Wombs in Labor: Translational Commercial Surrogacy in India by Amrita Pande (review)
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Reviewed by
Amrita Pande. Wombs in Labor: Translational Commercial Surrogacy in India. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. 255 pp. ISBN 9780231169912, $30 (paperback).

Amrita Pande's Wombs in Labor is a very timely book contributing to the growing literature on commercial surrogacy, while intervening in [End Page 474] debates about embodied labor, medical tourism, motherhood, and the ethics of assisted reproduction. This book is based on deep ethnographic work carried out over a period of six years at an Armaan maternity clinic in a place called Garv, in India. The clinic specializes in surrogacy both for parents in the global north and India. Interviewing the range of actors, from the parents, the agents who oversee the transactions, the medical experts, and, finally, the women whose labor is extracted, Pande covers the dense world of transnational commercial surrogacy. In particular, the book illuminates in persuasive detail the specific relations that the women in India negotiate as surrogate mothers and workers in a fledging market "that is morally contentious and constructed as deviant and unnatural in mainstream Indian society" (5). Since the publication of the book, the current government of India passed the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill, which bans commercial surrogacy completely and allows only altruistic surrogacy.

Spanning nine chapters, the book offers a deep understanding of the workings of the transnational labor market created by surrogacy linking the global south with the global north. Pande begins her first chapter by giving a sketch of the rise of surrogacy in India. She shows how an anti-natalist state like India, which has a controversial history of sterilizing lower-class women, has at the same time embraced medical tourism. This opens the space for her to sketch the encounter between the women, who have never received much medical attention, and the hyper-medicalized surveillance of surrogacy. Through detailed ethnography, she demonstrates how women are initiated into surrogacy, by whom they are impregnated, and how they are disciplined to produce the perfect "mother-worker." She traces both the physical and emotional labor of gestational and birthing work regulated by a contract that demands that the mother give up the child at birth. The richness of her anthropological analysis is brought out by the fact that she locates the womb both as contractual and disposable elements within the gestational trajectory, as well as an ethico-moral site embedded within patriarchal discourses. Pande shows how these mothers resist the image of themselves as disposable bodies on rent by developing novel forms of kinship with the others in the surrogacy clinics: a kinship born out of the special kinds of labor demanded of them. Pande locates the work of the women along two lines of analysis: one is the spectrum of outsourced labor from the global south to the north, and the other is where she maps the convergence and the divergence from sex-work.

The argumentative crux of the book lies in understanding surrogacy as a form of labor, and more precisely as a particular form of "embodied labor" (104–112). In that manner, Pande is able to move beyond the existing moralizing accounts of surrogacy to explore how the labor market for wombs are created and how the various actors in [End Page 475] this market experience the market and the labor that it inheres. Pande also shows the limits of the application of the category of sex-work to the work of surrogacy in India. Instead, Pande offers a compelling challenge to the victim narratives that are dominant in such discussions, without delegitimizing the suffering and problems that the women face. Indeed, by refashioning the concept of embodied labor, Pande is able to document corporeal labor in multiple registers: the body as a rental site, the product being part of the body, and the body as a disciplined site. As Pande writes, "In making the claim that commercial surrogacy in India is a new form of labor, and that the surrogates are laborers and not mere victim, I do not ignore the multiple bases of inequality in this form of labor" (9). Instead, she attempts to "recognize, validate and systematically evaluate" (9) the choices the women make to enter this...


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