This fresh(wo)man seminar explores how reproductive technologies are changing lives around the globe. Since the introduction of oral contraceptives in the early 1960s, the past 50 years have seen the rapid innovation and globalization of many other reproductive technologies, for both men and women, and spanning the life course from birth to menopause. As reproductive technologies have evolved over time, so have the social, cultural, legal, and ethical responses to them.  Reproductive technologies are a key symbol of our times, representing the growing prominence of biotechnologies in the configuration of individual, familial, and collective identities around the globe.

This fresh(wo)man seminar will introduce students to the growing scholarship on the anthropology of reproduction. The focus of the course will be on reproductive technologies, including childbirth technologies, prenatal diagnostic technologies, contraception, abortion, assisted reproductive technologies, hormone replacement therapy, and reproductive technologies that engender “harm” (i.e., female circumcision and ultrasound-assisted female feticide).  Such reproductive technologies have direct and indirect effects in many areas of social life, including the domains of kinship, marriage, family, gender, religion, biomedicine, and population demography. Sometimes helpful, sometimes harmful, such technologies have both generative and destabilizing impacts at the interface of science and society.  Thus, reproductive technologies are “good to think with,” especially for new college students whose lives may be significantly affected by the uses of these technologies in the new millennium.

In this student-led seminar, we will think, talk, and write about women’s and men’s reproductive lives as portrayed in eight key books, all of them anthropological ethnographies. Through such reading, students in this course will gain broad exposure to a number of exigent reproductive health issues around the world, not only in the United States, but also in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.  In addition, students will carefully assess the methods used by feminist ethnographers who conduct fieldwork in local cultural contexts. Does local-level, field-based, humanistic anthropological inquiry contribute something “value-added” to public policy debates about reproductive technologies such as abortion?  This is a question that we will be asking throughout the semester, as we read, discuss, and watch a series of riveting documentaries, newscasts, and Hollywood films.