Tag Archives: assemblages

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 

Urban Exploration

by Fiona Ferbrache

Urban Exploring in verlassenen Bunkeranlagen

A fortnight ago, Geography Directions reported on exploration and adventure in Geography.  While exploration is often associated with ventures into the wilderness and unchartered territories, it is also very much about less physical scientific discovery and search for deeper understanding.  This week, I introduce an alternative group of inquisitives: urban explorers who scale the heights and depths of abandoned or derelict buildings, landmarks and transport infrastructure as a means of rediscovering build environments.

The London Consolidation Crew is a group of urban explorers that physically explores closed or (usually) inaccessible urban spaces.  The Guardian linked these often illicit and high-risk excursions to a celebration of capitalist space, while geographer David Clarke suggested that they were embodied reactions to increased control and surveillance over urban spaces.  Analysis of these activities (the basis of a recent geographical PhD by urban explorer Brad Garrett), informs existing geographical research on contemporary urban exploration (Garrett, 2010) and advances theories that concern how places are experienced through the body: concepts such as affect, performance and embodiment.

Bodily experiences of climbing are described, analysed and theorised by Barratt (2012) in Area.  While Barratt’s empirical research was undertaken among outdoor climbers more familiar with ascending rocks, his arguments also apply to urban explorers.  Barratt argues for an understanding of climbing as a complex assemblage of body-material-environment relations i.e. that the experience can be understood through interactions between body, clothing and kit, and the place or surface where climbing is practised.  Barratt’s paper offers a more-than-representational approach to this leisure activity, and thus provides a framework to reconsider urban explorers’ engagement with their environment.  From this perspective, not only do urban explorers inspire new ways of discovering spaces, but they also provide a context where emerging theoretical ideas can be refined.

  The Guardian: Shard explorers seek out new targets after scaling London landmark

  Place Hacking: Explore Everything

  Barratt, P. (2012) ‘My magic cam’: a more-than-representational account of the climbing assemblage. Area. 44.1, pp.46-53

  Garrett, B.L. (2010) Urban Explorers: Quests for Myth, Mystery and Meaning. Geography Compass. 4.10, pp.1448-1461

Area Content Alert: Volume 44, Issue 1 (March 2012)

The latest issue of Area is available on Wiley Online Library.

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

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Content Alert: New Articles (13th January 2012)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Anthropogenic controls on large wood input, removal and mobility: examples from rivers in the Czech Republic
Lukáš Krejčí and Zdeněk Máčka
Article first published online: 23 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01071.x

Special Section: Exploring the Great Outdoors

‘My magic cam’: a more-than-representational account of the climbing assemblage
Paul Barratt
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01069.

Special Section: Emerging Subjects, Registers and Spatialities of Migration Methodologies in Asia

Methodological dilemmas in migration research in Asia: research design, omissions and strategic erasures
Rebecca Elmhirst
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01070.x

Commentary

The aviation sagas: geographies of volcanic risk
Amy R Donovan and Clive Oppenheimer
Article first published online: 3 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00458.x

Original Articles

Diverging pathways: young female employment and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa
Thilde Langevang and Katherine V Gough
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2011.00457.x

Original Articles

Rethinking urban public space: accounts from a junction in West London
Regan Koch and Alan Latham
Article first published online: 19 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00489.x

The social and economic consequences of housing in multiple occupation (HMO) in UK coastal towns: geographies of segregation
Darren P Smith
Article first published online: 23 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00487.x

The reputational ghetto: territorial stigmatisation in St Paul’s, Bristol
Tom Slater and Ntsiki Anderson
Article first published online: 30 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00490.x

Fear of a foreign railroad: transnationalism, trainspace, and (im)mobility in the Chicago suburbs
Julie Cidell
Article first published online: 30 DEC 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00491.x

Participation in evolution and sustainability
Thomas L Clark and Eric Clark
Article first published online: 3 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00492.x

Boundary Crossings

Progressive localism and the construction of political alternatives
David Featherstone, Anthony Ince, Danny Mackinnon, Kendra Strauss and Andrew Cumbers
Article first published online: 3 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00493.x

The disciplining effects of impact evaluation practices: negotiating the pressures of impact within an ESRC–DFID project
Glyn Williams
Article first published online: 9 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00494.x