restricted access Conclusion. Individual, Community, Religion, State: Technology at the Intersection
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203 CONCLUSION Individual, Community, Religion, State Technology at the Intersection Donna Lee Bowen As L. L. Wynn and Angel Foster explain in their introduction, technology has an intimate relationship with reproductive health and represents “literally and figuratively life and death.” Reproduction and sex touch the lives of the vast majority of people, and the moral boundaries that societies construct around these universal processes speak to how we conceive our relationships with each other and, for many, our relationship with the divine. For those who see birth as the ultimate blessing from God, because sex produces that blessing, sex cannot be divided from the generation of life. As the contributors to this volume make clear, sex is also intimately associated with how life is lived, and the joys, pleasures, and obstacles that women and men encounter in everyday life. Technology is a broad phenomenon for creating techniques and methods that accomplish objectives. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman defined science as the “fullest epitome of the dissociation between the ends and the means which serves as the ideal of rational organization of human conduct” (Bauman 1989, 159). Technology, Bauman claims, becomes moralized when situated within bureaucratic practice: “Bureaucracy’s double feat is the moralization of technology, coupled with the denial of the moral significance of non-technical issues” (Bauman 1989, 160). Bureaucracy can be loosely defined as the organization of individuals united to promote a certain outcome. New medical technologies tend to elicit public support or condemnation on the basis of simplistic assessments of whether the technologies are good or bad, right or wrong. But in this volume, contributors are interested in far subtler questions: how do technologies emerge in the complex intersection of laws and policies, economic structures, social and religious norms, and individual goals? How do the structures surrounding technology use shape individual subjectivities and concepts of bodies, gender, kinship, and sexuality? People’s understanding and use of technology occurs in a highly dynamic context of nationalist power politics plus negotiation of public and personal 204   Abortion Pills, Test Tube Babies, and Sex Toys religious positions on what is acceptable. An array of social forces—bureaucracies —shape and constrain what individuals consider right for themselves or for their families. These bureaucratic social forces may range from a spouse’s demands or extended-family pressure to religious dictates or enforcement of state reproductive goals. Much of the challenge that Bauman documents concerns the fit between technology and the social context. The significance of this volume is that the contributors seek to understand the interplay of global forces, here sexual and reproductive technologies, with local cultures and subcultures in countries of the Middle East and North Africa that have diverse religious communities and state models. As the individual authors demonstrate, this region is not monolithic in terms of reactions to new reproductive technologies, either on the state level or within religious communities; there are variations in belief and practice. The contributors explore how different communities with different conceptions of gendered bodies respond to technological innovations in the domains of fertility, reproduction, contraception, virility enhancement, and sex play. How do the bureaucracies of which Bauman writes shape individuals ’ actions and subjectivities? Reproductive Health Technologies through History For hundreds of years, technology has affected reproductive health, from the insertion of rocks into the vaginas and uteruses of camels to prevent shecamels from becoming pregnant while on caravan to the use of herbal potions and vaginal plugs, as recorded in the Gynaecology of Soranos of Ephesus (98–138 CE) (Himes 1970, 88). Women have used available technologies to achieve their reproductive aims for millennia. Ancient Islamic medical texts document women’s readiness to use an array of methods to avoid pregnancy. Women used suppositories, herbal pastes, and potions, inserting a vast variety of substances into the vagina, ranging from rock salt to cabbage seeds to pomegranate pulp (Himes 1970). During my own ethnographic research in Morocco in the 1970s and 1980s, women told me about folk medicines and practices designed to help avoid pregnancy that included semimagical practices and ingestion of various formulas. Despite the numerous accounts of means used by women to control their fertility, my interlocutors noted that withdrawal (coitus interruptus, or ‘azl), a mechanical process that employs no technology, was the most efficacious . Muslim legal scholars have discussed in detail the methods and legality of women and men utilizing ‘azl (Bowen 1981). Berber/Taarif women in the Conclusion  205 Rif Mountains of Morocco still utilize traditional herbal remedies, including cannabis, to induce miscarriages (Merzouki...


Subject Headings

  • Human reproductive technology -- Middle East.
  • Human reproductive technology -- Africa, North.
  • Birth control -- Middle East.
  • Birth control -- Africa, North.
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