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Changing (In)Fertilities



Changing (In)Fertilities is a major new collaborative interdisciplinary research project funded by the Wellcome Trust and based in the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc) at the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with Prof. Marcia C. Inhorn of Yale University.

Changing (In)Fertilities is designed to be a step-changing project in terms of scholarship. It is also an attempt to transform the wider conversation about fertility and infertility – and about reproduction and reproductive politics more generally – in the post-assisted reproductive technology (ART) era.

We know that IVF and ARTs do not just reproduce babies: they reproduce values, norms, identities and institutions. This collaborative global project will explore how ARTs such as IVF are not only responding to, but also changing, the ways in which fertility and infertility are perceived and practiced.

In contrast to the promotion of planned parenthood which dominated the early and mid-20th century, it is the spectre of unplanned infertility that has become more prominent in the early 21st century. Alongside the rapid expansion of assisted fertility services worldwide have come changes in how both fertility and infertility are perceived, defined and experienced. Once aimed at the infertile population, modern ART marketing is increasingly aimed at the fertile population, and at new sectors such as the LGBTQ community. More fertility services has also created greater stratification between the fertility ‘haves and have nots'.

Over a three-year period this global team will explore changing perceptions of fertility, fertility imaginaries, fertility fears and fertility behaviours in the post-ART context. We will document in ‘thick’ qualitative detail the often surprising and unexpected ways in which fertility is being re-imagined and redefined, and also how new fertility trajectories intersect – for example in the effort simultaneously to encourage women to begin their reproductive lives earlier, whilst offering increasing options to extend fertility. We will identify key factors and drivers linking the expansion of ARTs to fertility change, and these will feed into policy as well as basic science.

Building on well-established research partnerships with 27 researchers in 16 countries we will demonstrate how both definitions and perceptions of fertility are changing – and why this is one of the most significant forms of social change in our era.



Changing (In)Fertilities is designed around two ongoing collaborations: the IVF Ethnographers Network, which began in 2012, and a more recent collaboration between this network and the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc) at the University of Cambridge.

Our goal is to build on these well-established collaborative bases in order to explore post-ART changes in how fertility is perceived and understood, and how these changes are manifested as changing fertility and infertility behaviours. Beyond that, we are aiming to formulate a general sociological theory of post-ART fertility change.

Our co-principal investigators, Sarah Franklin and Marcia Inhorn, were two of the first scholars to establish assisted reproduction and in/fertility as critically relevant to the study of human lives and social change. Over the three decades since they started this important work, research on ARTs has emerged as a fruitful subfield, spanning the social sciences and humanities.

In 2015, Marcia and Sarah convened a group of IVF Ethnographers who have carried out empirical research on people’s encounters with ARTs across the world. Their diverse research findings demonstrate that IVF and ARTs are not simply reproducing babies: these are highly symbolic technologies that are inevitably bound up with the reproduction of a wide range of norms and values, from those related to gender, kinship and family to religion, morality and the nation state.



We will provide new models of what we are calling ‘intersectional in/fertilities’, meaning not only how understandings of fertility and infertility increasingly intersect, but also how both interact with other identities and institutions, such as changing norms affecting sexuality, marriage, kinship, the division of labour, nationality and global and local gendered and racial inequalities.

We will clarify what ‘fertility awareness’ means today, when fertility precarity and uncertainty are increasingly affecting both men and women of all ages, and technological ‘solutions’ often create more problems than they solve.

This project’s key questions are:


  • How are IVF and ARTs changing perceptions of in/fertility?
  • How are changing perceptions of in/fertility affecting reproductive decisions?
  • What are the consequences of these fertility transitions?
  • What are the key factors and forces determining and shaping post-ART fertility change?

 Just as this project includes a broad range of scholars across the globe, we are seeking to reach a wide audience:

—  Health professionals

—  Patient groups

—  NGO workers

—  Government agencies

—  Educators and schools

—  Media professionals

—  Policy makers

—  Academic researchers 

A lasting outcome of this project will be a global research network focussed on Changing (In)Fertilities, which will have as its primary aim the goal of situating reproductive health, reproductive justice and reproductive rights at the heart of geopolitical debate and policymaking.

We want to reshape the conversation about changing in/fertilities, so that they can be understood and recognised as one of the most important arenas of social, economic and political change in the world today.