Between "Ethics and Embryos": Reading Assisted Reproductive Technology as Material Fiction

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Abstract Summary
From its inception, assisted reproductive technology (ART) – ranging from artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation to surrogacy and egg freezing – invoked public questions of the world to come. This constellation of emerging technologies was simultaneously credited with the disruption of the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, technological control of women’s bodies, the promotion of eugenic fantasies, and the impending creation of a separatist feminist society. Following the first successful birth by in vitro fertilisation in 1978, a growing scientific and medical community coalesced around the field of ART, and joined the public in these practices of speculation and debate through their professional work and popular communication. Researchers and practitioners readily engaged questions of how and by whom these technologies would be used – and for what purposes – amid their contested efficacy and ethical status. Through their published research, public advocacy and popular memoirs, infertility treatment pioneers, including Sir Robert Edwards, and Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones, actively shaped the material and discursive contours of assisted reproduction. This paper explores how research in ART emerged with and through scientific speculation about the future of society in the United States and United Kingdom during the late 20th century. It further argues that ART occupied the position of a ‘material fiction’ whereby narratives of anticipated and unsettling futures became essential to address the practical limitations of reproductive technologies themselves. ART researchers and practitioners spoke to the popular fictions of their time, providing insight into the intersection between biomedical research and rhetoric.
Abstract ID :
HSS914
Submission Type
Contributed Paper
Abstract Topic
Aspects of Scientific Practice/Organization
Chronological Classification :
20th century, late
Self-Designated Keywords :
Assisted reproductive technology, reproduction, science communication, futures, rhetoric

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