This chapter explores the contested vocabularies used to name and conceptualise birth violence across a range of geopolitical contexts. Using a transnational feminist approach, it argues that a tendency towards geopolitical bifurcation (rooted in racist and colonial historical legacies) frames the ways in which researchers have approached and conceptualised birth violence in different settings. As a result of this bifurcation, separate literatures and vocabularies have developed, which frame the issue of birth violence in distinctive ways depending on geopolitical zones. The conceptual usefulness of the term ‘obstetric violence’ is thus considered as an alternative, unifying, and transnational vocabulary. However, the limitations of this conceptual lexicon are also discussed, particularly in relation to the ability of the framework to theorise (and address) the multiple modalities of violation that potentially occur during pregnancy, labour and birth.
How haplogroups are mobilised in the re-writing of origin stories in the Indian media
This chapter investigates how genomic practices can reinforce population thinking beyond the lab, looking particularly at how social divisions are essentialised as biological categories in India. The case chosen is the media discourse surrounding DNA recovered from skeletons belonging to the Indus Valley Civilisation, a sophisticated urban civilisation that flourished in the North West of the Indian Subcontinent between 3300 and 1300 BCE. Debates in the Indian media revolve around the question of indigeneity and the idea of an unbroken lineage of Hindus versus invaders and colonisers. These theorisations of a genetic re-inscription of population groups are bolstered by archaeological evidence and linguistic theories, which have historically resulted in politically charged debates. Through an analysis of 31 articles published in seven Indian newspapers and magazines, the chapter examines ways in which genetic evidence has been mobilised to argue for either an ‘Aryan Migration Theory’ or an indigenous Vedic culture while normatively classifying populations as ‘indigenous’, ‘Aryan’, ‘Dravidian’, ‘upper-caste’, among others. It argues that the popularisation of biomedical ideas of race poses potentially dangerous consequences for India, as ancient DNA testing is used to make arguments against those who ‘do not belong’ and as justification for various forms of political repression.
Despite the Human Genome Project in 2000 discovering that there is no hereditary distinction between races, the naturalised bio-centric conception of race continues to pervade society. One such area where this happens is during the egg donation process, which is a part of the growing industry of assisted reproductive technologies. This chapter argues that the role race plays in the egg donor selection process is central. Both recipients and donor agents employ racial categories in order to find an egg donor that racially matches the patient, which is the phenomenon of racial-matching. This phenomenon, the chapter argues, is a process of neo-eugenics. Whilst many think of ‘better birth’ at the mention of the term eugenics, this chapter makes the argument that racial matching mimics eugenic practices of maintaining the myth of racial purity. Donor agents speak of an ‘obviousness’ of the use of racial categories, naturalising race as biological and seemingly legitimising hegemonic notions of the family. The egg donor selection process conceals the power dynamics it perpetuates in the discourse of resemblance. Assisted reproductive technologies have brought treatment and hope to those struggling with infertility and indicate the advancement of science and technology within the health sector. However, the persisting power dynamics surrounding race and desirability have come to manifest themselves within these technologies, indicating that as time changes, the discourse within medicine and science shifts itself to accommodate the politics of the time.
Sushmita Chatterjee, Deboleena Roy, and Banu Subramaniam
In this chapter, three feminist and Science and Technology Scholars discuss the idea of biological politics within the South Asian context. The concepts of biopower and biopolitics emerged within a western frame of Foucauldian theorisations on the technologies of power. As the introduction to this volume suggests, Charles Darwin and Thomas Malthus have played important roles in navigating our conversations regarding bodies and populations in colonial and post-independent India. Yet, the chapter cautions against any easy deployment of biopolitics as a universal theory of how the entanglements of biology and politics play out in the South Asian context. All three scholars have been part of an ongoing project on thinking about biological politics in a South Asian context. The chapter highlights the key issues that emerge, and the many elisions and erasures in the complex histories of science in South Asia. Recent work challenges us to think beyond enlightenment logics in postcolonial contexts. Rather, during colonial and postcolonial times, the colonies have always resisted the imposition of western science resulting not in a pure or universal science but rather complex and hybrid sciences in the postcolony. We explore these tensions and, in particular, the new formations of reproductive labour that are emerging in South Asia.
Young women’s experiences of access to reproductive health in southern Africa
Healthcare systems in many southern African countries have historically failed to meet public demands, leading to a system stratified along class, gender and racial lines. The poor, often bearing the brunt of mass unemployment, not only rely on a failing system, but resort to parallel systems. Building on theoretical and political standpoints that emerge as feminist scholars interrogate and engage with the body, this chapter explores notions of reproductive violence and stratified access to reproductive health. It argues that southern African countries domesticate international policies governing reproductive health in a way that perpetuates reproductive violence, defined here as the institutional or structural, physical, and emotional violence that women suffer in attempting to access pregnancy termination services. Through domestication, the international policies emerge as ‘soft law’, not binding on governments. The way poor migrant and South African women are lured by illegal adverts to put themselves at risk of maternal death or longstanding reproductive health complications – in a country celebrated for its progressive constitutional position on termination – opens space for conceptual and empirical interrogations. The chapter argues that illegal services illuminate the realities of institutional reproductive violence that stem from limited and inaccessible public healthcare services. It further exposes the realities of transnational care evident in the huge influx of regional migrants to South Africa in search of reproductive justice. It concludes with a discussion calling for decolonised and reformed healthcare systems that speak to contextual specificities and necessities in southern Africa.
Making white egg providers in the repro-hub of South Africa
South Africa’s growing presence in the global bioeconomy for reproductive material and services has attracted recent attention, both in media and in academis. At least in the pre-covid context, egg provision in South Africa was propelling a multi-million-rand market in IVF and drawing reproductive travellers from numerous countries, including the UK, Germany and Australia. This chapter explores the local histories, regulatory conditions, and the political economy of access to assisted reproductive technologies as they intersect with racial imaginaries in the making of South Africa as a ‘repro-hub’. Drawing on long-term ethnographic research on IVF and egg provision in South Africa, it situates white egg providers as subjects of scarcity, whose subjectivity emerges alongside the market framing of their seemingly scarce biogenetic material and historical racial imaginaries of respectable whiteness. This reflects that whiteness operates paradoxically as both global, on the one hand, and scarce and particular on the other.
Moving away from Franklin’s original 2016 concept of ‘repronationalism’, this chapter conceptualises repronationalism as bureaucratic programmes aimed at surveilling and controlling human reproduction, especially of already marginalised bodies (namely, Muslims and Christians). After providing a brief historical overview, the chapter analyses Ved Garbh Vihar (VGV), a non-biomedical programme, based on Ayurvedic principles, thriving alongside a biomedical reproductive industry of assisted reproduction and commercial gestational surrogacy since the early 2000s in Gujarat, the Hindutva laboratory of India. VGV is a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS-right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation) run biopolitical-ethno-religious-repronational project claiming to produce perfect progeny for the perfect nation. A close reading of English-language print media articles, and Twitter and Facebook pages of VGV reveals an inconsistent narrative with some articles mocking the programme and others endorsing it through detailing success stories of prodigious children born. Most tweets draw upon the mother-as-god and mother-as-nation metaphors valorising biological motherhood. The Facebook posts demonstrate a metaphorical imagination to validate Ayurveda as science, claiming the inherent eugenic ideals within Ayurveda. The chapter concludes that VGV produces not just babies, but reproduces neo-eugenic ideals creating a potential ‘Made in India babies’ industry towards the larger project of Hindutva nation building.
The concluding chapter brings together the preceding themes and links them to show how the British vaccination programme changed from the 1940s to the 2010s. It examines how these changes can give an insight into the deeper relationship between the public and the public health authorities that purport to act on their behalf. It argues that the relationship between the two was not entirely top-down. Public action – either directly expressed or inferred through various surveillance and governance structures – was a key driving force behind policy changes and initiatives. The longer view of vaccination policy, including periods of relative calm as well as crisis, shows how this relationship changed over time and was inextricably linked to wider political concerns. The chapter argues that twenty-first-century crises such as the measles outbreaks in North America and Europe in the 2010s are also historically contingent. Whether disease or vaccination rates are “too high” or “too low” is based on contemporary conceptions of risk, health citizenship and our relationship to public health authorities.
This chapter uses the diphtheria programme of the 1950s to explore the theme of apathy in British vaccination policy. Following the success of the war-time immunisation campaign in reducing morbidity and mortality from diphtheria, there was a sharp decline in take-up at the end of the 1940s. The Ministry of Health attributed this to apathy among the public – particularly mothers who no longer feared diphtheria because it was no longer common. However, this interpretation required a view of the public as both ignorant of health risks and amenable to education. Furthermore, it made assumptions about the responsibility of parents to protect their children even though vaccination was not compulsory. Diphtheria immunisation recovered, and the disease was virtually eliminated by the early 1960s – but not necessarily because of the Ministry’s centralised propaganda. Local medical officers made significant efforts to make immunisation more convenient, including through the provision of multi-dose vaccines to reduce clinic visits and offer protection against diseases that parents were more fearful of.
This chapter introduces the historiography of the British welfare state, vaccination and public health, and sets out the book’s structure. It argues that while much attention has been given to the various controversies in British vaccination policy, this obscures the long periods of relative calm. Even during crises, most parents continued to vaccinate their children with individual vaccines and, overall, take-up has increased markedly since the 1940s. The chapter therefore reframes the debate to ask why vaccination became normalised during the post-war period, and draws attention to the role of the public as a receiver and forger of public health priorities. This question is then explored through the following five chapters, examining five key themes – apathy, nation, demand, risk and hesitancy. The first three themes are covered in Part I of the book, showing how the modern vaccination programme became established. Part II details the pertussis and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine crises and how they exposed the limits of public support for vaccination and the welfare state.