Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

From Biopolitics to Bioeconomies: The ART of (Re-)Producing White Futures in Mexico's Surrogacy Market

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

From Biopolitics to Bioeconomies: The ART of (Re-)Producing White Futures in Mexico's Surrogacy Market

Article excerpt


The article intervenes in recent discussions about how new developments in the fields of biomedicine and life sciences have altered biopolitics. In the wake of these developments, Rose (2007) diagnoses in his book "Politics of Life itself' a transformation from a Foucauldian understanding of biopolitics (Coleman and Grove, 2009; Foucault, 2008; Lemke, 2001), where the state is the central actor in shaping the future of its population (Su Rasmussen, 2011), toward a "new liberal eugenics" driven by the consumer choices in a new bioeconomy. In short, he identifies a shift from biopolitics toward bioeconomies. In contrast to Cowen and Smith (2009), who argue in their article "From the Geopolitical Social to Geoeconomics" that the geoeconomy recasts rather than replaces geopolitics, Rose claims that the age of state biopolitics is over. Drawing on the empirical case study of the Mexican surrogacy industry, this article sheds light on the manifold ways in which everyday practices in this new bioeconomy are entangled with state biopolitics.

The article asks how (post-)colonial imaginaries of white hegemony and the desirability of white(r) bodies are negotiated, (re-)produced and challenged through the everyday choices of consumers and providers of gestational surrogacy in Mexico. Following Strathern, who argues that "the future seems increasingly trapped by present choice" (Strathern, 1992: 61), I examine how the marketing and everyday practices of the Mexican surrogacy industry values and evaluates bodies according to their racialization, and the way these decision-making processes and everyday practices are shaped by (post-)colonial imaginaries of white superiority. The "figure of the child" (Edelman, 2004) who comes to live thanks to assisted reproductive technologies (ART)' serves here as the corporeal manifestation of how future bodies will look like. While Edelman argues that the figure of the child deprives "other" bodies for the sake of perpetuating the "same" (white) bodies, this article shows how in the context of Mexico (assisted) reproductive practices of the present assist people's desire for white(r) offspring. (2)

The article proceeds as follows: It first outlines Rose's and Braun's arguments about the current transformation from biopolitical eugenics toward liberal eugenics in the context of the rising bioeconomy. In a second step, it reviews current debates in geography about whiteness and futurities. Drawing on empirical research of Mexico's surrogacy business, I question in the third section how the way whiteness is (re-)produced, desired, and valued in this industry is linked to biopolitical ideas of white hegemony. I explore the ways in which whiteness is (re-)produced in this market through (1) the racialized access to surrogacy programs in Mexico, (2) the different value given to differently racialized sex cells, and (3) a racialized division of reproductive labor between white(r) egg donors and non-white surrogate mothers.

From biopolitics to bioeconomies: race, eugenics, and future bodies

In his article, "Biopolitics and the molecularization of life," Braun (2007) engages with the question how biopolitical regimes of modernity have been replaced by the individual management of genetic risks in the context of a fast growing bioeconomy. Drawing on Rose's (2006) book "The politics of life itself," Braun (2007: 11) makes the argument that:

   The difference between "old" eugenics and what some have today
   labeled "liberal" eugenics, then, can be seen as the difference
   between state-led programmes that in the past sought to produce a
   particular population with particular traits and capabilities, and
   the ethical decisions of individuals in the present, who are
   exercising "choice" in reproductive matters. Although forms of
   pastoral power clearly shape these reproductive choices, the state
   remains neutral.

Braun traces the transformation from "old" forms of eugenics toward a new form of "liberal" eugenics performed through consumers' individual reproductive choices about their own and their children's genetic make-up. …

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