Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics

By Paul E. Brodwin | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Body Boundaries, Fiction of the Female Self
An Ethnographic Perspective on Power, Feminism,
and the Reproductive Technologies

GILLIAN M. GOSLINGA-ROY

Our bodies; ourselves: bodies are maps of power and identity.

—Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women


INTRODUCTION

A common theme in the feminist literature on the reproductive technologies has been that their advent has broken apart reproduction into its genetic, biological, and social aspects.1 Certainly, with the realization of gestational surrogacy in the mid-1980s, the splintering of what had been historically a “unified” and “natural” reproduction within a woman’s body appears complete. Gestational surrogates, implanted with the embryos of their couples, fulfill the strictly biological or, more accurately, the physiological aspect of reproduction, while their couples fulfill both the social and genetic aspects. The professional language of assisted reproduction upholds these divisions: surrogates are referred to as “carriers” or “womb donors,” pointing to their instrumentality in reproduction, while “intended” or “recipient” couples are the genetic (that is, “real”) parents.

In this essay, I complicate this narrative. While the splintering of reproduction into its social, genetic, and physiological aspects may be analytically true of the reproductive technologies, my fieldwork of a gestational surrogacy arrangement suggests that at the level of embodied practice these separations are not ontologically stable; rather, they require ongoing discursive administrations to remain separate. At an obvious level, this is because genetic and biological aspects of reproduction are also social categories, and all social categories are ultimately embodied processes, deeply implicated in power and history. But less apparent is the way in which the physiological, the genetic, and the social function as naturalized abstractions when discursively deployed. As abstractions, they do not adequately account for the complexities of real-time biographical experience. And yet they often pose as realist descriptions of social processes, even

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