Accepted Paper:

The (in)fertile valley: alternative medicine, biotechnology, and life in Silicon Valley  


Navreet Nahal (University of Toronto)

Paper short abstract:

What does it mean to create a life from a holistic framework in the context of an intensely materialist, capitalist, and (bio)technological society? This paper will examine how the use of alternative medicine for infertility alters normative understandings of procreation and the reproductive body.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropological scholarship on infertility has flourished since the birth of Louise Brown on July 25, 1978 - the world's first 'test tube baby.' The emergence of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) led anthropologists to become interested in various biomedical interventions for infertility, such as in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, and egg and sperm donation, (Cahn 2013; Franklin 1997; Inhorn 2012; Kahn 2000; Roberts 2012; Teman 2010). However, to date, there has been a lack of research which focuses on those individuals who opt for more holistic treatments. This paper will examine the ways in which men and women diagnosed with infertility incorporate Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) into their treatments, rather than relying exclusively on Western biomedical practices such as ARTs. To explore the entanglements of alternative medicine and infertility, this paper seeks to address the following questions: How might alternative fertility treatments be (re)conceptualized in the context of a dominant framework of Western biomedicine that relies on the normalization of technological advancements like ARTs? What happens when the high-tech world of biomedicine is no longer the only possibility for creating life? How might a philosophy of holism disrupt the cultural and ideological assumptions of Western biomedicine? Drawing on preliminary ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area from July-August 2016, I will pay close attention to the logics of healing and care that are mobilized by TCM practitioners and fertility patients as they attempt to negotiate between two systems of medical knowledge - TCM and Western biomedicine - to diagnose, manage, and treat infertility.

Panel MB-MT04
Flexible reproduction: on the moving articulations of reproduction, technology and culture