminist politics in relation to this issue, and some of the key feminist activist groups that emerged in the 1980s. Make sure to reserve a place on the Feminist Classics Revisited online registration site.
14th October 2013
The Centre for Family Research and ReproSoc are pleased to invite you to a seminar and film screening on the 14th October with Dr Nanette Gartrell & Dr Dee Mosbacher at The Howard Theatre, Downing College, 5 - 7pm.
Nanette Gartrell, MD, is a visiting Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, U.S., and has a guest appointment at the University of Amsterdam. Dr Gartrell has been following 78 planned lesbian families since the children were conceived through donor insemination in the mid-1980s. In this seminar, she will discuss data collected from the mothers and their 17-year-old adolescent offspring concerning the adolescents' psychological adjustment, quality of life, substance use, risk exposure, sexual behavior, sexual orientation, and experiences of stigmatization. Dr. Gartrell will also discuss the influence of donor status (permanently anonymous versus as-yet-unknown and known donors) and male role models on the psychological well-being of the adolescents.
Dee Mosbacher, MD, PhD is a psychiatrist and an Academy Award nominated filmmaker. She is president of Woman Vision, which promotes social change through media. Dr Mosbacher will present 'Straight from the Heart', an Academy Award nominated short documentary that portrays five parents' journeys toward understanding their adult lesbian and gay children. Straight from the Heart presents stories about real people: a police chief who talks about how proud he is of his lesbian daughter, a Mormon couple whose son is believed to be the first gay man in Idaho to have died from AIDS, and a black woman and her two lesbian daughters who had been accused of "catching" their lesbianism from white people. After the film, Dr Mosbacher will discuss the use of her films on homophobia to start a dialogue about homosexuality in conservative communities.