Michaelmas 2022

Reproductive Migrations: Mobility, Stratification and Reproductive Labour

Thursdays, 3:30pm - 4:45pm
Hybrid: 64 Banbury Road, Oxford & Online (Zoom)

Convened by: Madeleine Reeves

This seminar series contributes to a critical analysis of stratified (im)mobility through the lens of reproduction and reproductive labour. Within medical anthropology and Science and Technology Studies, it has long been recognised that diverse forms of human and non-human movement shape reproductive desires and possibilities. The differential mobility of people, gametes, knowledge, and expertise across borders has contributed to the emergence of transnational fertility markets and the consolidation of global ‘reprohubs’ (Inhorn). At the same time, racialised imaginaries of nationhood and deservingness structure—and often circumscribe—migrants’ access to reproductive, maternity, and perinatal care. Yet critical migration and border studies have so far paid relatively little attention to the global division of reproduction labour, the impacts of documentary status on access to reproductive and maternity services, nor the way that regulatory divergences, economic inequalities, and the differential bioavailability of reproductive bodies and tissues across borders have constituted reproductive markets.

Bringing together scholars from medical anthropology, reproductive sociology, economic geography and migration studies, the series explores these gaps by foregrounding the intimate intersections of border work, differential mobility, and stratified access to reproductive care. Wellcome funds this series.

These hybrid seminars were free, and all were welcome.


13 October

From reproductive mobilities to reproductive geopolitics

Prof. Dr. Carolin Schurr, Department of Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland

How can we conceptualize travel in search of fertility treatment? While current research on transnational reproduction mostly conceptualizes mobility as horizontal movement from A to B, I have argued (Schurr 2019) that we need to think of reproductive mobilities as multiple as horizontal mobilities converge, contradict, and are interdependent with other forms of mobility; namely vertical mobilities in terms of social upward and downward mobility, representational mobilities in form of imaginative geographies, and the actual embodied experiences of mobility. In this talk, I push the argument further, calling for the need to pay closer attention to the geopolitical and geoeconomic contexts in which these multiple reproductive mobilities take place. Linking reproductive life to geopolitics, I start from the assumption that reproductive technologies and the mobilities they create are caught up in geopolitics when individuals, states, international organisations, transnational corporations, and religious and nongovernmental organisations define whose reproduction counts as desirable and whose bodies are discarded as disposable. The talk draws on critical mobility studies and feminist geopolitics to develop the notion of reproductive geopolitics and show its potential for studying reproductive mobilities.

27 October

Bordering processes as instruments of reproductive stratification

Dr. Gwyneth Lonergan, University of Northumbria

‘Stratified reproduction’ (Colen, 1995: 78) describes the dynamic by which some individuals and groups may be supported in their reproductive activities, while others are disempowered and discouraged (see also Ginsbury & Rapp, 1995). In this seminar, I apply the lens of stratified reproduction to an analysis of bordering processes in the UK, drawing on a Wellcome-funded project exploring migrant women’s experiences of pregnancy in the north of England. Policies around immigration, and those dealing with reproduction – which may include e.g. welfare state support for (some) families, or legislation governing access to reproductive healthcare – are both informed by anxieties around the reproductive futures of the nation-state (Ross, 2006). There is an important body of scholarship exploring the relationship between discourses around reproduction and immigration controls (c.f. Luibhéid, 2013, Marchesi 2012; Tyler, 2010), and how immigration policies can serve to stratify experiences of reproduction (c.f Colen, 1995; Bonizzoni, 2011). However, at present, bordering processes are multiplying and proliferating interally. Bordering processes are increasingly ubiquitous; as well as situated and intersectional (Yuval-Davis et al., 2018; 2019), shaped by the specificities of particular bordering sites, and experienced differently according to individuals’ social locations. This necessitates a reconceptualisation of the role of these processes in stratifying reproduction, reflecting their influence in multiple, overlapping areas of migrant women’s lives, and the increasingly granular and refined reproductive stratification produced by these processes.

10 November

Chinese Medicine in East Africa: An Intimacy with Strangers

Prof. Elisabeth Hsu, University of Oxford

How might a book on “Chinese medicine in East Africa” contribute to the topic of “Reproductive labour”? Initial fieldwork pointed in the direction of Chinese medicines being used for chronic conditions and palliative care, (e.g. HIV/AIDS), as they are in the global north, and for post-colonial disorders, such as diabetes and hypertension. Yet long-term research over 8 years (with yearly one month fieldwork) found that the work of Chinese medical practitioners was surprisingly efficacious when they were able to create an “intimacy with strangers” in the consultation room and beyond. By looking not only at the patient-practitioner dyad, and by widening the ethnographic gaze to include the affordances of material culture items (seen in a Latourian association with human beings), it was possible to foreground the positive role of these material-culture-items-in-association-with-human-beings as ‘third players’ in Chinese medical practice. They appeared to derive a significant amount of their effectiveness through their exoticness, and precisely through playing the role of being ‘other’ (not unlike Simmel’s ‘stranger’), they made that moments of intimate openness could arise.

Now, in the context of migration, ‘the other’ is often met with apprehension, and even with negativity, but in contexts of human reproduction people are aware that they depend on a union with an other, who (if a human being) / which (if a bodily substance) may still be encountered with apprehension, initially, but nevertheless is expected to have a life-engendering and overall positive effect. It is therefore remarkable that the mobile Chinese practitioners – who due to their exoticness and contact to a powerful distant place, generally were comprehended as ‘the quintessential other’ – managed to make themselves seen as being expert in dealing with issues to do with ‘the other’ in social contexts of reproductive labour. Fieldwork showed that sexual-prowess-enhancing medicines for men and beauty-and-attractiveness-enhancing procedures, mostly sought by women, were found to be of great significance to some of the local and regional clients for enhancing their fecundity.

Usually, social scientists link the business with sexual-performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals to the post-colonial leisure industry and neoliberal economics. While those certainly play a role too, this study tries to explain how ethnobiological equivalents of such pharmaceuticals became available in East Africa’s health markets as Chinese medical practitioners inserted themselves into its urban textures. The Chinese practitioners could not evade being categorised as ‘other’, but they managed to imbue the concept of ‘the other’ with positive, creative and life-enhancing powers, as is ‘the other’ in the context of reproduction. We note the ingenuity with which the social configurations and material culture associations that they negotiated, altered the perception of ‘the migrant other’ away from being a purely negative threat.

17 November

Transatlantic Transactions: Gay Men, Surrogacy and Queer Reproductive Justice

Dr. Marcin Smietana, Reproductive Sociology Research Group, University of Cambridge

In 2015, over 200 gay men from throughout Europe gathered for the first time at a conference held in Brussels by the US-based organization Men Having Babies. They engaged with pragmatic and ethical questions involved in pursuing surrogacy in the US. The conference, however, faced local protests by some feminist and queer activists who regarded surrogacy as women’s exploitation, in line with the prohibition of surrogacy in most European jurisdictions. There are some notable exceptions such as the UK, where domestic altruistic surrogacy is well established – yet even some British intended parents travel for surrogacy overseas. Whilst access to fertility treatments has become a political claim in LGBTQ communities, in particular transnational surrogacy has also given rise to questions about the impact of global inequalities on everyone involved, notably surrogates and egg donors. These dilemmas led me to undertaking ethnographic research on gay men’s use of surrogacy in the UK and US. As a result, in this talk I ask: what does queerness have to do with reproductive justice? An overview of reproductive justice scholarship, substantiated by my ethnographic data, leads me to the proposal of queer reproductive justice. It urges us to look at the ways in which hierarchies such as social class, race, gender, sexuality and geopolitical location structure queer reproduction. It also urges us to look at the rights of intended parents alongside the rights of surrogates and gamete donors who help them. I draw on my book manuscript to provide ethnographic data from the UK and the US and explore the following questions: How does social class determine the thinkability of gay parenthood? How does race play out in the men’s thinking about their choice of egg donors? LGBTQ family making reveals important logics that structure reproduction: it shows how having children becomes thinkable, how it is subject to economics, how it is racialised, and how it becomes politicised as a community claim.

24 November

TEACH IN! Reproductive Mobilities in Russia, China, and Kazakhstan

In solidarity with the UCU’s strike action over pay, conditions and pensions, there will be no seminar this week. Instead, our speaker, Dr. Christina Weis, from De Montfort University, will be running a public-facing teach-out on the theme of reproductive mobilities. This will take place in person off campus and on Zoom. Please email Madeleine.Reeves@compas.ac.uk by Tuesday November 22nd if you would like to attend in person (numbers limited due to space constraints.) All welcome!

Commonly, when talking about travels for assisted reproduction, reports and images of (white) intending parents travelling to well-known and well-researched places such as India for surrogacy, or to Spain for donor eggs, come to mind. In this teach out talk aimed at a wide general audience, I will be spotlighting destinations, trajectories and travelling actors in the global flows for assisted reproduction that sit, as perceived from a Euro-American point of view, at the peripheries: (1) surrogacy workers in Russia, who commute over long distances or (temporarily) migrate in order to work as surrogates, thereby (re)producing regional inequalities and stratifications; (2) intending parents from China travelling to Russia in the quest not only for any IVF baby, but potentially ‘more desirable’, Eurasian mixed-race babies; and (3) ‘reproproneurs’ in Kazakhstan seeking to open new markets for assisted reproduction to international clientele.

I will show how these places and actors are not peripheral, but intrinsically linked and shaping and changing the global reproductive landscape. In addition, I will reflect on how recent attempts to restrict surrogacy in Russia and the ongoing aggressions in Ukraine are impacting and potentially changing the practice of surrogacy in Russia.

For this talk, I draw on ethnographic research on the surrogacy markets in St Petersburg (Russia; prior to the war in Ukraine) and additional interviews with medical and agency staff involved in the facilitation of cross-border reproductive treatment in Russia and Kazakhstan (prior and during the war in Ukraine).

01 December

Infrastructures of Neglect: Border Works, Gender and Exceptionalism in Reproductive Governance on Europe’s Periphery

Professor Vanessa Grotti, University of Bologna

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in clinics and maternity wards in European maritime borderlands, this paper compares and contrasts two national case-studies, those of southern Italy and Overseas France, to assess the deep intersection between historical neglect towards national peripheries and the hardening of border regimes and infrastructures, which has led to the emergence of medical landscapes specific to these international borderlands. Whilst pertaining to distinct national histories of territorial incorporation and imperial expansion, I argue these landscapes are marked by colonial hauntings which pervade the delivery of sexual and reproductive care of both local and migrant patients. This intersection of neglect and securitisation overshadows local communities’ daily lives, entrenching inequalities at national level. At another scale of governance, it also reinforces moralising tropes of deservingness that are both gendered and racialised and directly impact the legal and reproductive destinies of migrant patients who transit through them.

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