Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait

The Politics of Pregnancy: Gestation, Abortion, and Labor

Instructor: Sophie Lewis
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

“Labor” is used conventionally to name the ordeal of birthing. But what happens when we apply it to the gestational process as a whole? Why—and how—can we think of pregnancy as work? And what are the wider implications of applying a labor framework to the manufacture of human fetuses—for gestational laborers, fetuses, reproductive technology, gender, sexuality, and even capitalist political economy, whose building block remains the traditional, biologically reproductive family?

In this course, we will take up the concept of gestational labor to explore the contemporary—and future—politics of pregnancy. To begin with, we will briefly acquaint ourselves with some of the main theoretical and philosophical approaches to gestational labor, from the analysis of “synthetic labor” offered by philosopher-midwives of “Second Wave” feminism, to that of “matrixial hospitality” elaborated by contemporary feminist scholars and pioneers of “critical midwifery studies.” How can a cervix, as Emma Heaney asks, be “cis”? Why should gestational labor have a fixed gender? Further, we will approach the urgent question of abortion access in historical perspective, drawing on work by (among others) historian Erin Maglaque, who illuminates the longue durée of struggles against forced birth to help us scrutinize the state of reproductive (in)justice today. Why is the “freedom to stop gestating” inexorably connected to other struggles for bodily autonomy, including trans self-determination and anti-racist resistance to maternal criminalization, coerced sterilization, and other forms of systemic reproductive injustice. And finally, we will engage deeply with the speculative (for now—but increasingly real…) question of artificial pregnancy, i.e., ectogenetic technology, vindicated by feminists as well as anti-feminists for over one hundred years. How does the promise, or threat, of a widely-available artificial womb, interact with arguments about the prerogatives of gestators vis-à-vis fetuses? Should feminists ever frame the latter as “property,” or countenance their so-called “right to life” qua “patients” or “persons”? What can a materialist investigation of the dynamics of placentation, parturition, post-partum and “assisted reproduction” tell us about the character of human embodiment, lifemaking, killing, and care, generally? Stops along the way will include: transfeminist “speculative fabulation” around uterine themes, amniotechnics/“full surrogacy now,” and social reproduction theory.

Assigned readings will include selections from Full Surrogacy Now as well as texts by Claire Horn, Mary O’Brien, Irina Aristarkhova, micha cárdenas, Emma Heaney, Ros Petchesky, Loretta Ross and Ricki Solinger, Madeline Lane-McKinley and Marija Cetinic, and Joy James.

Course Schedule

Sunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
May 12 — June 02, 2024
4 weeks

$335.00

Registration Open

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