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Reviewed by:
  • The Assisted Reproduction of Race by Camisha Russell
  • Sonya Charles (bio)
The Assisted Reproduction of Race by Camisha Russell Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2018

In The Assisted Reproduction of Race, Camisha Russell states: "My central aim here is to explore how notions of race and racial identity function within assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs)" (2). The way she does this may surprise some bioethicists. Moving beyond principles and traditional ethical theories, Russell instead draws on the work of critical race theory and the philosophy of technology. By showing the usefulness of these theories, she encourages bioethicists to expand our theoretical toolbox.

After giving an overview of the main responses critical race theorists give to what race is, Russell ultimately wants to focus more on what race does. For example, one of the points Russell makes over and over is that, in spite of various attempts to "debunk" race science, race continues to be an organizing principle for science and genetics. How can we account for this? As Eric Voegelin (1940) explains, by recognizing the distinction between race theory and the race idea. Race theory includes the various "scientific" and pseudoscientific theories proposed to explain race. In contrast, the race idea is a political concept or "a tool for defining and shaping communities" (Voegelin 1940, 15). This idea operates on a more symbolic level and, thus, cannot be proven true or false. Therefore, Russell argues that the race idea continues to function even when race theory is undermined, and this is why it is so difficult to stop using race as an organizing principle. Drawing on the philosophy of technology, as well as Heideggerian [End Page 177] and Foucaultian concepts and theories that relate to our understanding of technology and how it functions in our social world, Russell maps out a variety of ways we can consider race as technology. This is the core of what she means when she asks us to move beyond thinking about what race is and to focus instead on what race does.

To begin to understand what she is doing here, consider the history of eugenics, which also plays a significant role in debates about ARTs. Using Heidegger's concept of enframement, Russell explains how technology is, in part, a mindset—specifically, a mindset that aims for control and mastery over nature. She then proceeds to show how our modern conception of race shares this same mindset: "Though human phenotypical variation is a natural reality, the meanings assigned to those variations are contingent. Race is not discovered but rather built" (52). In other words, races were not "given" or "found" but were created to help explain and support various cultural shifts. Much of our current understanding of race/races was codified during the modern era, which coincided with the age of "discovery" and colonization. As we all know, these theories created a hierarchy of races with various characteristics that usually mapped onto their place in the social structure. Eugenics was one way to police these boundaries and reinforce the hierarchies.

Russell admits that the history of race is complicated and that these categories were more than just cynical attempts to justify political and economic motives, but this is also why Heidegger's conception of enframement is so important. It can help us see commonalities in reasoning that bridge the gap between earlier periods and modern practices. For example, one way that Russell encourages us to think of race as technology is recognizing how race is used in "organizing people in the world into explanatorily powerful and technologically manipulated groups" (69). Russell's discussion of how we define categories of kinship and parenthood in our current use of ARTs shows how racial categories can be explanatorily powerful and subject to technological manipulation.

With the use of "donor" gametes and rented wombs,1 it is sometimes difficult to say who counts as a parent. In one of her most fascinating arguments, Russell explains the answer to this problem using Charis Thompson's (2005) conceptions of "ontological choreography" and "strategic naturalizing" (see ch. 4). Thompson argues that the language, assumptions, and practices employed in ARTs are "choreographed" to help define who counts as the "real" parent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1937-4577
Print ISSN
1937-4585
Pages
pp. 177-181
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-20
Open Access
No
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