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Reproductive Sociology Research Group

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This collaborative research initiative began in 2005 as an investigation into the unique culture of mammalian developmental biology in the UK in the post war period, exploring its unusual focus on mammals, and  asking why it was such a generative field of study – yielding many of the most important biomedical and bioscientific innovations and discoveries of the twentieth century, including in vitro fertilisation (IVF), preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), embryonic stem cell derivation, cloning, cryopreservation, chimeras, imprinting, epigenetics and regenerative medicine. Through an initial set of broadly focussed interviews conducted by Martin Johnson and Sarah Franklin with ‘key players’ in both basic science and also policy formation (now deposited in the British Library), we became more focussed on the recent history of UK IVF.

Our first conference was held in 2009 at Christ’s College in Cambridge. ’40 Years of IVF’ took the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the first successful fertilization of a human egg in vitro to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to explore the wider social significance of the rapid expansion of IVF. Our first paper, examining ‘Why the Medical Research Council Refused Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe Support for Research on Human Conception in 1971’, was published in Human Reproduction in July 2011, shortly following the award to Robert Edwards of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2010. A second conference, ‘Futures in Reproduction’, was held in December 2012 to commemorate and further Edwards’ concerns with basic science and reproductive biomedicine, as well as ethics, law and social policy.

Edwards’ death in April 2013 was seen by many to mark a watershed in the history of IVF, and it is this history our project continues to explore through a number of interlinked initiatives including a British Academy funded research project into ‘IVF Histories’ and an ESRC funded seminar series exploring ‘IVF Histories and Cultures’. These are complemented by research being conducted by Martin Johnson and Kay Elder into the early years of IVF in Oldham and Cambridge, research on the history of feminist activism and scholarship concerning new reproductive technologies by Sarah Franklin, and research on representations of IVF in the media and parliamentary debate by Katie Dow. Together with Nick Hopwood, we are continuing to explore the many intersections and implosions thrown up by IVF histories and cultures, including the expansive visual culture of IVF, and its interface with the broadcast media, as well as the interfacing of IVF technology with both agricultural and clinical applications, leading to its emergence as an iconic translational technology.

Throughout our research we have been grateful to the Wellcome Trust for many sources of support, including two Medical Humanities Resources Research grants and both a Strategic Initiative (Hopwood) and a Senior Investigator (Franklin) awards which have supported our project. With these, and other, resources, we are continuing to conduct interviews, visit and catalogue archives, collect new archival materials and assist with their deposit, publish new articles, organise conferences, workshops and seminars, and build links with cognate researchers around the world. We have also benefited from the support of the British Library, the British Academy, the National Archive, the MRC, the ESRC, the RCOG, the London School of Economics, and both Christ’s and Churchill Colleges at Cambridge.


‘40 Years of IVF: 14th February 1969 – 2009’


‘Why the Medical Research Council Refused Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe Support for Research on Human Conception in 1971’ Human Reproduction 25:9:2157-2174 by Martin Johnson, Sarah Franklin, Matthew Cottingham and Nick Hopwood)


‘Futures in Reproduction’ Conference: 15-16 December 2012


Biological Relatives: IVF, stem cells and the future of kinship, by Sarah Franklin


British Library Interview Collection:  Stage One Interviewees

John Biggers, Graham Cannon, Bruce Cattanach, Jenny Craft, Roy Cunningham, Frank Dobson, Kay Elder, Richard Gardner, Malcolm Godfrey, Chris Graham, Alan Handyside, Brigid Hogan, Martin Johnson, Mary Lyon, Anne McLaren, John Modle, Marilyn Monk, Virginia Papaioannou, Marcus Pembrey, Ralph Robinson, Roger Short, Duncan Thomas, Mary Warnock.


‘After IVF: the reproductive turn in social thought’ Inaugural Lecture by Sarah Franklin


Generation to Reproduction Strategic Award (PI Nick Hopwood)