Selective reproductive technologies – routes of routinisation and globalisation

International Conference, 13–15 December 2012, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Keynote speakers

  • Sarah Franklin, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge
  • Lene Koch, Centre for Medical Science and Technology Studies, University of Copenhagen
  • Rayna Rapp, Department of Anthropology, New York University
  • Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner, Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex

In a historical perspective, selective reproduction is nothing new: across the world, infanticide and selective neglect of children have a long history; and the widespread deployment of sterilisation and forced abortion in especially the 20th century is well-documented. But the development and routinisation of increasingly sophisticated biomedical technologies that aim to prevent or promote the birth of particular ‘kinds of children’ has placed selective reproduction under the aegis of science and expertise in novel ways. For social scientists, this development raises a range of questions – questions about how these biomedical technologies are used, regulated, and commercialised; about how public concern and criticism have shaped their use; about the roles they play in personal and political deliberations and imaginings; and about their consequences for the ways we think about individuality and collectivity, responsibility and choice.

Over the last three decades or so, social scientists have followed assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) on routes of routinisation and globalisation, examining their development by clinicians and scientists as well as their impact on the daily lives of involuntarily childless couples in different cultural and socio-economic contexts. Recently, similar attention has been directed at selective reproductive technologies (SRTs). With this conference call, we aim to invigorate the momentum this increasing scholarly attention has generated, as SRTs continue to be routinised and globalised as clinical-laboratory practices. Although they often rely on similar techniques and will often overlap, it is important to distinguish between these forms of reproductive technology: ARTs aim to overcome biological obstacles to ‘natural’ reproduction while SRTs aim to prevent or allow the birth of certain ‘kinds of children’.

In December 2012, a three-day international conference will be held in Copenhagen with the aim of promoting comparative social science research into the routinisation and globalisation of SRTs. Selective reproductive technologies:

  • comprise of specific laboratory and clinical techniques which facilitate the selective fertilisation of gametes, implantation of embryos or abortion of foetuses;
  • encompass practices of e.g. counselling, carrier testing, gamete donor screening, gamete and embryo quality assessment/biopsy, ultrasonography, blood chemistry analysis, amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling, karyotyping, genetic testing and/or induced abortion;
  • generate deliberations and negotiations about whether (and if so how) to begin, terminate or continue a pregnancy;
  • are used by individuals and governments to prevent or promote the birth of certain ‘kinds of children’ (e.g. a child suffering from ‘serious disease’, a healthy child, an intelligent child, a male child, a saviour sibling).

The development and growing use of SRTs has provoked important ethical debate around questions such as: What is a life worth living? What kinds of children should (not) be born? How does selective reproduction affect a society’s ability to appreciate human difference? Under what circumstances (if any) is late-term termination of pregnancy acceptable? Who should make decisions about which embryo to implant or whether or not to terminate a pregnancy? While such questions necessarily infuse and saturate empirical social science work around SRTs, the focus of this conference will be on mundane, everyday questions such as: How have selective reproductive technologies been taken up and put into practice in different cultural and socio-economic contexts? In which ways are prospective parents in different countries engaging with these technologies? How do SRT providers interact and communicate with prospective parents? What visions and imaginings of potentiality guide clinical practice in the realm of reproductive selection? What are some of the structural constraints/possibilities that these technologies come to be embedded in? What are the roles of government authorities in promoting or regulating the use of SRTs? How do market forces and other economic factors fuel or constrain the routinisation of SRTs? Finally, the conference wants to explore how routinisation and globalisation took place: when and how were these technologies introduced in various countries, what forms of opposition did they encounter, which role did public criticism play for the practical, technological and regulatory development of the technologies in question?


  • Ayo Wahlberg , Asian Dynamics Initiative Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen
  • Tine Gammeltoft , Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

‘Selective reproductive technologies’ is being organised by the Department of Anthropology and the Centre for Medical Science and Technology Studies at the University of Copenhagen, and is funded through the Sapere Aude programme of the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF).