Mapping reprotechnologies and feminist mobilisations, FWSA 2013

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Music & Liberation Project (photo from the excibition at the conference venue)

At the FWSA 2013 conference today, I presented some findings from research that I have conducted, which maps feminist actors mobilising around ethical, social and political aspects of reproductive technologies.

For this research I used digital methods (Rogers) and focused on the 2011 consultation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Of particular interest to me was the payment for donors, a policy under review proposed by the consultation.The media analysis and network analysis of the consultation offers an understanding of public engagement with reproductive technologies, and the specificities of feminist interventions in particular.  In this paper I examined:

1) The dominant issues in three spheres (feminists, news, policy). I compared these issues once for ‘HFEA compensation’ and once for ‘egg donation’, across spheres and determined their specificity per sphere.

2) Construction of donor and the construction of ‘egg donation’ in public discourse and imagery.

This is complemented with research on (I did not present these findings):

3) Issue network of consultation, which provides the connections and linking behaviour of main actors (feminists, policy actors, NGOs, independent intellectuals, news/bloggers).

4) Construction of expertise of feminist academic actors (around the themes of reprotechnologies and egg donation), by analysing the status of publications and their influence, in comparison to science publications.

5) Close reading of commentary on a feminist guest blog about compensation, which analyses the dominant issues and identities that readers/commentators occupy.

The theoretical framework of this research is informed by conceptualisations of reproductive labour, clinical labour and biovalue (Dickenson 2002, Waldby and Cooper 2008; 2010), and methodologically by digital sociology and Actor network theory (ANT) (see Marres 2012, Scraping the social, Latour and Wiebel 2005 Making things public).

I am writing up this research at the moment.

In Nottingham, I also attended this excellent panel on Cultural Memory and Transformation on Saturday.

EDIT: This is how the FWSA blog summarised my paper:

Dr Aristea Fotopoulou (University of Sussex), “Reprotechnologies and feminist mobilisations: Mapping with digital methods”

Dr Fotopoulou presented findings from her current research mapping actors and feminist mobilisations within online discourses on reproductive technologies. The starting point for the research was the 2011 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) consultation on compensation for egg donors. Egg donation is classed in the same category as all forms of ‘tissue donation’ (including sperm donation), which restricts payments to compensation for the loss of earnings and expenses (this amount was increased to £750 from £250 following the consultation). The impetus for the review was framed around a discourse of scarcity of eggs, with eggs constructed as something that limits women’s fertility treatment in Britain. From a Marxist analysis, this can be understood in terms of the creation of a need, shifting towards the construction of egg donation as part of an industry. Employing a digital sociology approach, ‘scraping’ websites for relevant content, Dr Fotopoulou conducted a media analysis of news stories, feminist blogs and policy websites to explore the ways in which discussions about egg donation were framed in relation to this consultation. She looked at who the main actors in the discussions were, how the issues were represented visually and how the dominant imaginary constructed the egg donor. She was in particular interested in how feminists constructed the issues and their influence on the debate. Her results highlighted how policy documents focused mainly on issues related to travel expenses and overseas travel, while feminist discussions also covered issues more broadly related to the law, women’s health, and politics of reproductive technologies more generally. When scraping for images, the dominant representations of egg donation featuring living ‘things’ (as opposed to those which featured medical images or technology), tended to feature babies and (chicken) eggs (including babies emerging from chicken eggs). When women were pictured, they were mostly posed together with babies and families, rarely on their own. And in terms of the HFEA’s own discourse, Dr Fotopoulou found that it did not make women’s labour visible at all in the process of egg donation, dismissing the invasiveness of sourcing procedures.

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