Sunday, March 11, 2007

Waldby: Science and Gender

From: Catherine Waldby
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2007 12:15:48 +1100

Re the social implications of new biotech and the multiple intersectionswith gender

An excerpt from a forthcoming article of mine and Melinda cooper's about female reproductive biology as an investment site for regenerative medicine and Biocapital.

Catherine Waldby & Melinda Cooper (2007) ‘The Biopolitics ofReproduction: Post-Fordist Biotechnology and Women’s Clinical Labour’ inAustralian Feminist Studies vol. 22 (54) special issue The TwoCultures (in press).

Throughout the OECD, birth-rates are in decline. Women in the majority of the developing nations are delaying childbirth and having fewer children, a trend that has precipitated considerable anxiety among states concerned with the dwindling proportion of their working populations and the complex economic and political consequences of anaging citizenry. ……The reasons for this shift in reproductive prioritiesare complex, intertwined with transformations in the biopolitical ordering of life.These transformations could be summarized as the neo-liberalization of life, both in the sense of the everyday life of citizens, and the biological life of populations. The decline in reproduction demonstrates these two forms very succinctly. In the realm of everyday life, we see the effects of a shift in state-market-citizen relations. The post-warform of state-centred biopolitics (Ewald 1986) – national health systems, social security, Keynesian full employment policy and economic regulation – gives way to what is sometimes termed the Competition State(Cerny 1997) – concerned with the attraction of finance capital, the deregulation and privatization of production and the devaluation of its workforce to achieve global competitiveness. The Fordist model of family life (male breadwinner, family wage, full time mothering) has necessarily given way in the face of deregulated wages and the need forthe two-wage family, the financialization of everyday life (Martin2002), the decline in social security, and the increasing cost of healthcare and housing as they are opened to global investment markets. These changes dramatically increase the economic and emotional costs of reproduction, and lead women, especially middle class women, to delay childbearing or avoid it altogether. The wide dissemination offeminist-influenced civil society also means that state exhortations tohave more children are unlikely to find much purchase.It is evident,then, that one of the unintended consequences of neoliberalism has been the state’s loss of traction over female reproductive biology and its disengagement from nation-building projects. At the same time, women’s reproductive biology has become the focus of extensive biomedical research interest and global commercial innovation.This constitutes another form of neoliberalized life, this time situatedat the level of biological processes, and part of a much largermarketization of biological vitality (Waldby & Mitchell 2006; Cooper2007). Effectively, we would argue, the processes of reproduction havebeen deregulated, privatized and made available for investment andspeculative development. This investment takes two major forms. First,since the birth of the first IVF baby in 1978, medically assistedreproduction has become a huge global business. Middle class couplesincreasingly turn to Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) (IVF, donorgametes, PGD) to facilitate conception late in a woman’s reproductivelife, once they have achieved economic security. Increasingly, access toART and donor gametes is through reproductive tourism, the purchase offertility from poor women in the developing world.Second, and more recently, many of the new technologies associated withregenerative medicine – embryonic stem cell research, saviour siblings, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), cord blood banking – rely on female reproductive biology as a generative site. These technologies utilize the autopoietic capacities of embryogenesis and the fetal-maternal blood system to generate therapeutic stem cell tissue that is itself autopoietic. That is, unlike whole organ transplant, that substitutes a working organ for a faulty one, regenerative medicine aims to transplant tissue that is self-organising and self-generating onceinside the body, able to repair and regenerate diseased sites. These technologies effectively convert the generative power of female reproductive biology into regenerative therapy. Hence, they position reproductive biology as one of the most important machines for the bioeconomy – especially as a promissory machine, working through appeals to biological potential and the future regeneration of the body (Waldby2002; Franklin 2005).

Female reproductive biology is thus undergoing a complex rearticulation. New reproductive technologies like IVF have disaggregated it from its invivo location, and stem cell technologies have diverted it into

biomedical domains unconcerned with the production of children. Reproductive potential is now bifurcated. In vitro embryos and in vitrooöcytes can be transplanted to produce another human life, a child; and they can be biotechnically reconfigured in a laboratory, diverting their pluripotency into the production of embryonic stem cell lines. In both cases, however, reproductive industries require proprietary control ofhigh volumes of difficult-to-donate reproductive tissue, either to supplement the failed fertility of the IVF patient or to perform the tricky task of creating stem cell lines. Hence, the compliance, negotiability and general agency of female populations is a central issue in the development of the reproductive bioeconomy.

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