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(In)Fertile Environments

(In)Fertile Environments - Katie Dow

This work package takes a broad view of contemporary perceptions and experiences of fertility and infertility, by considering not only links between reproduction and concerns about the environment, but also (in)fertility amongst other species. In particular, it engages with anxieties and ambivalences around fertility and infertility which are characteristic of the post-ART age, but which also speak to broader anxieties about humans’ relations with the natural world and the effects of human activity on the environment, including interventions in the reproduction of other species, from animal endangerment, to industrialised agriculture, to concerns about the effects of pollutants on humans’ and other species’ fertility and reproductive health. At a time in which environmental activists are appealing to intergenerational models of responsibility for climate change and some people are deciding not to have children because they are afraid about the future in which they will grow up, this work package adds a timely extra dimension to our understanding of contemporary perceptions of and behaviours around fertility and infertility.

The work package is informed by scholarship in environmental sociology and anthropology, human geography, environmental humanities and queer ecologies and by research and activism in the reproductive justice and environmental justice fields. Inspired by feminist theorists including Noël Sturgeon, Giovanna di Chiro, Michelle Murphy and Elizabeth Hoover, I am seeking to bring these perspectives together in recognition of the fact that environmental conditions are a key, if under-theorised, factor in determining who gets to reproduce and under what conditions.

Some key questions that motivate this work package include:

  • What are people’s fears for future generations in relation to the environment and climate change? How are these translated into concerns about (in)fertility?
  • Do people foresee an infertile future?
  • Is climate change an anti-fertile phenomenon?
  • What do environmental concerns and problems do to practices of kinship and reproduction?

I am approaching these questions through the nexus of reproduction, food, kinship and gardening. I am carrying out research on seed-saving in London, talking to people about how and why they save plant seeds and grow food from saved seeds, as well as investigating relationships between human diversity and biodiversity. I am looking forward to working closely with other members of the network as the project unfolds, including developing links with those who are already engaging with environmental issues in human, and non-human, reproduction.

I have also set up a public engagement project, Cornucopia Seed Redistribution Project, which disperses saved corn seed from the Reproductivities: Remaking Life exhibition which was part of the Life in Glass project, for free – see more at the website.

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.

 

We know that IVF and ARTs do not just reproduce babies: they reproduce values, norms, identities and institutions.

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This project is funded by the Wellcome Trust