Tag Archives: affect

Babies made in Mexico: Understanding the rise and fall of surrogacy markets

By Carolin Schurr, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland and Martin Müller, University of Zürich, Switzerland

Fig 1

Fig. 1: The global baby business of surrogacy. Image credit © Carolin Schurr

Surrogacy – the term brings to mind stories from the yellow press. Images of celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Elton John and Ricky Martin who smile into the camera with their cute babies. They have all become parents thanks to surrogate mothers.

While media focus on the individual stories of joy or drama surrounding surrogacy, we know very little about the networks of people, technology, money, and infrastructure that make reproduction work at a distance in transnational surrogacy markets. In short, what holds the market of surrogacy together and why does it fall apart?

When Latour and Deleuze meet in a Mexican fertility clinic
Based on Carolin Schurr’s long term ethnographic research on the surrogacy industry, our paper ‘Assemblage thinking and actor-network theory: conjunctions, disjunctions, cross-fertilisations’, published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, engages with this question. The paper argues that bringing assemblage thinking and actor-network theory (ANT) into dialogue offers novel ways to understand how (surrogacy) markets are assembled across space and why the complex networks of human and non-human actors constituting (surrogacy) markets may fall apart, only to reassemble in new ways. Suggesting three cross-fertilizations between assemblage thinking and actor-network theory, the paper exemplifies along the empirical case study of the transnational surrogacy market how geographers’ work can benefit from differentiating between the two approaches more carefully and thinking systematically in what ways they complement each other.

First, we argue that the empirical toolbox of ANT helps explain how the socio-technical networks of surrogacy markets are stabilized. Or in other words, how surrogacy agencies such as ‘My Baby’ manage that Manuel and Rodrigo from Spain, who want a baby and have the money, meet the oocyte of Anita – an egg donor in Sweden –, the womb of Benita – a young mother of two from Chiapas – and Dr. José in Cancún – whose clinic is equipped with the state-of-the-art medical technology from the United States. But not only do they need to meet, they need to meet at the right time, under the right circumstances. But how does ‘My Baby’ manage to control this global enterprise? It manages to govern at a distance by enrolling the necessary elements in relations and holding them stable for a while with the help of technological devices that facilitate the control and surveillance of the different actors involved.

Second, the paper shows that ANT has increasingly embraced multiplicities and fluidities – central to assemblage thinking – as constitutive elements characterising networks. Surrogacy agencies such as ‘My Baby’ could not survive in the constantly changing legal landscape without network fluidity. ‘My Baby’ foresaw the dramatic changes in India’s surrogacy business when the government passed a new bill in 2012 that restricted surrogacy to heterosexual, married couples. Opening up a new branch in Thailand just in time made it possible for them to continue to respond to the demand of their gay clientele. When the military government in Thailand shut down surrogacy businesses after the Baby Gammy scandal, ‘My Baby’ had just set up a new fertility clinic and surrogacy agency in Mexico (Fig. 2) that has since turned into the latest hotspot for gay surrogacy. The final outcome – the baby – needs to be held constant, but the associations that bring it about have shifted all the time.


Fig 2

Fig. 1: The global baby business of surrogacy. Image credit © Carolin Schurr

Third, we suggest that ANT can benefit from the attention to affect in bringing socio-material relations into being, which is so central in assemblage thinking. The role of desire is key here. Deleuze and Guattari understand it as much more than an individualised feeling of wanting to have something. For them, desire is the distributed production of wishes in an arrangement of humans and things. So it is not only the intended parents’ desire for a baby that is central for the global assisted reproduction assemblage to emerge. This assemblage is produced as much by the hetero-normative imperative of the ‘happy family’ that pervades most societies as it is by the pictures that agencies such as ‘My Baby’ and clinics use to visualize the ‘little prince’ as the crowning glory at the end of parents’ travails (Fig. 3). The desire for profit is the key rationale for agencies and clinics to become enrolled in the assemblage. The desire for wealth and a better life for themselves and their children enroll egg donors and surrogate mothers. In short, desire, in multiple forms, is the central force binding the human and non-human elements of surrogacy together: intended parents, egg donors, surrogates, IVF professionals, airplanes, time schedules, petri-dishes, hormonal drugs and so on.

fig 3

Fig. 1: The global baby business of surrogacy. Image credit © Carolin Schurr

Cross-fertilizations: ANT and assemblage thinking
For geographers engaged in empirical work, a cross-fertilisation between ANT and assemblage thinking offers the best of both worlds. It brings the tried-and-tested ANT toolbox of concepts to the study of the emergence of order and disorder in a more-than-human world. It sharpens our sense of different kinds of change in socio-material relations that is central to the new fragile markets of bodily commodification. And it does so in a mode that is attentive to the distributed, bodily capacities of humans and non-humans alike.

The price we need to pay for this is a small one, we think. Just as transnational surrogacy markets have challenged the national boundaries of traditional forms of kinship and family-making, cross-fertilizing ANT and assemblage thinking challenges us to leave behind some cherished certainties as we abandon the safe territories of our conceptual homelands.

About the authors:

Carolin Schurr is Assistant Professor of Transcultural Studies at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland and Martin Müller is Swiss National Science Foundation Professor at the University of Zurich.

60-world2 BBC 2015 Thailand bans commercial surrogacy for foreigners

60-world2 Bhowmick N 2013 Why people are angry about India’s new surrogacy rules Time

60-world2 Daily Mail 2011 Nicole Kidman reveals why she kept surrogacy baby a secret at Screen Actors Guild Awards

60-world2 Groskop V 2009 What is the truth behind Sarah Jessica Parker’s use of a surrogate?  The Guardian

books_icon Müller M 2015 Assemblages and actor-networks: Rethinking socio-material power, politics and space Geography Compass 9 27-41  (open access)

books_icon Müller M and Schurr C 2016 Assemblage thinking and actor-network theory: conjunctions, disjunctions and cross-fertilisations Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers  doi: 10.1111/tran.12117 (open access)

60-world2 Pidd H 2010 Elton John and David Furnish have Christmas baby The Guardian 

books_icon Schurr C 2014 Leaps and bounds in Mexico’s reproductive tourism international Journal of Media Travel 

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Content Alert: Volume 37, Issue 1 (January 2012)

The latest issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

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Time-Space-Movement: HS2 – High Speed rail connections

by Fiona Ferbrache

Photograph by Eric Ferbrache, reproduced with his permission

As I write, minutes remain in which to have your say regarding the Department of Transport’s High Speed Rail proposals (HS2, 2011).   Plans to develop a high speed line involve a proposed route between London and the West Midlands, connecting Leeds and Manchester to Birmingham and London.  Construction is estimated at £32 billion with anticipated economic benefits at more than twice this cost.

The HS2 consultation phase began five months ago, and ended on Friday.  During this time, anti- and pro- arguments have been too and fro in highly animated debates that have come alive through geographies of time and space.  For example, high speed networks may enable territorial, economic and social cohesion, as travel times between key cities will be reduced, effectively bringing people and places closer together.  On the other hand, high speed corridors may ‘splinter’ the UK as economic benefits become concentrated on particular key places, thus undermining smaller, unconnected locations (Stop HS2, 2011).

Situating phenomena in time and space is a core value of geography, but Merriman (in press) questions the assumption of using space-time as a foundational framework.  His article critically considers “Human Geography without time-space” and explores how we might think about events unfolding in terms of movement-space, where rhythm, affect and sensation, for example, are just as important as notions of space and time (also see Bissell, 2010 who illustrates the importance of movement and rhythm in train travel).  Merriman’s paper thus offers geographers an alternative, and post-phenomenological way of engaging with HS2.

Bissell, D. (2010) Vibrating materialities: mobility-body-technology relations. Area. 42.4 pp.479-486

HS2 (2011) High Speed Rail: investing in Britain’s future – consultation. Department for Transport.

Merriman, P. (in press) Human Geography without time-space. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.  

Stop HS2 (2011) Stop HS2: no business case, no environmental case, no money to pay for it.  

Street Performance and Video Methodology

Sarah Mills

The Edinburgh ‘Fringe’ Festival will soon be opening (5th-29th August) and host a range of acts including comedians, dancers, artists and musicians.  Alongside the ‘official’ shows and ticketed events will be a variety of street performers – each becoming part of the largest arts festival in the world that has been held in Scotland’s capital since 1947 (with the Festival Fringe Society established in 1959).  Their official website states that “In 2010 we enjoyed a record-breaking 2,453 different shows staging 40,254 performances in 259 venues by 21,148 performers.”  The Fringe prides itself on being an ‘open access’ arts festival, meaning that street performers in particular can put on a show as part of Fringe with no selection process and be part of a programme that is not curated.  This creates a unique environment and arena for ‘performance’, as well as a particular type of engagement with the audience(s).

In his recent article published in Area (currently on earlyview), Paul Simpson discusses the geographies of street performance and “the acts of audiencing that members undertake in relation to this” (2011: 1).  He uses street performance as an example through which to explore the role of video methodologies in contemporary geographic research.  The paper reflects on his research – during which he played guitar in Bath, UK and videoed the street performances – and focuses specifically on the giving and receiving of donations, linking these practices to debates on affect, embodiment and ethnography.  Whilst ultimately a paper that critically reflects on using video as a research method, Simpson’s research on street performance highlights debates on everyday and artistic practices, many of which can be seen at the Fringe Festival.

Read P. Simpson (2011) ‘So, as you can see . . .’: some reflections on the utility of video methodologies in the study of embodied practices Area [currently early view] 

Visit the Official Site of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Performing to the Tune: how to conceptualise a hotel

by Fiona Ferbrache

Tune Hotel, Kuala Lumpur

The ‘no frills’ airline sector has diversified recently as Tony Fernandes, who runs low-cost airline Air Asia, has brought his Tune hotel chain to the UK.  The first Tune hotel opened near Westminster this summer and charges as little as £9 a night.  The strategy behind the cost is that any extras are paid for separately: a towel and hotel soap will cost you £1.50, while £3 will buy you television access.  We might talk about this hotel in terms of travel or mobility geographies, or as part of urban geography, but a recent paper by Rose et al. (2010) inspires something different.

The paper takes buildings as its subject and argues for conceptualizing them as performances.  Behind this thesis is the lack of attention paid to the constructive role that human emotions play in (re)producing buildings.  Thus, Rose et al. set an agenda for geographers to consider human feelings of buildings, feelings in buildings and feelings about buildings.  So how does the Tune hotel perform?

Firstly, reports commend the high quality beds that people feel are extremely comfortable – top marks for a good night sleep.  Secondly, the hotel performs less well on space as customers report a sense of claustrophobia in the small rooms.  In terms of feelings about this hotel – I shall leave you to make your own mind up by logging onto www.tunehotels.com

Gordon, B. (2010) Inside the Tune hotel, ‘Westminster’, London Telegraph 27 August 2010

Rose, G., Degen, M. & Basdas, B. (2010) More on ‘big things’: building events and feelings. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Vol.35, 3. pp.334-349

Drinking emotions

By Rosa Mas Giralt

According to the BBC reporter Jim Reeds, the Home Office has just announced plans to return power to local authorities to police drinking behaviour in their streets. This proposal follows criticisms of the ‘24 hour drinking policy’ which was introduced with the aim of staggering the closing of bars and other establishments, therefore reducing drinking related problems and anti-social behaviour in the city centres and streets of England and Wales. The new plans, currently under consultation, would include Councils being able to stop drinking in their streets after midnight, bars being charged a late night fee due to extra-policing expenditure and supermarkets and other establishments being banned from selling drinks at ‘below cost’ price. This is a new episode on the long-standing battle of public authorities in the UK to reduce excessive drinking and its related public safety and health impacts.

In a forthcoming article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Mark Jayne, Gill Valentine and Sarah L. Holloway argue for an emotional, embodied and affective approach to researching alcohol, drinking and drunkenness. Such an approach, they suggest, can provide a bridge between scholarship focusing on health and legislation issues related to excessive drinking and that centred on the social and cultural aspects of these practices; therefore, providing a more holistic context in which to understand the complexity of factors which play a role in people’s experiences of drinking and their related impacts.

 Watch Jim Reed’s report “24-hour drinking culture ‘failed’, Home Office says” on the BBC website.

 Read Mark Jayne, Gill Valentine and Sarah L Holloway (2010). “Emotional, embodied and affective geographies of alcohol, drinking and drunkenness”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. [Early view]

The Geographies of Childhood Obesity

Sarah Mills

The recent criticism Jamie Oliver received for his attempts to combat obesity in the US highlight how emotive the issue of childhood obesity can be.  The American backlash to Oliver’s latest show – Food Revolutions – has been widely reported and analysed in British newspapers.  Some commentators have remarked it is merely a response to ‘pushy’ Brits and demonstrative of the dwindling ‘special’ relationship between US and Britain.  It has, however, raised the issue of childhood obesity and policies regarding school dinners once more.  This latest venture by Oliver follows on from Jamie’s School Dinners, which aired in the UK in 2005 and focused on improving healthy-eating in British schools.  Whilst his approach received criticism from some quarters, it has had a marked effect on the approach and policies of the UK Government towards school meals.  Indeed, recently published research has shown an overall improvement in children’s health and performance at schools that participated in Oliver’s ‘Feed Me Better’ campaign.  It is yet to be seen how successful Oliver’s campaign in the US will be, yet I would argue his programmes and the debates they raise clearly demonstrates the need for a critical geography of obesity.

Geographer Bethan Evans has focused specifically on childhood obesity and UK policies in her recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.  She explores geographical work on obesity and pre-emptive biopolitics, before examining the “dystopian production of the future nation in obesity policy” (2010:21).  She argues how “children are central to the production and pre-emption of obese futures because of the affective potential of childhood and the paradoxical position of children’s bodies both as children in the present and adults of the future” (2010:21).  Though focusing on the spatiotemporalities of obesity policies, Evans speaks to broader debates about the role of young people in pre-emptive politics and the geographies of ‘globesity’.

Read Toby Young in The Guardian on Jamie Oliver’s US criticism

  Read the BBC Online Story on Oliver’s successful ‘Feed Me Better’ Campaign

  Read Evans, B. (2010) ‘Anticipating fatness: childhood, affect and the pre-emptive ‘war on obesity’’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (1): 21-38