Much research on in vitro fertilization (IVF), assisted reproduction and gamete donation has centred on their medical, legal and sociocultural processes and meanings. Here, quite frequently, little attention is paid to the donors themselves other than in the context of their selection. However, donation is a corporeal process in which body parts are produced and given or sold. This chapter analyses the bioprecarities that derive from the process of sperm donation. It draws on empirical online and social media materials, as well as other texts, in which men who donate sperm for the purposes of assisted reproduction articulate their sense of the meaning of this process and considers responses to the revelation of sperm donation from people both known and unknown to the donor. These responses show how sperm donation as a form of intimate labour in which a man also parts with somatic material produced by his body, and involving negotiated journeys, is managed and talked about. In the chapter I argue that responses to sperm donation indicate deeply gendered views of reproductive intimate labour in which a sense of bioprecarity masks strongly gendered views of sexuality, intimacy and reproduction.
This chapter elaborates the notion of bioprecarity as it is utilized in this volume by drawing on three theoretical concepts that have not been ‘thought together’ before. They are intimate labour, as discussed in Boris and Salazar Parreñas’ (2010) work; bios, as understood in Michel Foucault’s (2008) writings; and precarity, as originally developed in France in the 1970s, then taken up by Judith Butler (2004) in the context of war, terrorism, survival and ‘grievable’ lives and popularized in the relation to new forms of labour by Guy Standing (2011). The chapter develops these three concepts in the context of bodily interventions prompted by opportunities for bodily labour, meaning labour on and with the body, in order to investigate bioprecarity, a new form of vulnerability that is associated with providing and seeking intimate bodily labour in cross-cultural contexts.
This volume is concerned with the ways in which bioprecarity, here understood as the vulnerabilization of people as embodied selves, is created through regulations and norms that encourage individuals to seek or provide bodily interventions of different kinds. We explore this in particular in relation to intimacy and intimate labour, such as in the making of families and kin and in various forms of care work. Advances in biotechnology, medical tourism and the visibilization of minoritized communities have resulted in unsettling the norms around the gendered body, intimate relations and intimate labour. Bodily interventions have sociocultural meanings and consequences both for those who seek such interventions and for those who provide the intimate labour in conducting them. The purpose of this volume is to explore these. This exploration involves sociocultural questions of boundary work, of privilege, of bodily ownership, of the multiple meanings of want (understood both as desire, for example the desire to have children or to change one’s bodily appearance; and as need – as in economic need – which often prompts people to undertake migration and/or intimate labour). It also raises questions about different kinds of vulnerabilities, for those who engage, and those who engage in, intimate labour. We use the term ‘bioprecarity’ to analyse those vulnerabilities.
The introduction outlines the meaning and rise of bioprecarity and the bioprecariat, here understood as those who seek help with bodily interventions and those who provide such interventions. It discusses core concepts of importance for this volume, including shifting understandings and regulations of the body and bodily interventions, questions of bodily ownership and of agency in the age of the commodification of the body and the issue of power and unequal relations in the seeking and providing of help around bodily interventions. It also provides an overarching introduction to the chapters presented in this volume.
Indigeneity, bioprecarity and the construction of the embodied self – an artist’s view
Katarina Pirak Sikku and Gabriele Griffin
This chapter explores bioprecarity and racifying science in the context of eugenicist practices in Sweden in the early to mid-twentieth century related to the indigenous Sámis’ treatment by Swedish race biologists. It does so through a dialogue between an academic and a Sámi artist and her body-centred artwork, in this case photographs. Sámis, like many indigenous people or people who at different points in history and across diverse countries/cultures, have been deemed inferior and subjected to racist scientific research, such as the measuring of their bodies for eugenicist purposes and the taking of naked pictures of even small school children. Here the body becomes an object of the colonizing gaze. That gaze produces bioprecarity through not only refusing the bodily integrity, autonomy and agency of those who are thus objectified, but also through gesturing towards the notion that some bodies occupy different orders from others. The artist’s work was concerned with reappropriating the body of those rendered precarious by eugenicist biopolitics.
The conclusion outlines how the different chapters in the volume have contributed to elucidating the concept of bioprecarity. This involves analysing the complex entanglements created by the relationship between the body, life, the production, maintenance and application of categories and intimate labour. These entanglements exist in a context of uneven distribution of power, which means that particular social groups and individuals are rendered more bioprecarious than others through their positioning as biosubjects. The volume shows that bioprecarity extends beyond contemporary, disenfranchised groups. It was also a key dimension of eugenicist histories, for example. At the same time, however, we also indicate that bioprecarity is sometimes co-produced by those who install it and those who seek to benefit from bodily interventions and intimate labour. This means that questions of biocitizenship need to be addressed more widely since biotechnologization will remain a fact of contemporary life.