In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

1 5 9 If Mall were still alive, he would be startled to see embryos and fetuses popping up in so many unexpected places. Picking up his mail in June 2003, he could find an image of a fetus gracing the cover of Newsweek magazine, illustrating a story about stem cell treatments.1 Turning on the television in 2007, he could see an advertisement for Ford’s flexible fuel car (“for the next generation”), featuring the animated silicon models of dolphin, polar bear, and elephant fetuses. At his local video rental shop, he could check out Look Who’s Talking to watch a fetus speaking from the womb (Kaplan 1994). He could log onto the video sharing Web site YouTube to watch animated ultrasound clips purporting to be the fetus of [insert a pregnant celebrity’s name here], offering cynical commentary from the womb. How, he might wonder, did embryos and fetuses become so animated? What happened to turn embryos and fetuses from quiet laboratory objects to active—very active—sociopolitical agents? For twenty years, feminist scholars have documented the emergence of what anthropologist Janelle S. Taylor calls the “public fetus.” Whereas the previously private fetus had been confined to the realm of woman’s domestic experience and a few domains of medicine (Duden 1993; Newman 1996), the public fetus appears routinely “outside of the clinical setting, for non-medical purposes” (Taylor 1992:69). It is characterized by its visibility, autonomy, and initiative, although it comes in a variety of guises ranging from gruesome Six Embryo Tales UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 159 UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 159 6/8/2009 1:49:16 PM 6/8/2009 1:49:16 PM c h a p t e r 6 1 6 0 anti-abortion propaganda to cute cartoon characters. During the 1980s, the public fetus began to appear as the newest patient in the clinic and litigant in the courtroom, as well as the figure that justified intrusive surveillance over pregnant women’s behavior (Casper 1998; Daniels 1993; Ginsburg 1989; Hartouni 1997; Luker 1984; Mitchell 2001; Morgan and Michaels 1999; Oaks 2001; Petchesky 1984, 1987; Rapp 2000; Roth 2003; Rothman 1986). In tracing the history of the public fetus, many feminist scholars focus on the post–World War II period (Mitchell 2001:170), especially the post-1980 period when a rising wave of religious conservatives clashed with women’s rights activists. Feminist scholars have also documented the revolutionary impact of technologies such as amniocentesis that allow fetuses to be tested for a spectrum of genetic disorders, and increasingly sophisticated forms of ultrasound monitoring that allow parents-to-be to see images of the fetus in utero.Armedwithpicturesandinformationfrominsidethewomb,itbecame possible in the 1980s to learn the sex of a not-yet-born child, and to assign it a name and social identity (Rothman 1986; Petcheskey 1987). There can be no doubt that these developments have brought fetal subjects literally into view. Yet by emphasizing the latter half of the twentieth century, feminist scholars have tended to overlook earlier ways that embryos and fetuses were incorporated into public discourse (for exceptions see Clarke 1998; Duden 1993; Luker 1984; Newman 1996; Reagan 1997; Stormer 2003b). In fact, embryos and fetuses had their public debut as social agents much earlier than scholars have generally acknowledged. Embryos were invoked to speak in various public debates that took place in the second and third decades of the twentieth century, including the theory of evolution, the socalled “race problem,” and the relationship of humans to other species. Each of these debates has its contemporary equivalent, yet human embryos are rarely invoked anymore as evidence. Today, when embryos and fetuses are discussed in a sociological context, they are more often hitched to debates over the morality of abortion, cloning, and stem cell research. In other words, the historical case studies presented in this chapter make the point that embryos and fetuses need not be automatically, naturally, or even primarily associated with abortion or reproduction. My thesis is that we fashion and animate embryos and fetuses in ways that correspond to the kind of social “work” we ask them to perform. Only after the embryologists identified human embryos as tissue that held the key to explaining the origins of the human body did it become necessary to collect and study them. Only then could embryos be distinguished from other, less meaningful body parts. In other words, it was the UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 160 UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 160...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.