Virgin Births and Sterile Debates: Anthropology and the New Reproductive Technologies

by Cris Shore, Robin Fox, Carol Delaney, Jane F. Collier, R. G. Abrahams
Virgin Births and Sterile Debates: Anthropology and the New Reproductive Technologies
Cris Shore, Robin Fox, Carol Delaney, Jane F. Collier, R. G. Abrahams
Current Anthropology
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Virgin Births and Sterile Debates Anthropology and the New Reproductive Technologies

by Cris Shore

This article explores some of the social, political, and anthropo- logical issues raised by the new reproductive technologies, focus- ing on the controversies surrounding Britain's 1984 Warnock re- port and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill of 1990. The way in which these issues were debated and resolved in the press and in Parliament sheds some light on what are evidently conflicting and contested constructs of kinship, family, and per- sonhood in contemporary Britain. These issues must also be in- terpreted from other perspectives, however, particularly examin- ing the political and gender dimensions of discourses about reproduction. Comparison of current debates over fertility con- trol with older anthropological controversies concerning native beliefs about conception suggests that in each case such beliefs have various levels of social significance: the task of anthropo- logical inquiry is to explore their deeper structural and ideolog- ical implications. The assumption that the new reproductive technologies are controversial simply because they threaten established ideals of the family and motherhood is found want- ing: instead, what is at issue is the vested interest that all soci- eties have in the symbolic control of fertility and reproduction.

CRIS SHORE is Lecturer in Anthropology at Goldsmiths' College,

University of London (New Cross, London SEI~ 6NW, England).

Born in 1959, he was educated at Oxford Polytechnic (B.A., 1981)

and at Sussex University (Ph.D., 1985). His research interests are

Europe, ethnicity, identity, and applied anthropology. He has published Italian Communism: The Escape from Leninism (Lon-

don: Pluto Press, 1990), "Ethnicity as Revolutionary Strategy," in Inside Identities; Ethnography in Western Europe, edited by S. MacDonald (Oxford: Berg, 1991), and "Lenin and the Crisis of Communism: The View from the Inside" (Government and Op- position 26[1]). The present paper was submitted in final form 13 XI 91.

I. I am grateful to Pat Caplan and Marilyn Strathern for their con- structive comments on an earlier draft of this article and to Tim Ingold and Elizabeth Shore for their helpful criticisms and sugges- tions.

Questions about reproductive technologies tend to fall into three categories (Stanworth 1987~:~).

First, there are questions that emphasize the ethical and practical problems arising from experimentation on human em- bryos: Does it violate the sanctity of human life, and will it lead to genetic engineering? Do the ends ever justify the means when scientific experimentation re- sults in the destruction of human life? Should embryos be protected from commercial exploitation? These ques- tions in particular dominated the recent Parliamentary

2. The symposium was organized by the Academic Unit of the Royal London Hospital's Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department June 26, 1991.

In exploring these issues, with Cannell (1ggo:670) I situate my argument within the "growing anthropologi- cal literature that considers sex, gender and reproductiv- ity in the advanced capitalist societies of North America and northwestern Europe" (cf. Schneider I 968 Strathern 1981, 199za; Wolfram 1987)-though I find the term "advanced capitalist societies" in this context somewhat problematic as an operational category. A major theme of this literature has been the impact of changes in reproductive technologies on constructions of kinship and the family. Most writers agree that these technolo- gies challenge conventional beliefs about the indissolu- ble link between procreation, parenthood, and blood

ties, especially the idea that the nuclear family repre- sents a natural, biological unit. My intention here is not to examine the structure of British kinship or to engage with the questions that have exercised kinship theorists over the past zo years (see, e.g., Schneider 1968, Strath- ern 1981, Collier, Rosaldo, and Yanagisako 1982) but simply to contribute to an understanding of some of the political aspects of these technologies. My argument is that the furore surrounding the Warnock report, the Hu- man Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and the Virgin Birth scandal not only highlights the existence of con- flicting paradigms for "proper motherhood" and the "natural family" but also raises the issue of who con- trols reproduction and who is ultimately responsible for the "gift" of life. To illustrate this point it will be help- ful to compare current debates over fertility with two well-known anthropological controversies over beliefs about conception, the "virgin birth" controversy and the argument over the meaning of spiritual kinship.

Interpreting beliefs about conception is particularly difficult when indigenous beliefs conflict with Western


models of rationality. Malinowslzi (1948) observed that the Trobriand Islanders consistently denied that preg- nancy was the result of copulation between a man and a woman, and subsequent anthropologists have confirmed (Powell 1966, Spiro 1968, Montague 1971) that they seem to have no concept of physiological paternity. Re- jecting any causal connection between intercourse and conception, Trobrianders say that pregnancy occurs only when a woman's matrilineal ancestors from the other world send a spirit to impregnate her and that copula- tion is simply a mechanical act that serves to "open up" the passage through which the "spirit child" is inserted (Malinowski 1948:229). Do such beliefs result, as Mali- nowski (I948:236) concluded, from "ignorance" stemming from a "lack of scientific mind and method," or are they a consequence of psychological projection which, as Spiro (1968:z~b-57) would have us believe, "functions to resolve the native's Oedi~al conflict" by providing a cognitive and symbolic basis for denying that a man's father is his genitor? Alternatively, are they statements of theological dogma similar to the Christian notion of immaculate conception (Leach 1967:94)?

Similar difficulties arise over interpretations of spiri- tual kinship, particularly the institution of compadrazgo or ritual godparenthood once common through- out Christian Europe and Latin America. Some anthropologists, including Gudeman (1971) and Pitt- Rivers (I968, I 977), have argued that spiritual kinship is a device for forging cross-family alliances and that it reflects the Christian view of the dualistic nature of mankind as both spiritual and material being. Others, following the Marxist and feminist perspective of BIoch and Guggenheim (1981)) have suggested that baptism and spiritual kinship are better understood as devices for legitimizing patriarchal oppression. According to this view, the ideological core of spiritual kinship "consists in the denial of biological birth and the ability of women to create 'legitimate' children by first declaring it to be

SHORE Virgin Births and Sterile Debates 1 297

polluting and then by replacing it with a ritual reen- actment of birth which involves giving other parents" (p.384). In other words, baptism is a ritual that symboli- cally supplants dirty, natural birth with clean, legiti- mate second birth. The message communicated here is clear: only God and the church have the power to create fully fledged individuals and proper social beings.

There are interesting parallels between these debates and current controversies about embryology, infertility, and in vitro fertilization. In both cases similar questions are raised: When exactly does life occur, who is responsi- ble for it, and what constitutes "legitimate" conception in a given cultural context? How we answer these ques- tions provides fascinating insight not only into current 'ideologies of kinship but also into the politics of repro- duction. One of many questions raised by the new repro- ductive technologies is who is ultimately responsible for conception. Traditionally, there have been four principal challengers for this mantle: God, the church, woman, and the state. Now a fifth candidate has entered the fray: the medical profession.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Debate

The world's first child resulting from in vitro fertilization was Louise Browne, born in Oldham in July 1978. This remarkable scientific feat opened up a whole new horizon for potential developments in human fertiliza- tion and embryology. Public pride in the achievement and excitement about its implications for relieving in- fertility was accompanied, however, by unease over the seemingly uncontrolled advance of science, bringing dangerous new possibilities for cloning and genetic engi- neering. This unease was prompted by memories of the eugenics movement and of the experiments carried out in wartime concentration camps by Nazi scientists (Al- ton 1990:965) and by futuristic and Gothic novels such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Margaret At- wood's The Handmaid's Tale, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Against the background of this public concern, the government established a committee of enquiry, chaired by the moral philosopher Dame Mary Warnock, in 1982. Its specific mandate was "to consider recent and potential developments in medicine and science re- lated to human fertilisation and embryology; to consider what policies and safeguards should be applied, includ- ing consideration of the social, ethical and legal impli- cations of these developments [my emphasis]; and to make recommendations" (Warnock 1984:4). This it did, and the final report was published in 1984. Its main rec- ommendations were as follows:

I. Certain specialist forms of infertility treatment-in vitro fertilization, egg and embryo donation, artificial insemination-and the use of human embryos in re- search should be considered ethically acceptable subject to stringent controls.

z. Research on human embryos should be permitted only under licence and only up to the 14th day after fertilization.

  1. A new, independent statutory body should be estab- lished to licence and monitor embryo research.
  2. Provision of surrogacy services by agencies or indi- vidual health professionals should be a criminal offence, but private individuals who entered into surrogacy ar- rangements should not be liable to criminal prosecution.

The government subsequently published two white papers setting out proposals for legislation, though the five-year delay before the legislation was debated would seem to indicate that it was uncertain how to handle the issue. Meanwhile, reproductive technology continued to develop, making it increasingly clear that statutory con- trols of some sort were necessary. The Human Fertilisa- tion and Embryology Bill introduced in Parliament in 1990 contained two main proposals: (I)the establish- ment of a statutory licencing body and (z) either a ban on embryo research (along lines similar to those put for- ward by Enoch Powell's Protection of the Unborn Child Bill in 1985) or authorization of limited research up to 14 days. The government refused to take a stand on these alternatives and allowed a free vote, which endorsed the second alternative. What was interesting, however, was the way in which public opinion lined up behind the two propositions and the way in which contrasting "sci- entific," "ethical," and "religious" discourses were mo- bilized in support of each case.

The case for embryo research was supported in the main by the medical and scientific establishments. Their justification for experimenting on human embryos began with the argument that fertilization does not necessarily result in the production of an embryo. The introduction of a sperm into an egg merely begins the process of growth by stimulating cell division, after which an eight-cell cluster enters the womb. At this stage any one of these cells might become part of the embryo or part of the placenta. Only after 14 days do these cells start to differentiate. Identity therefore be- gins at individuation, which occurs not at conception but 14 days later when the "primitive streak" appears in the cell which will actually form the embryo. When challenged on this 14-day ceiling Mary Warnock is re- ported to have answered: "If one put the question, when did I become Me, the answer would be fourteen days and not before" (Johnson 1984). Many MPs criticized the apparent inconsistency between this statement and current abortion laws. The point was summed up by Alton (1990:965): "It is a cruel paradox that this Bill states that personhood begins at 14 days and after that it would be a crime to violate the embryo. However, it will remain perfectly legal to kill a foetus in an abortion

for the next 26 weeks." Warnock, however, insisted that, however much Pro-Life campaigners tried to conflate the two issues, the abortion issue fell outside the com- mittee's terms of inquiry.

Interestingly, the synod of the Church of England sup- ported experimentation up to 14 days: "We have already expressed our view that a fertilised ovum should be

treated with respect, but its life is not so sacrosanct that it should be accorded the same status as a human being" (Board of Social Responsibility 1984)-a sentence that was used repeatedly by supporters of the bill (e.g., Rich- ardson 19go:gzs). Defending this position John Habgood (~ggo),Archbishop of York, argued that the Scriptures "give no authoritative moral and theological guidance about the precise point at which the complex processes entailed in the beginnings of an individual human life give it a unique moral status" and that "belief that hu- man beings are made in the image of God points both to reverence for human life as actually given, and also to our human possibilities for creative change." This argument was given a bizarre twist by the Conservative

seeking their genetic fathers or, worse, mothers de- manding alimony payments from sperm donors (a large number of whom tended to be young medical students).

Scientists were swift to counter the argument that experimenting on animals could obviate the need for human embryo research, pointing out that it is not al- ways appropriate to extrapolate results from one species to another. The most notorious example of this was the tranquilizer thalidomide, whose side-effects were not apparent from tests on animals.

Opposition to experiments on human embryos was usually based on the belief that life begins at conception and that the pre-embryo should be given the same pro- tection as a child or an adult. The argument was

MP for Wimbledon, Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (~ggo), summed up in an Independent editorial (November 24,

who suggested that before 14 days "ensoulment" could

not occur in the human individual.

Scientists who favoured embryo research pointed to

its potential medical benefits, arguing that experiments

on the effects of temperature on the viability of human

embryos might lead to more effective treatment of infer-

tility and genetic diseases (see Vines I 989:48-so). Ban-

ning research, it was argued, would probably mean that

(I) improvements in in vitro fertilization techniques would be severely hampered and therefore many couples would lose their only chance to have a baby (about one couple in eight in the U.K. is infertile); (2)many causes of infertility would remain unknown and hence untreat- able (about 40,000 couples in the U.K. suffer from unex- plained infertility); (3) an opportunity would be lost to solve the mystery of why so many women miscarry (studies on in vitro fertilized eggs have shown that al- most one-third contain chromosome abnormalities, but further research is needed to understand when and why these abnormalities occur); (4) it would be impossible to develop safe and reliable techniques for the diagnosis of genetic abnormalities such as cystic fibrosis, haemo- philia, and Huntington's chorea (current methods re- quire pregnancy to progress for at least eight to ten weeks, by which point the termination of an affected pregnancy is likely to be traumatic or rejected as unethi- cal); and (5)a promising avenue for the development of new contraceptive techniques (including a contraceptive for men) would be closed (Leese 1988, cited in Gore 1989). Finally, scientists argued that "scientific human curiosity is a noble part of our culture. It is a sterile and dogmatic society that stifles responsible research" (Gore 1989:1o) and that banning research would result in a
brain-drain of scientists and medical staff from the U.K.

Contributors to the British Medical Iournal voiced yet another fear: that if research were subject to legal re- strictions, clinicians practising in vitro fertilization might be placed under the intolerable threat of criminal prosecution (Braude and Johnson I 989:I 349). Many doc- tors also objected to the bill's proposal to remove the anonymity of sperm donors. This objection was moti- vated, some say, less by rational scientific arguments than by fear of the damage to the reputation of the medi- cal profession should doctors have to confront children 1989; see Gore 1989:11) as follows:

Human life starts at conception. From that time on the well being of the human subject takes prece- dence over all other considerations which might in- fluence a doctor or researcher. Just as it would be wrong to carry out experiments which damaged a child, even if the research was expected to be of im- mense value to other children, so it would be wrong to do research which damaged an embryo. . . . The end does not justify the means: the utilitarian idea that increasing the sum of human happiness is the proper test of social policy cannot be used to justify killing.

The Roman Catholic church took the position that a human being must be respected as a "person" from the very moment of conception. Although, theologically
speaking, a foetus is neither a "Christian person" nor,
pace Bloch and Guggenheim (1981)) a "legitimate" so-
cial being until baptized and given a Christian name,
the church is adamant that life, once conceived, must
be protected with the utmost care and that abortion and
infanticide are abominable crimes (see, e.g., Catholic
Truth Society 1987). Writing in support of this position,
Hume (1990) argued that "moral choices do not depend
on personal preference and private decision, but on right
reason and, I would add, divine order." Many Catholic
scholars also claimed that modern genetics and embryol-
ogy confirmed their case by showing that the genetic
blueprint for an individual is present at conception. This.
argument was summed up by the organization Life

Are these tiny embryos really human beings? Yes.
Advances in genetics and embryology have shown that at the fusion of egg and sperm the genetic make-up of the new individual is complete and a unique human being comes into existence. It is at this moment that many characteristics of our phy- sique and personality are established. This is when each one of us started being the person we are today.

It is ridiculous to say that an embryo is so small
that it cannot be a true human being. . . . All of us
were once like that.

The Warnock Committee had deliberately steered

clear of any attempt to answer the question of when

human life begins, but in doing so it avoided what many

Pro-Life supporters saw as the heart of the matter: What

is the human embryo? According to Braine (~ggo), this

question was conveniently side-stepped by the inven-

tion of the term "vre-embryo." Because the word did not

appear in any medical dictionary, he and fellow Pro-Life

supporters tended to believe that it had been invented "to

confuse and baffle and to dehumanise the earlv embrvo."

Many doctors and scientists supported a ban on re-

search. They claimed that there were not even good sci-

entific grounds for justifying experiments on foetuses,

since none of the major medical advances in understand-

ing congenital disease had involved the use of human

embryos and better results had usually been obtained

using adult cells. Moreover, according to Sir Bernard

Braine (~ggo), leader of the all-party Pro-Life group of

MPs, embryo experimentation would be in open viola-

tion not only of medical ethics and the Hippocratic oath

but also of the Helsinki declaration that "research on

man . . . should never take precedence over consider-

ations relating to the well-being of the subject." He went

on to suggest that at root the issue was not so much

"preventing suffering" as "eliminating handicap" and

human imperfection.

Other objections to embryo research were raised by feminist writers (see, e.g., Arditti, Klein, and Minden 1984, Corea and Klein 1985, Spallone and Steinberg I 987, Stanworth I 987b, Spallone 1989) and concerned the loss of identity to women that such research entails. According to Spallone (1989: 17)) the professed scientific aim of such research, "to improve on nature," should be read "to improve on women." Scientific research on human embryos was seen as containing implicit eugeni- cist ideas about improving the human race by eradicat- ing hereditary defects. Moreover, many of these technol- ogies themselves were considered "harmful to women, a destruction of women's physical integrity, an exploita- tion of women's procreativity, and yet another attempt to undermine women's struggle for control over our own reproduction" (Spallone 1989:1; see also Oakley 1987). Furthermore, it was suggested that the money invested in such research could be better spent on providing more care and facilities for people with handicaps than on finding techniques to destroy genetic handicap itself. Some also claimed that an overemphasis on technology risked "distracting attention from the politics and orga- nisation of health care in general, from the legal system which frames our rights over our bodies and our chil- dren, [and] from political struggles over the nature of sexuality, parenthood and the family" (Stanworth 1987a:4). Finally, many feminists objected to the ideo-

logical implications of such research, pointing out that technologies for "managing" fertility and childbirth were increasingly "embedded in a medical frame of ref- erence" that defined pregnant women not as subjects but as "patients" or objects and pregnancy as "illness" (Stanworth 1987a:15).

SHORE Virgin Births and Sterile Debates 1 299

Artificial Insemination, Surrogacy, and the
Question of Kinship

The Warnoclz Committee assembled evidence from more than 350 different organizations, ranging from the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council and the British Housewives' League to the Law Society, Action for Les- bian Parents, the Mothers' Union, the Episcopal Church, and a host of health authorities and community health councils. The core of the vroblem the committee was trying to confront was the relationship between social parenthood (specifying pater and mater) and biological procreation (specifying genitor and genetrix). In particu- lar, artificial insemination raised a number of legal and social problems-not to mention conceptual difficulties-for the structure of parenthood. Techni- cally, artificial insemination presents few practical prob- lems; sperm provided by a donor (who may be the hus- band himself) is simply inserted into the vagina. The donor, if not the husband, is usually anonymous. Le- gally, however, artificial insemination has never been wholeheartedly recognized as legitimate or proper; in- deed, a commission set up by the Archbishop of Canter- bury in 1948 recommended that it be made a criminal offence. The legal status of a child who is the product of artificial insemination has traditionally been ambigu- ous. As the Warnoclz report pointed out, under then- existing law any child born by this method was "illegiti- mate." In theory, therefore, the husband of the woman who bore such a child had no parental rights or duties (Warnock 1984:zo). Parental rights belonged not to the child's social father but to the (anonymous) donor, who "could be made liable to pay maintenance, and who could apply to the courts for access or custody." Further- more, any mother who registered her husband as the child's father was, technically speaking, breaking the law. The message here seems to have been that only the genetic mother and father were legitimate or "real" parents.

The objections to artificial insemination submitted to the Warnock Committee centred on the ~oint that the child was biologically the wife's and thi donor's, the husband having played no part in procreation-an idea that the British, in contrast to the Trobriand Islanders, evidently found difficult to grasp. Another objection was that artificial insemination introduced a "third party" into the marital relationship, thus threatening the sta- bility of the nuclear family: some even likened it to adultery. Nonetheless, the committee came down in fa- vour of artificial insemination, arguing that those who found it morally objectionable would be unlikely to practise it anyway and their objections should not stop others from doing so. It also recommended that the law be changed so that a child produced by artificial insemi- nation "should in law be treated as the legitimate child of its mother and her husband" (Warnock 1984:24).

According to Riviirre (1985)~ the Warnock Committee, in effect, was trying to grapple with the old anthropolog- ical issue-rendered more problematic and urgent by

surrogacy and artificial insemination-of what happens when biological father (genitor) no longer corresponds to social father (pater). He makes the interesting observa- tion that according to the Warnock report a child pro- duced by artificial insemination is only to be treated as legitimatej it is not to be legitimate.3 Again, this reflects an entrenched view in Britain that true kinship is ge- netic and a "proper" family is a domestic unit grounded in "blood tiesu-a view that seems to ignore the anthro- pological axiom that "genealogies are social and cultural constructs, and not biological pedigrees" (Rivi6re 1985:4). His claim that other societies have less diffi- culty separating social from biological fatherhood (ex- amples being those cases from the Bible or from Africa where the legitimacy of a woman's offspring, regardless of who the father is, is defined by marriage and the pas- sage of bridewealth [see Evans-Pritchard 19401) is, how- ever, simplistic. Furthermore, whereas his contention that the pater = genitor equation lies at the heart of the British notion of a stable social order may well have some validity, there is little evidence either to corroborate or to refute it. Certainly there remains an ideology-perhaps even a dominant ideology-of kinship and affinity in Britain which supports the notion that the family must be preserved with its biological and sexual integrity intact, and this may go some way towards explaining why artificial insemination is per- ceived by many as an anomaly and a threat. It would

nevertheless be naive to exclude from the "heart of the British notion of a stable social order" complementary ideas about property rights, sex, and power.

Surrogate motherhood is another development that threatens our traditional ideals about family integrity and the social order, and this too provoked conflicting reactions (see Zipper and Sevenhuijsen 1987). In the early 1970s Firestone (1970) suggested that birth tech- nology would be liberating for women because it would relieve them,from the burdens of childbirth. Most con- temporary feminist writers reject this thesis, however, claiming instead that surrogate mothers are more likely to become victims of patriarchy and commercialization because of their increased dependency on science and medical technology (for the most radical views on this see Corea and Klein 1985). More typically, objections to surrogacy tend to be based on the charge that surrogate motherhood is "unnatural" and "against God's will" (Gallagher 1987:139). However, many of the most pow- erful objections were based on surrogacy's legal compli- cations. Having gauged public opinion, the Warnock Committee finally came down firmly against commer-

3. This was echoed by Kenneth Clarke, then Secretary of State for Health, who said in presenting the bill before Parliament that "an AID [artificial insemination by donor] child born to a married woman is to be treated as the child of her husband. . . . in the case of so-called social fathers-I know of no better description for the male partner where an unmarried couple are living together-of children born as a result of donation, where an unmarried couple are treated together, the man is to be treated as the father of the child" (Clarke 1ggo:g24).

cia1 surrogacy on the following grounds: (I)it involves

the intrusion of a third party, (2)the use of the uterus

for profit is "inconsistent with human dignity" (some

opponents have even likened it to prostitution [Zipper

and Sevenhuijsen 1987: I~o]), (3)it distorts the relation-

ship between mother and child (to become pregnant

with the deliberate intention of giving away the child

"is the wrong way to approach pregnancy" [Warnock

1984:45]), and (4) it is both "degrading" and "potentially

damaging" for the child.

The moral philosophy reflected in these views is, however, both ethnocentric and highly questionable. The "intrusion of a third party," for example, is more conceptual than real in that it offends only certain cher- ished ideas about the sanctity of the family, among them the archaic notion of the family as a fortress or mini-state with its walls turned against the hostile and harmful world "outside." Furthermore, while some would agree that bearing children for money is unethi- cal, others contend that if surrogacy is to be successful it needs to be organized both professionally and for profit. The extreme case for commercial surrogacy was put by Johnson (1984): "In my simplicity I assume that businesses which make profits are more likely to be well-run than businesses which don't. Is Mr Davis sav- ing he does not object to agencies dealing with surrogacy provided they are inefficient?" What Johnson objects to here is the committee's ideological distaste-typical, he suggests, of "middle-class liberals"-for any form of commercialism or profit. "Why," he asks, "should the state interfere in these matters at all?" Perhaps the obvi- ous answer is that surrogacy is, as other governments in Europe are beginning to acl~nowled~e,~

a matter of state interest (Spallone I 989:I 5 5-79). Finally, the arguments about surrogacy's being damaging to the child are based not so much on any empirical evidence as on the old notion of the primacy and supremacy of natural mater- nal bonding5 If the breaking of the bond between mother and child were so traumatic, then this would be an overriding argument against adoption-yet no one is seriously advocating that adoption be banned.

Another issue dealt with bv the Warnock Committee was the freezing of embryos. The legal situation in 1985 was that eggs could not be frozen but sperm could be, and there was a question mark about embryos. While. freezing sperm is no problem, it has important social implications. For example, if a woman is impregnated by her husband's semen after his death, who inherits his estate? When a wealthy Los Angeles couple died in a plane crash, leaving behind two frozen embryos in a fer- tility clinic in Australia, the "orphan embryos" became

  1. For example, in November 1990 Germany became "the first country to pass a law banning commercial surrogate motherhood and cloning embryo cells to produce genetically identical off- spring" (BritishMedical lournu1 301:1063).
  2. As Riviere (1985) points out, this is essentially the same belief that, in the 19th century, led anthropologists to assume that matri- liny preceded patriliny.

sHO RE Virgin Births and Sterile Debates I 301

an object of public interest and speculation (at least in the press) raising questions about who owned them and whether they had a claim to their deceased parents' for- tune (Gallagher I987:I 3 9). The Warnock Committee's recommendation on this subject was that there should be no right of ownership to a human embryo and that couples should be required to make decisions before- hand as to the disposition of frozen ones. It also recom- mended that any child born by in vitro fertilization who was not in utero at the time of its father's death should be disregarded for the purposes of succession and inheri- tance. Again, however, the committee appeared oblivi- ous to its own gender bias. As Smart (1987:115) points out, it made no recommendations restricting the inheri- tance rights of children born by these same methods where the biological mother rather than the father is dead; "should a widower elect to implant the egg or em- bryo of his dead wife into an infertile second wife, the child born as a consequence will not be disinherited or ignored for purposes of succession" (Smart I 987:I I 6). SO the report effectively advocated different legal statuses for maternity and paternity, giving priority to the latter. The committee's objection to a widow's being impreg- nated by her deceased husband's sperm rested on both the presumed psychological problems this posed for the child and the legal and social ramifications. Posthumous fertilization would be a lawyer's nightmare, because ac- count would then have to be taken of the legal rights of a child perhaps born years after the death of its father. In contrast, among patrilineal societies of sub-Saharan Africa, including the Nuer of Sudan, both ghost marriage and the levirate aim at the procreation of children for a dead man (Evans-Pritchard I940, Gluckman I95 0).


Advances in human embryology have brought a new ur- gency to many questions surrounding conception, but they have brought no real answers. This is partly be- cause, as Riviere (1985 :6) has said, when life begins can never be established on purely scientific grounds be- cause the "potential for life" and the notion of "per- sonhood" are subjective rather than objective assessments with profound legal and social implications. The public debates surrounding those assessments, though often rhetorical and contradictory, reveal important fac- ets of contemporary beliefs and attitudes on a range of issues, including kinship, descent, and inheritance.

Several other anthropological lessons might be gleaned from the foregoing discussion: First, infertility as constructed in scientific discourses is not simply a medical problem but a social stigma. Secondly, ideas concerning fertility and reproduction are invariably em- bedded in a wider social and economic context, particu- larly in systems of property and gender relations. As Leach pointed out long ago (1967:98), attitudes towards conception communicate key structural principles about the nature of society: in this case, a patriarchal society still rooted in an ideology that stresses the im- portance of blood ties, the primacy of the nuclear family, and the superiority of paternity. Cannell (1990:670), for example, has drawn attention to a conceptual opposition in advanced capitalist societies or, as she puts it, "a gen- dered ideological division" between a world of work, dominated by market relations and the imagery of "pro- duction," and a world of family, in which the imagery of "reproduction" prevails, natural and moral relations are predominant, and the "true self" is located.

If further evidence of this conceptual division with its corresponding emphasis on maintaining the traditional nuclear family were needed, one would have only to note that the Warnock Committee approved in vitro fertilization for infertility treatment only in the case of "a heterosexual couple living together in a stable relation- ship" (Warnock 1984:1o). Single women wishing to be- come mothers or women living together rather than in stable heterosexual unions were evidently considered "unnatural" and morally unsuitable for treatment. This would help explain why the so-called Virgin Birth scan- dal caused such a furore: the idea of women wishing to have children without the normal sexual relations with men that produce them is not only a violation of the ideal of biological fatherhood but also a denial of the nuclear family itself and the sexual union that is thought to be the basis upon which conjugal love, and therefore family love, is built. Thus the legal and medi- cal context in which the new reproductive technologies are being developed bears the imprint not so much of genetic engineering as of social engineering. In this re- spect, it is significant, as Smart (1987:98) reminds us, that the new reproductive technologies emerge "at a point in history when there is a re-emphasis on father- hood, and growing demands from anti-feminist men's organisations for control over children."

The lesson from anthropology is that every society has a vested interest in controlling reproduction, and in each we tend to find dominant institutions-the church, the state, the medical profession, or whatever-competing to monopolize the discourses through which legitimate reproduction is conceptualized. In the case of spiritual kinship this control is effected through the symbolic re- birth of baptism. In the case of the new reproductive technologies, modern science offers the potential to go far beyond the symbolic or ritual sublimation of natural birth. The unease this generates, particularly among women, is summed up by Stanworth's remark (1987a:3) that "feminists have increasingly seen in the new repro- ductive technologies nothing less than an attempt to appropriate the reproductive capacities which have been, in the past, women's unique source of power." Whatever one's interpretation, one thing is clear: the speed with which new reproductive technologies have emerged has caught the British public off guard, and few people have yet awakened to the fact that our most basic assumptions about parenthood, procreation, conception, and the family are about to undergo a radical transfor- mation.

The publication in 1984 of the Warnock report on hu-

man fertilization and embryology began what was to be-

come a bitter and protracted battle over the legality of

embryo research in Britain. That specific issue was even-

tually settled in Parliament six years later when, on

April 23, 1990, MPs voted by 364 to 193 to allow re-

search to continue. Parliament's decision, however, pro-

voked a mixed reaction. Advocates of embryo research,

including Dr. Robert Winston, Hammersmith Hospital's

medical pioneer in the field, proclaimed it "a massive

vote of confidence in British science and its integrity"

(White and Wintour 1990). For opponents of the bill,

including Cardinal Basil Hume (1990) and MPs David

Alton (1990) and Anne Widdicombe ( ~ggo),Parliament's

decision signaled the "collapse of moral consensus" in

Britain and a step towards "society's self-destruction."

However one interprets Parliament's verdict, it is

clear that the moral, ethical, and social issues raised by

these new reproductive technologies are far from re-

solved. Moreover, they are likely to become increasingly

controversial as the technologies and public awareness

of them grow more sophisticated. This was vividly illus-

trated in March 1991 in the so-called Virgin Birth scan-

dal, when it was disclosed, to the apparent outrage of

several MPs, that a 20-year-old woman who had never

before had sex was undergoing artificial insemination at

a Birmingham clinic. This provoked a public furore as

the press debated whether single women (especially les-

bians) should to be allowed to have children by artificial

insemination (Shaw and Bourlass 1991, Dyer 1991). It

even prompted a medical symposium at the Royal

London Hospital under the title of "Virgin Birth

Syndrome"2-language that implicitly suggests the

symptoms of a disease.

What makes these technologies so controversial is their social and legal implications. Not only do they "crystallise issues at the heart of contemporary social and political struggles over sexuality, reproduction, gen- der relations and the family" (Stanworth 1987a:4) but they challenge our most established ideas about mother- hood, paternity, biological inheritance, the integrity of the family, and the "naturalness" of birth itself. This may be one reason they appear threatening to so manyj as Douglas long ago pointed out (1966)~ things that fall outside any cultural system of classification are gener- ally perceived as an abomination or danger.

debate. Secondly, there are questions that emphasize the problems posed for the structure of parenthood: Who is the legal parent of a child born to a woman who is nei- ther its genetic nor its social mother? What claim does a sperm donor have over children produced by in vitro fertilization? What are the ramifications for laws con- cerning inheritance, succession, or incest? These issues, some of which were addressed by the Warnock report, have yet to be explored in depth. Thirdly, there are ques- tions raised by feminist writers: In societies where women are defined largely in terms of their reproductive capacities, what effect will these technologies have on women's lives? What are the health and gender implica- tions of the use of female patients' bodies by a still male-dominated medical profession as vehicles for the new technologies?

To these three categories of questions should be added a fourth raising anthropological concerns: What do cur- rent debates about fertility control and embryology re- veal about attitudes towards social institutions such as marriage, parenthood, and childbirth? What do the con- troversies surrounding infertility treatments and embryo research tell us about the structure of beliefs un- derlying current notions of descent, personhood, and procreation? As Cannell (1ggo:668) explains, social an- thropologists and historians have recognized the War- nock report as "a source of provocative insights into English kinship constructs at a moment of crisis posed by the new reproductive technologies." The problem, however, is how we should interpret these constructs. Rivi6re (1985) discusses the ways in which the new re- productive technologies threaten to disrupt our assump- tions about the nuclear family as a unit founded upon an ideal of sexual and biological integrity, but he over- looks the political and gender dimensions of the debate. Stolcke (1988) and other feminist writers (Arditti, Klein, and Minden I 984, Smart I 987, Zipper and Sevenhuijsen 1987, Spallone 1989)~ in contrast, see these technologies as part of a eugenics tradition based on a logic of class and patriarchy. Cannell (1990) has analysed the debate surrounding the Warnock report in terms of discourses about the nature of the family. She points to a tacit ideo- logical consensus on the existence of a "natural family" and a corresponding emphasis on the maternal bond, uterine nurturance being a relationship that is thought to combine the moral with the biological.


R. G. ABRAHAMS Churchill College, Cambridge CBj oDS, England. IZ XII 91

Shore's paper contributes to the growing body of litera- ture on the social implications of new reproductive tech- nology and other recent developments in medical sci- ence. The relationship between such science and society and culture has been of interest to increasing numbers of anthropologists since the 1960s~ when Leach pro- duced his remarkably prophetic A Runaway World! (1968). Barnes's (1973) "Genetrix :Genitor ::Nature : Culture?," which has formed the focus of a recent vol- ume (Shapiro 1991)~ should also be mentioned in this context, both for his discussion of the complexities of male and female parenthood and for the more general elucidation which he provides of the relationship be- tween nature, science, and culture.

Shore is concerned especially with the political and legal implications of the new developments. This is an important issue which predictably affects decision mak- ing in this area. There are of course bound to be prob- lems which arise simply from a rapid increase in the volume and complexity of scientific and technical dis- coveries, as Leach made clear, but it is also interesting to consider differences in their social and political impact. Both new reproductive technology and developments in transplant surgery, which I have myself investigated (1991)) raise questions for society about the concept of the person and the relationship between who we are and how we are made. Both too have led to rapid legislation and the creation of other control mechanisms in the face of their potential for commercial exploitation and other problems which they pose. It is, however, arguable that the new reproductive developments have had a stronger emotional impact and have raised more controversial issues than has transplantation, and Shore's paper goes some way towards providing an explanation of this in terms of the threat (or opportunity) which those develop- ments seem to hold for powerful, deep-seated views on the famiIy, sex, gender relations, and the rights of born and unborn individuals.

There is a further element of what one might call "sci- entific politics" in such situations which is perhaps worth mentioning here. No anthropologist, I understand, was a member of the Warnock Committee or gave evidence to it in the course of its deliberations. Shore's paper and the work of Strathern, Riviere, and others demonstrate that anthropology has something valuable to contribute in this field. This is not to argue that we have been deliberately excluded-the limited medical response to my own efforts has been very positive-but it has sometimes been too readily assumed that medical scientists and practitioners, perhaps backed up by psy- chologists and philosophers, have all the academic know-how needed to deal with such matters.

Perhaps the most obvious aspect of this question is the special expertise of anthropology in the field of kin- ship, both as a general human characteristic and in its many specific forms. A further comment on this may be useful, if only because in criticizing Riviere Shore seems to question the relevance of evidence from other cul- tures. Naturally one does not expect the British or American public to take on Nuer attitudes or customs if one compares problems posed by new reproductive technology or sibling kidney donation with the levirate or ghost marriage. Nonetheless it may be valuable for anthropologists to point out that we are sometimes deal- ing with new versions of old fundamental problems and that what our culture tends to treat as natural is in fact highly variable. Also, it is perhaps short-sighted to think that the technology which we develop in the West is to be used only among the adherents of mainstream West- ern cultural vaIues. The ethnic diversity of our own soci- eties is only one issue here, and the possibility of trans- fer of technology elsewhere and of repercussions of this on our own society is by no means negligible, as develop- ments in international organ traffic reveal.

Lastly, it may be interesting to note a discussion rele- vant to Shore's theme which took place when some members of our own society held rather different views from those current today. Boswell (1906:59z-95) writes that his family estate had been passed down to his father through a line of succession in which female heirs had been by-passed and that his father now wished to entail the estate while at the same time opening succession to both male and female heirs. He himself opposed this provision, partly because of "the opinion of some distin- guished naturalists, that our species is transmitted through males only, the female being all along no more than a nidus, or nurse, as Mother Earth is to plants of every sort" (p. 593 n.z). Johnson does not respond di- rectly to this argument, but he questions with character- istic vigour the idea of entailment of any sort. "Laws," he writes (p. 595), "are formed by the manners and exi- gencies of particular times, and it is but accidental that they last longer than their causes. . . . As times and opinions are always changing, I know not whether it be not usurpation to prescribe rules to posterity."


Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. 94305-2145, U.S.A. 12 XII 91

Responding to Shore's call to consider the political and gender issues involved in British debates over the new reproductive technologies, we want to note some of the power imbalances inherent in assumptions shared not only by the debaters but also by many anthropologists. When Shore, for example, concludes that "every society has a vested interest in controlling reproduction," he writes as if "natural" reproduction existed apart from, and prior to, social controls. Yet definitions and prac- tices of "reproduction" are always already constructed within fields of power (Yanagisako and Collier 1987).

The idea that the family is a natural, biologically con-

SHORE Virgin Births and Sterile Debates 1 303

stituted entity is itself produced and reinforced by par- ticular ways of organizing social inequality. When Col- lier was studying a small Andalusian village in the early 1960s~ for example, she found that villagers distin- guished between natural reproduction (equated with ani- mal promiscuity) and reproduction in human families, in which people (particularly women) restrained their sexuality. The Turks among whom Delaney worked in the 1980s similarly stressed differences between the nat- ural and the human. When Collier returned to Andalusia in the 1980s~ however, young adults treated reproduc- tion as a natural process. Instead of admiring their par- ents for remaining celibate until age 30, they character- ized their parents' long courtships as "unnatural." In the intervening zo years, the organization of social inequal- ity had changed. In the early 1960s~ inherited property, particularly land, appeared to be the major determinant of inequalities in villagers' incomes and life-styles. Vil- lagers concerned with keeping inheritance lines straight understandably argued that chaos would result if hu- mans mated promiscuously. Twenty years later, villag- ers' incomes appeared to reflect their occupational achievements rather than their inherited properties. Once humans appeared to be distinguished from each other-and from animals-by their ability to produce marketable goods and services, people could easily im- agine that humans resembled animals in reproducing themselves.

When reproduction is viewed as a natural process, pa- rental roles are also interpreted as primarily biological, an idea that obscures culturally authorized unequal dis- tributions of power. Delaney (1986, 1991) has argued that Western notions of paternity and maternity are constructed within a specific theory of procreation, a theory in which paternity is defined as the primary, gen- erative role. What the man contributes is, as we say, seminal-the creative seed that contains and confers identity. Maternity, in contrast, is defined not as confer- ring identity but as giving birth and nurture, a task that can be shared by several women, as is happening with the new reproductive technologies. The theory of procre- ation in which the male is creative and the female is nurturant is exemplified in the Virgin Birth. The Virgin, as the vehicle through which the seminal Word became flesh, is revered not as co-creator but for her nurturing, supportive qualities. The Father and Son, in contrast, partake of the same essence-the same creative, life- giving power.

In Britain, the furor over "virgin births" is not about the absence of a concept of paternity but about the ab- sence of sex in procreation. The concept of paternal cre- ativity is still intact. Shore, for example, continues to treat paternity as unproblematic. Along with the debat- ers he writes about and earlier anthropologists who de- bated the supposed absence of paternity in the Trobriand Islands, Shore treats the question as one of knowledge: Did the Trobriand Islanders know about the biological link between father and child or did they not? Yet the male involvement in procreation is open to a number of interpretive possibilities, such as opening the path for a fetus, feeding the fetus, contributing physiologically to its development, or conferring the gift of life on an inert egg. Why assume only the last possibility, particularly since it encodes a deep gender asymmetry?

Because maternity is defined as giving birth and giving nurture, women can be regarded as resources. What peo- ple want from these resources may change, however. Delaney, for example, observed that the Turks she stud- ied wanted children with identifiable fathers. They de- scribed women as "fields," either fertile or barren, to be sown with male seed. Like the Andalusian villagers Collier studied in the 1960s~ the Turks were concerned to keep inheritance lines straight by ensuring that the seed planted in each field came from only one man. Brit- ish debaters continue to treat women as resources, but they want high-quality babies. As the production of mar- ketable goods replaced preserving inherited properties as the apparent determinant of income inequalities in industrializing countries, women's bodies came to re- semble productive machines. With a little help from the new reproductive technologies, unproductive machines can be repaired or replaced by productive ones and defec- tive products can be eliminated or improved so that pa- rental (i.e., paternal) "investments" in reproduction will "pay off" with superior offspring.


Department of Anthropology, Douglass Campus,
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903,

U.S.A. 10 XII 91

Shore is right to say that anthropologists have not been central to debates on the new birth technologies, but they have not been silent either. I have been heavily involved to the point of assisting in the writing of an amicus curiae brief in the Baby M case (Fox 1988). An analysis of this case, along with a discussion of the an- thropological (and historical) issues in the matter of Mormon polygamy legislation, will appear, with other essays, in a book tentatively titled Reproduction and Succession: Law, Anthropology, and Society (Fox 1992). A point I make there might be relevant to Shore's con- cerns about where the locus of debate should be. He is right to stress the issue of power and control, of course, but equally important is the issue of the dominance of the model of contractual individualism. I trace anthro- pological concern with this back to Maine's Ancient Law (1861)~where it is spelled out beautifully, but even though it is surely a central value (I hate to say "con- struct") of modern Western capitalist societies it has not been picked up by anthropologists since. The furious debate which Baby M provoked here was one of "con- tract vs. motherhood" in a rather undisguised form, with contract by far the popular winner. Power comes in with the added factors of class and money, and part of my analysis deals with the minimizing of these in the Baby M case where they were nevertheless so obvious.

As to the new reproductive technologies, I have had a stab at those too, and perhaps the best thing I can do

here is to borrow freely from my forthcoming chapter z, "The Case of the Reluctant Genetrix." The issues evoke deep feelings everywhere, and there is no consensus. The scientists and doctors and the increasing number of in- fertile couples claim "progress," while the opposition points to the gross 'lunnaturalness" of the whole busi- ness. Feminists seem to be interestingly divided on this issue. Some see it as a case of "freeing" women from the necessity of childbirth to pursue careers and "selffulfilment," others as the apotheosis of "sisterhood," and vet others as an attack on woman as mother and a handing over of yet more "patriarchal" control to males-especially the medical profession (see Stan- worth 1987b). It is scarcely surprising that there should be such passionate debate. This great leap forward in technology leaves us unprepared for what appears a re- definition of the family, of marriage and "lawful pro- creation," and even of the individual. How much of himself-and in this case certainly herself-does the in- dividual "own," for example? If I may "sell" an ovum, have I any rights or duties towards the end product? If I donate (or sell) sperm, have I any obligations to its even- tual bawling and gurgling consequences? The majority of us simply find these possibilities too remote from our traditional notions of family and parenthood.

But how can we attack them as unnatural if we have no established standards of what is "natural" in the first place? And how can we have these if relativism tells us that whatever definitions we come up with will be merely social/cultural constructs? I would agree, for ex- ample, that the nuclear family is not a sacrosanct "natu- ral" entity but simply one kind of institutional possibil- ity, but I would have to disagree that "motherhood" is a similar construct. A hard look at mammalian behavior tells us that the genetrix does indeed bond with the child in the womb and at parturition and hence has a "natu- ral" claim to it. If this is true (and since it claims to be science it is open to being falsified), it at least gives us somewhere to start.

People are not motivated by long-term genetic conse- quencesj they are motivated by love and lust, pleasure in possession and power, affection and comradeship, and so forth. The genes will largely take care of themselves. Thus a woman who has gone through gestation and par- turition will be "~rimed" to bond with her child. If the bond takes, then she is not likely to repudiate it simply because she knows that the genes in the child are not her own. The child is already eliciting "mothering" responses, as indeed an unrelated adopted infant will do for the parents who take it into their care. Claims of genetic relatedness, then, should not take precedence over those involving these powerful proximate-espe- cially bonding-mechanisms. Concentration on institu- tions like the nuclear family is therefore probably a mis- take. Other cultures take in their stride the idea that a child may not have a "father" or that children can be born to a dead man. These are not the important things. Cultural constructs, however varied, must be rooted in biological realities or they will surely collapse. Thus, the new reproductive technologies will survive or not

insofar as they augment or attack these basic realities.

If we try to force bonded mothers to give up their chil-

dren in the name of contract (a cultural construct) we

will fail-or at least deserve to fail. But the same princi-

ple can be extended to any of the other new reproductive

technologies. Do they help or hinder the pursuit of the

proximate motivations programmed into us by evolu-

tion to ensure the production of future generations?

Here comparative ethnography may help us in showing

the limits of human intolerance for variation-which

are in fact quite wide.

In the introduction to his frightening Jurassic Park, Crichton recalls the initial disdain of "pure" scientists for their "applied" colleagues rushing to get onto the biotech bandwagon and continues, "But that is no longer true. There are very few molecular biologists and very few research institutions without commercial affilia- tions. The old days are gone. Genetic research contin- ues, at a more furious pace than ever. But it is done in secret, and in haste, and for profit." Much of the work is thoughtless and frivolous, he claims (genetically engi- neering paler trout for better visibility in the stream), but above all

the work is uncontrolled. No one supervises it. No

federal laws regulate it. There is no coherent govern-

ment policy, in America or anywhere else in the

world. . . . But most disturbing is the fact that no

watchdogs are found among the scientists them-

selves. It is remarkable that nearly every scientist in

genetics research is also engaged in the commerce of

biotechnology. There are no detached observers. Ev-

erybody has a stake.

And, one might add, a contract.


Department of Human Sciences, Brunel University,

Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH, England. 8 XII 91

If anthropology is a form of literature (Clifford and Mar- cus 1~861 this reinforces the lessons of linmistic anthro-


polo& (~rdener 1989). We need alertness to note how we and our subjects use words to convey the nuances of often contradictory complexities of meaning. Shore's excellent and informative article combining the insights of anthropology with the critiques of feminist thought sometimes disappoints me in this respect. Calling as- pects of Riviere's (198 5 ) work simplistic, Shore falls into the same trap. Does the title of the symposium "The Virgin Birth Syndrome" suggest disease? AIDS, for ex- ample, is called a syndrome precisely to suggest its am- biguity as a disease. Ironically, the extension of "syn- drome" to other collections of events was, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, first applied by Sir Thomas Browne, M.D., in 1646 (Pseudodoxia Epidem- ica [itself not about epidemic disease but about popular fallacies] 11. ii. 66) to "this motion . . . termed coition, and that not made by any faculty attractive of one, but a Syndrome and concourse of each." A more recent ex-

SHORE Virgin Births and Sterile Debates I 305

ample given in the supplement to the OED is the use

of the term "Luke Short syndrome" in reference to the

no-questions-asked friendliness of the people of Albu-

querque in 1965. Today, December 8, 1991, The Inde-

pendent on Sunday headlines a former Cosmopolitan

centerspread and ex-husband of Germaine Greer and

Maya Angelou as a survivor of "the Boyfriend Syn-


Can one write that British "public opinion" is divided when one's evidence is confined to the views of highly organised religious lobbies, professional politicians, and a carefully selected elite committee headed by an aca- demic philosopher? What does such an ethical debate amongst the politically concerned at a national level in fact represent? Certainly its religious background makes it far from bizarre that a Member of Parliament should talk of the "moment of ensoulment," since the instant of incarnation has been a matter of controversy amongst Anglicans and Catholics in England for at least three centuries since it enriched and confused the work of apostate poet and preacher John Donne (Carey 1981).

The view that anthropology teaches the lesson that "every society [my emphasis] has a vested interest in controlling reproduction" is suspect, although, as Shore says, it is certainly not untrue that dominant institu- tions compete to monopolise discourses about it. I prefer to see this in terms of hegemonic views continually con- tested in practice rather than in terms of discourse and dominance merely in stated-even fought-for-belief. Anthropologists have come to realise that culture and belief are not easily stabilised even in traditional societ- ies, let alone industrial ones. Even societies sharing "pa- triarchal" ideologies have arrived at different legal con- clusions concerning legitimacy within marriage. These range from the illegitimacy Shore discusses, derived from the common law of England, to the notion of conti- nental codes that a child born in wedlock is legitimate until moved otherwise.

Kinship experts argue that the most fruitful approach is the study of implicit and explicit norms rather than a primary focus on diverging practices. There are two approaches to their breach. One is that it serves to recon- firm and reinforce (Durkheim). The other, recently promulgated by Lecercle (1990)~ is that norms, like the laws of language, mark frontiers that are available to be crossed and to be shifted outwards. In the latter view the "real" norms in Durlzheim's sense are by their nature uns~eakable because their breach is unthinkable. Thus in machismo cultures, passive sex for males and mastur- bation are spoken of as forbidden (Parker 1990, Hirschon 1978) because their breach is expected; they are no longer crimes that dare not speak their name (cf. Queen Victoria on [or rather not on] lesbianism at the time when she assented to the making illegal of male homo- sexual practice in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885).

Shore does us a service in drawing attention to the curious paradox arising from the contradiction between the assertion in conservative thought of the primitive and natural importance of maternal bonding which ap- pears at the beginning of his article and the resultant reinforcement of patriarchal bias to the rights of fathers which he reports at the end. The implications of this will certainly repay still deeper thought and research. Finally, we should note what he says about the social nature of technical fixes, one of the major contributions of feminist theory to social science. When Rose and Hanmer (1976) acknowledged both the brilliance of Fire- stone's (1970) neo-Engelsian analysis and the disingenu- ousness of her practical conclusions, they showed that technological fixes without societal reform always tend to increase the power of the strong and the suffering of the weak. In this way they helped to lay the foundations for the greatest achievement of the postmodern, the re- jection of the Enlightenment view that men through science can conquer the natural world-a view that has led to, amongst many others, results as diverse and as disastrous as the Holocaust (Bauman 1989) and both medically and lay-sponsored epidemics of drug abuse. The fact that premodern theologians sometimes got there first should not discourage us. That was long ago and in another country, and contrary to all reports the woman survived.


Department of Public Health and Policy, London

School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel St.

(Gower St.), London WCI 7HT, England. 10 XII 91

The concluding discussion of Shore's paper pinpoints the cultural assumptions and values that are fundamen- tal to ideas about reproduction in Britain-the stigma of infertility and the notion that conjugal love is the basis of the nuclear family unit and is thus the (only?) ap- propriate context for reproduction. Shore's analysis of the controversies surrounding specific pieces of U.K. government-generated documentation and legislation is most illuminating when it illustrates how prevailing so- cial values shape political debates and legislation, for example, in determining the Warnock report's recommendation of a particular-culturally approved-definition of candidates for parenthood.

Despite the explicit and liberal use of recent femi- nist (including anthropological) scholarship, Shore sug- gests-doubtless unintentionally-that his approach contrasts with other work on this topic in addressing issues of politics and "power." Feminist analyses of mat- ters reproductive are, surely, concerned above all else with precisely this dimension. He also concludes that the new reproductive technologies uniquely constitute means for actual control over reproduction, having focussed throughout the paper on symbolic forms of control. A desire to maintain a stance of academic neu- trality or an attempt to produce a distinctively anthropological approach by emphasising symbolism may account for these claims, but Shore's consideration of older anthropological debates about ideas of conception and spiritual kinship adds little to the discussion, and an anthropological analysis needs to consider the

substantive as well as the symbolic. Both old and new reproductive technologies (from the use of the IUD and injectable contraceptives to the invasive procedures en- tailed in extracting eggs from female bodies), not to mention population control strategies entailing enforced sterilization or abortion, constitute forms of actual, ma- terial control over reproduction, whether they are re- sisted or embraced by the subjects of these interven- tions. Both feminist and Foucauldian perspectives would insist that the scientific knowledge contained in the new reproductive technologies cannot be separated from the power that it entails.

Shore comes to grips with ideas of parenthood, kin- ship, and the family in Britain in an interesting analysis of the Warnock report's discussion of artificial insemi- nation and surrogacy. The observation that British soci- ety has difficulty in accepting the distinction between social and biological paternity, though, is made to rest on a superficial and unilluminating comparison of "tra- ditional ideals about family integrity" across cultures. As Stolclze (1988) has pointed out, a relativist position explains neither comparative variations in views of the biological/social paternity distinction nor the particu-

. larly biological notions of kinship in the West. More- over, this particular set of "traditional" British ideals and values cannot be taken as directly equivalent to those of the Nuer or the Trobrianders, since they bear different relationships to science. Shore fails to recog- nise that "our most basic assumptions about parent- hood, procreation, conception, and the family" may be as far from some ahistorical "traditional" view as they are from that scientific utopian vision in which infertil- ity is eliminated not by simple preventive measures for improving women's reproductive health and dealing with environmental contamination but by complex technological interventions. Studies in the sociology of science have amply demonstrated that science cannot be divorced from the social and cultural contexts of its productionj from such a viewpoint the close relation- ship between notions of social and biological paternity in Britain is entirely to be expected, given that the "nat- ural sciences" of biology and genetics were developed within the same society.

Seeing these new technologies as etiologically related to their social and historical context throws a different light on the debates about the new reproductive technol- ogies' social implications. These debates refer to social values and ideals which themselves generated the scien- tific understandings of a previous era. Implicitly eugenic ideals that support preexisting social distinctions are contained within legislative recommendations such as the Warnock report's proposals to supply information on the ethnic group of the donor to couples seeking treat- ment and to restrict access to in vitro fertilization to cohabiting heterosexual couples.

In any case Shore's conclusion may be unnecessarily dramatic. The new reproductive technologies seem to have the potential for separating social and biological parenthood as never [at least, since the development of biology) before, but concern about their potential impli-

cations as expressed in media, political, academic, and other debates inevitably accompanies their widespread use. These debates may largely subvert their radical po- tential by ensuring (paradoxically, perhaps) that they are utilized conservatively in accord with conventional bio- logical notions of parenthood. At the same time, these conventional notions are themselves already subject to change. The substantial proportion of children born "il- legitimate" (i.e., outside legal marriage) in Britain and the increasingly common complex family relationships (often including multiple non-biological parents) re- sulting from high rates of divorce and remarriage point to a social context in which the new reproductive tech- nologies may be not so much the engine for a restructur- ing of basic assumptions about reproduction and the family as one of a number of contributory factors.


Department and Museum of Anthropology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway. zo XII 91

Shore's analysis of the debates on the new reproductive technologies is revealing in two ways. On the one hand, these debates generate knowledge about fundamental values in British society. They are instructive not only with respect to what they say about contemporary eth- ics but also with respect to what they do not say, that is, the implicit links that are embedded in the argu- ments and the premisses on which they are founded. On the other hand, attempts to come to terms with what the debates in fact tell us-that is, their meaning- highlight some of the dilemmas that anthropologists working in modern literate societies face. The article is also-though inadvertently-a forceful argument for viewing technology as morally embedded.

Shore's hypothesis is not only that these debates re- flect the contradictory values held with respect to kin- ship, personhood, and family in Britain but also that these contradictions reveal various levels of social sig- nificance. Though this is undoubtedly true, I would ask for more concrete explication to unravel the intricate cultural links inherent in these debates as sociocultural phenomena. The argument is ultimately phrased in terms of power, explicitly related to patriarchy, almost as if it were self-evident. It is therefore pertinent to ask what Shore's own position is with respect to the issues involved, all the more so as these debates are so morally charged. There is ample evidence that values are being contested, and a struggle over values can legitimately be interpreted as a struggle over power-although it may be debated whether they can be so a priori. However, what is interesting in this struggle over values is the meanings given to the consequences of the new repro- ductive technologies. Can these projected consequences ultimately be framed in terms of control over reproduc- tion in a patriarchal society? Important in this respect is the insight which mjght have been gained from those who have actually benefitted from the new technologies. Because infertility is such a delicate issue, this crucial

SHORE Virgin Births and Sterile Debates 1 307

aspect is largely inaccessible. This poses problems for an anthropological enquiry which seeks an understanding which will reflect as fully as possible the realities of all parties. The arguments of the beneficiaries cannot be overlooked, nor can these beneficiaries be assumed to be victims of a power struggle whose consequences they do not see. More empirical evidence is needed to demon- strate how power is manifest at different levels of soci- ety, thus revealing the links between the competing dis- courses of church, state, the medical profession, and feminists of various persuasions as well as those who, for whatever reason, are "silent."

Working within societies which are explicitly multi- vocal and have elaborate discourses pertaining to differ- ent moral paradigms raises the central problem of the relation between ideas and representation in such a complex setting. The coexistence of conflicting para- digms points to the question whether there is an over- arching frame of reference and, if so, how to go about explicating it. Shore bases his analysis on the Warnock report, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and public opinion as reflected in the media. He is con- cerned with how this basically textual evidence can be interpreted, and this at once raises fundamental method- ological problems. What is the status of the text as a source of anthropological data and as a vehicle for the understanding of culture? Essentially, this is a question of representation and reference, particularly one of establishing the relevant context within which these texts are to be read and understood. Because anthropology ex- pressly gives preeminence to lived experience, Shore's positioning of the text as autonomous (i.e., with no 0s- tensive reference [cf. Ricouer 19811) is problematic for his anthropological endeavour on qeveral counts. His use of text highlights rather than bridges the queasy relation between text and context. We must be extremely punc- tilious about the way we treat texts-how we construct meaning from them, at what level this meaning is rele- vant, and for whom. As anthropological research be- comes increasingly involved with literate societies, the nature of texts as bearers of cultural meaning must be thoroughly explored. Unfortunately, Shore leaves these issues laraelv unaddressed.

There is no doubt that discourses on the new repro- ductive technologies are a challenge to anthropology. As Shore demonstrates, they go to the heart of prevailing ethical dilemmas, yielding meaningful insights not only about the value placed on the nuclear family but also about the moral embellishments in which this value is embedded, in particular those pertaining to the primacy of biological over any other kind of parenthood. The ob- vious ambiguities of these values, however, are not fully drawn out. On the one hand, infertility in both men and women is considered unnatural and therefore a condi- tion which should be rectified. On the other, rectifying this condition is also considered unnatural and therefore to be avoided. Further, the evidence presented brings forth a curious gender bias. Men's infertility is denied in that it is shielded from public knowledge as long as donor anonymity with regard to artificial insemination

is maintained. The discrepancy between pater and genitor is not made visible. However, with respect to surro- gate motherhood the question of anonymity is eclipsed on various counts. Not only is the "donor" very visible in making available her womb but also the beneficiary's infertility is made public. Thus a dual image of woman is reinforced; those who are fertile vs. those who are not, and those who are willing to "offer" their wombs in the service of others and those who are not. The implica- tions of these categorizations have yet to be pursued, but it would not be surprising to find that they are am- bivalent, and I would venture that, morally speaking, the surrogate mother is a suspect figure. Even more in- teresting is the status of the child conceived through these different methods: the offspring of artificial insem- ination appear to be children of biological parents, whereas those of surrogate motherhood obviously are not. What does this tell us about the meaning of children with respect to maternity and paternity? The very fact that infertility is such a problem reveals much about the meaning of children. The differential approach to women's and men's infertility is yet another clue to the construction of gender. However, in the light of popula- tion statistics at a global level and the current debates about the demographic trap, the question why infertility creates such anguish at all levels of society still demands answers.


2310 Empire Grade, Santa Cruz, Calif. 95060, U.S.A.
12 XII 91

Shore says that "our most basic assumptions about par- enthood, procreation, conception, and the family are about to undergo a radical transformation" as a result of the "social and legal implications" of the new reproduc- tive technologies. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He clearly does not understand the nature of cul- ture or the structure of contestation and controversy in European society.

First, a few words on the nature of culture, and spe- cifically the culture of Europe and European-derived cul- tures (including those of North and South America):

By "culture" I mean the system of signs and their meanings which an observer establishes as operating in the social action of what the observer defines as a soci- ety. (The observer may define the society at various lev- els of abstraction depending on the purpose of the analysis-all of Europe, Great Britain, South Asian im- migrants, Muslim natives, the faculty of Goldsmiths' College, and so on.) Terms like Weltanschauung, ethos, and world view are very rough approximations. More precisely, culture is the system of assumptions and presuppositions about the nature and constitution of "life" as it is lived, including the world, and the em- bodiment of these in figures, tropes, images, that is, in signs.

Every cultural feature has a number of meanings. This is in part because any sign is, in the nature of signs,

ambiguous except in the limiting case in which it is by

cultural definition restricted to one and only one ex-

plicit meaning (as in the case, for example, of n =

3.1416). It is possible that in some cultures the ambigu-

ities tend to be constituted as triads or quadrads, but in

European culture they tend to be formulated as dual-


Not only are cultural features constituted as dual in

European culture but also they tend to be formulated as

opposites rather than as points on a scale. These oppo-

sites can be of the pluslminus sort or of the pluslnot-

plus sort (for example, highllow or highlnot-high [which

may be wide, deep, or anything else not-high]) (Boon and

Schneider 1974). Further, the poles tend to be hierarchi-

cal, one being held to be superior to, more fundamental

than, more important than, the other (though this rela-

tionship may be inverted from situation to situation).

Finally, cultural features always have a moral or evalua-

tive aspect, often positive, attached to them.

Second, consider the cultural construction of kinship

in European culture:

In American Kinship (Schneider 1980 [1968]) I said that "kinship" is culturally defined by two features: a biogenetic element and a code-for-product imperative. One of these features is biological (and the major sign is "blood") and the other is an admonition for a kind of action which I have called "diffuse, enduring solidarity" (and the major sign is "love"). What I said there is, I think, true for Great Britain too. As I explained, "blood" is ranked higher than "love" in general, so that without a "blood" link one can ordinarily not be counted as kin, but under certain circumstances the code-for-conduct condition can take precedence even in the absence of "blood." Also, if the "blood" condition obtains, the cul- tural supposition is that "love" normally foll'ows, but this linkage is not invariant.

The new reproductive technologies do not touch this cultural construction of kinship, and it is partly because it remains intact and unaltered that contestation and controversy take the forms that they do. What the new reproductive technologies have done is to alter expecta- tions of how biological links can in fact be established, and "fact" is of the essence in the cultural definition of those links. Until the new reproductive technologies the only way that a biological link could be established was by heterosexual intercourse (except, according to Chris- tian belief, in one single miraculous instance), gestation by the female, and the delivery of the baby through the birth canal ("birth"). Before blood groups were known, the presumption was that the man who had intercourse with the woman was the father and that this man was the husband unless there was evidence to the contrary. The discovery of the genetics of blood groups changid that but did not change the definition of "father." It reinforced the distinction between genitor and pater, but that distinction was there long before. Nor did the discovery of blood groups change the definition of "mother," and there have been no changes in the (cul- tural) definition of any other relatives so far as I am aware.

The new reproductive technologies challenge usual expectations of how to assign particular people to the given cultural categories; they do not challenge the cate- gories. If the woman who is biologically related to the child is its mother, under the usual old set of expecta- tions that could be specified as "the mother who gave it birth" even when the birth was by Cesarian section rather than through the vaginal canal. (And, though "birth" usually meant "via the birth canal," the possi- bility of a Cesarian without extraordinary risk to the mother's life did not alter the cultural definition of "birth" as being "from the biological link with the gesta- tor" or something like that.) With surrogate "moth- ering" the question arises whether the surrogate mother is not also biologically related to the child, and one of the elements that is then invoked to help allocate the person to the status is how much biological relationship is entailed in gestation and nursing as against being sim- ply the egg donor. Another element invoked to help as- sign "motherhood" is how much "love" the gestator can invest in care as against the surrogate, and the surro- gate's claim to "love" the child is one ground on which surrogates have claimed to keep the children they have gestated even if they were not the egg donors.

This is the crucial factj the cultural definitions of kin- ship and of mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, et al., all remain the same as they have been for a long, long time. And I submit that these cultural definitions have not changed one iota as a result of the new repro- ductive technologies, nor will these technologies alone cause them to change in the immediate future. It is for these reasons that I find Shore's statement that "our most basic assumptions about parenthood, procreation, conception, and the family are about to undergo a radical transformation" overheated, if not patently absurd. If they are "about to undergo" but have not yet undergone this change, Shore should suggest just what it is and why.

Third, consider the structure of contestation and con- troversy in European society (NB: "society" not ''cul- ture"):

Shore's paper takes the form "This is what people are saying and doing," a running account of what seems to be happening. It deals with practice and discourse, but it would be generous to characterize this particular ex- ample as "analysis." Practice and discourse analyses, precisely because they focus on the flow of events, in- cluding the flow of words, do not make any distinction between different kinds of events or words that may be relevant in different ways for understanding or account- ing for that flow. That is, practice and discourse analyses assume that everything within the flow is of the same kind and of equal significance, except when some partic- ular features are specifically singled out. Shore's paper explicitly asserts that gender and political considera- tions are especially significant, though it does not at- tempt to show their significance.

By separating out the cultural features one can see more clearly just where contestation is located. In gen- eral, it is located at those points where a decision has to

be made as to who will occupy the clearly defined and

noncontroversial statuses. If it is now possible to give

birth to a child to which one is not genetically related,

is one nevertheless biologically related, and if not is one

entitled to be its mother? If the child is conceived by

sperm not donated by sexual intercourse, who is the fa-

ther, the man who contributed the sperm or the man

who has sexual intercourse with the mother? It seems

clear to me that contestation and controversy occur not

at the level of the cultural definitions of kinship in gen-

eral or of specific kinspersons but rather at the level of

who qualifies for these positions and on what grounds.

But let us move from the most general level of kinship

to the level of specific kinpersons, each of which has its

cultural definition. All kin are culturally constituted as

biologically related, including husband and wife, who

are related by a sexual relation which is culturally con-

stituted as both a relation of "love" and a "biological"


relation (in that it is reproductive). But in respects other than "blood" and "love" kin at this level are different. One difference is in gender. Another is in "generation." Yet another is in collateralitv. One notices immediately that these are but some of the culturally salient features centering on the European cultural construction of sex- ual intercourse leven if the cultural construction is also the scientific o; biological construction); husband and wife as a sexually related pair of opposite genders, son and daughter the offspring of that couple by virtue of that act, brother and sister the offspring of the parental pair, and so on. But it is none of these features that are contested. Nor have the new reproductive technologies raised any question about that other aspect of the cul- tural definition of kin, diffuse, enduring solidarity or "love." That the mother should love, nurture, protect, and guide the child remains unquestioned; whether this particular person will do a proper job of it is contested; which particular person is more likely to do a proper job of it is contested; whether simply by virtue of donating sDerm a man has the right to decide which school the eking child shall atte& or whether that child has the right to inherit from the sperm donor is contested.

It is at this point that it becomes clear that the struc- ture of contest or controversy is in significant part (but not wholly by any means) fabricated out of the ambigu- ities of the cultural constructs. The major ones are "blood" and "love." Although in general "blood" is more important than "love," there may be any number of different circumstances in which the "blood" condi- tion is absent or doubtful or even where it is clearly present and a very strong claim can be made for the greater importance of "love." Thus if the "blood" rela- tion is demonstrably incompetent or a strong showing can be made that the "blood" relation is lacking in the intention or the ability to provide "love" (proper care, adequate guidance, and so on), then "love" may take precedence and override the claims of "blood." This is certainly the way it works where the state intervenes "in the best interests of the child." And it is precisely this inversion of the general priority of "blood" over "love" that makes adoption both possible and a work-

SHORE Virgin Births and Sterile Debates I 309

able arrangement. It is significant that even in adoption

the significance of "blood" may motivate the child to

seek out its llreal" parent(s), for the ideal situation is

one in which "blood" and "love" coincide in the same

person. At the same time, where circumstances provide

incentive, claims can be made on the ground of "blood"

where "love" is absent and not even claimed, as when

the sperm donor, perhaps even the legal husband, de-

mands the right to a voice in a woman's decision to

abort on the ground that the foetus is partly his creation.

And, of course, both "blood" and "love" contain their

own' collection; of ambiguities, permitting contest be-

tween them as to which should take precedence in this

or that particular situation.

There is no space here to go through each and every contested issue in the reproductive-technology debates, but I suggest that each one can be shown to center on one or another aspect of the ambiguities in the cultural construction involved. At the most general level this is the "blood1'-and-"love" formulation of kinship (includ- ing marriage). At the next level it is the cultural con- struction of gender plus kinship, generation plus kin- ship, or descent/collaterality plus kinship and at the next level the cultural formulation of cultural units like the family, the married couple, and even the household. And as I have argued elsewhere (Schneider 1976)~ it is at these levels that the cultural constructions of the inter- secting domains interact to complicate the picture. For example, the relation between kinship, gender, and sex- ualitv creates a set of combinations and ~ermutations in possible ways of structuring controversy which seem (to me at least) fairly clear. Where kinship, centering as it does on heterosexual reproductivity, also implies erotic relations between opposite genders and where a high priority is ascribed to "eitherlor" formulations, then homosexuality can be cast in terms of the opposite of the morally valued. Yet homosexuality is clearly im- plied by heterosexuality because of the ambiguity of sex- uality as both reproductive and erotic. And so in the history of ~uro~ean

culture homosexuality is now an abomination and then an accepted, proper practice, but to the best of my knowledge the cultural formulations of gender and kinship remain unchanged. Of course, the size of the family has changed, the composition of the household has varied over time and in different histori- cal situations, and the roles attached to the different genders have changed, albeit slowly and not very radi- cally. But this takes me far afield from the point.

I am not arguing for the long-term stability of cultural features: in fact. I reallv don't know how stable over what pe*iod of time the'features I have mentioned are. What I am arguing for is the distinction between cul- tural constructions and different levels of cultural con- struction (as in kinship as a distinct domain and the kinperson or the family as another), on the one hand, and the structure of social interaction either as a set of ideal arrangements ("the role of the father in the family is -") or as a concrete set of practices ("fathers in Great Britain usually -"),on the other hand. And I am arguing that if these differences are recognized the

content and the structure of contest and controversy can

be better understood.

References which Shore has not listed but which are,

I think, important to this topic are Dolgin (~ggoa, b) and

Delaney (1986).


Instituto Universitario Europeo, Badia Fiesolana, Via

dei Roccettini, 9, I-50016 San Domenico di Fiesole

(FI), Italy. 9 XII 91

The new reproductive technologies have opened a Pan-

dora's box for Western assumptions about the "nature"

of kinship. For geneticists, biologists, and the medical

profession, artificial procreation is a path-breaking step

forward in man's pursuit of mastery of the principles of

life. For the Catholic church, it is undue interference

with God's design. For women, the most directly af-

fected, it is a gift of very uncertain benefit. In general, it

has disturbed our comfortable commonsense under

standings and legal definitions of the family, parent-

hood, and kinship.

There are a number of vantage points from which the new reproductive technologies could be analysed: bio- medical, secular ethical or ecclesiastical, political, femi- nist. Shore has chosen to address the anthropological questions raised by these technologies-what the ongo- ing British debate reveals about prevailing beliefs on pro- creation, parenthood, personhood, and the nature of de- scent. The profession, in fact, seems hardly to have taken notice of this opportunity bestowed on us by sci- ence and the medical profession to look at our own deep- est assumptions regarding kinship and the family. By contrast, a substantial part of the analytical and critical literature on the new reproductive technologies is the work of feminists. Shore, however, seems to draw an epistemological line between a feminist and (one must guess) a purportedly more important impartial anthropo- logical analysis. I would quarrel with this. Strathern and I provide examples of an anthropological approach in- formed by a feminist perspective. In these examples an analysis of kinship as a system of meanings is informed by a relational awareness of the embedded power rela- tionships that are played out in the reaction to the new reproductive technologies.

Shore's substantive analysis of British notions of par- enthood, the family, and procreation as these are re- vealed in the debates surrounding the Warnock report and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill con- firms the singularly biological "nature" of Western con- ceptualizations and the legal reinforcement of father- hood in the face of the challenge to it represented by the new procreative possibilities. However, although he points to the "complementary ideas about property rights, sex, and power," these linkages are not elaborated on because the way in which the new technologies affect different social factors-for example, "mothers" by con- trast to "fathers," women by contrast to men-goes unexamined. Instead, attention is focused on prevailing

conceptualizations of kinship, and it is argued rather synthetically that "patriarchal society still [my empha- sis] rooted in an ideology that stresses the importance of blood ties" accounts for them-an assertion that raises more questions than it answers. "Patriarchy" as femi- nist shorthand for male domination has limited explana- tory value because it lacks historical specificity. Shore, moreover, provides evidence of legal changes designed to diffuse the contradictions entailed for established as- sumptions about the "normal" family and the "nature" of kin bonds by the multiplication of "procreators" made possible by in vitro fertilization. This legal stream- lining contradicts both this "progressive" historical view and Shore's rather dramatic final prediction that the new reproductive technologies will bring radical change in kinship ideology. As I read it, family law re- form aims precisely at safeguarding our cherished no- tions and institution of the family and all that goes with it. At the same time, despite the commonsense em- phasis on blood ties as the essence of parenthood, the common-law presumption that the mother's husband is the child's father indicates that there has never been a perfect match between nature and culture in this re- spect. The concern on the part of law makers, as is ex- emplified by the regulation of fatherhood rather than the reverse, is really to bring the new technological parent-

hood realities in line with established cultural assump- tions. To argue that the new forms of technological conception will undermine prevailing biological assumptions on kinship means, moreover, taking the meaning attributed to "nature" for granted as biological fact rather than addressing the more interesting question of how legal and biological constructs are conflated in the conceptualization of kinship. The ongoing contro- versy, in Britain, on cross-cultural adoption is an es- pecially revealing instance of the tense intersection between meanings of "nature" and of "culture" in as- sumptions about personal identity and kinship bonds in a society in which individual achievement and essential origin are basic though irreconcilable structural princi- ples. A proper understanding of the conceptual tribula- tions engendered by the new reproductive technologies would require opening to scrutiny this contradictory tendency in Western culture to render what is a social order as a natural fact.

Shore's analysis is a useful beginning. However, with- out contextualization of the new reproductive technolo- gies and examination of their politics, one is left with what is basically a descriptive account of a system of meanings whose meaning remains elusive.


Sub-Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford, 10 Merton St., Oxford 0x1411,U.K. 24 XII 91

Shore's paper is in the overview genre, a description of discussion in the press and Parliament and by anthropol- ogists about new reproductive technologies. Shore draws some rather grandiose inferences which the material

SHORE Virgin Births and Sterile Debates I 311

does not seem to justify. The paper is confined to the U.K., a point that could usefully have been explained, and almost entirely to U.K. literature, not all of it, where cited, documented. There is no reference to volumes of

U.S. inspiration such as Whiteford and Poland's New Approaches to Human Reproduction (1989). The body of the paper, the first two-thirds and by far the livelier part, is devoted to U.K. controversies over research on embryos. I shall direct my comments mainly at the last third of the paper, where Shore discusses other topics, notably surrogacy, and some factual corrections seem in order.

Evidently Shore does not know-nowhere, despite long passages about surrogacy, does he mention the cen- tral point-that the U.K. banned commercial surrogacy in July 1985 (Surrogacy Arrangements Act, 1985, c. 49). Some of what he says suggests the very reverse.

Surrogacy is the incubation by a woman of a baby, whether from her own or another's ovum, with the promise to transfer the baby to others. The 1985 act made anyone involved in such arrangements for money, except the incubating mother and natural father, guilty of an offence, liable to three months' imprisonment or fines of Sz,ooo. This legislation against surrogacy, a gov- ernment measure, was introduced and passed very rap- idly. It came on the heels of the Warnock report of 1984, the publicised case of Baby Cotton, "Born to be Sold," in January 1985, and the introduction of a private bill against embryo research in early 1985 (ultimately un- successful). And loopholes were quickly evident. The arrangements were made abroad (The Times, March 10, 1986, p. 3))or surrogacy became "research" which might legitimately be paid for (The Times, May 15, 1986, p. 3). I wrote about events in and before 1986 in Wolfram (1987: chap. I I), cited by Shore, and in more detail in Wolfram (1989). There may well have been developments. If so, Shore makes no more mention of them than of the 1985 act. At an early stage in citing Warnock Committee rec- ommendations, among them that commercial surrogacy should become an offence, he speaks of "the five-year delay" and the government's uncertainty "how to han- dle the issue," while in n. 4 he declares that "in Novem- ber 1990 Germany became 'the first country to pass a law banning commercial surrogate motherhood.' "

Shore opens his paper by commenting on how long it took Parliament to decide not to ban research on em- bryos: six years after the Warnock report. It is difficult to put dates on not doing something, but in this case Parliament had also specifically not agreed to pass a bill (that is mentioned) to curtail embryo research in 1985, five years before the rejection in question. And who is to say this is the last? (The Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister Bill was rejected 46 times.) There seem far more solid problems to be discussed. Why, for instance, has the U.K. been comparatively so tolerant of abortion (legalised 1967) and research on embryos but at the same time, and at the height of its free-market economy, so averse to commercial surrogacy as to have got rid of it at once? "If this idea of commercial surrogacy has travelled across the Atlantic, it can return whence it came," as

one M.P. had it (Hansard, 5th ser., 77:47). In his igno-

rance of the U.K. I 985 banning of commercial surrogacy,

Shore misses the contrast within the society and, by

not considering anywhere else, also the contrast to other

countries, notably the United States.

Perhaps when attention is mainly focused on field-

work, anthropologists are less conversant with the pos-

sibilities and problems of written sources. Possibly that

is how Shore comes to be rooted in the immediate pres-

ent, consulting Parliamentary Debates only of 1990, and

within his own field, in this case the "U.K." But what-

ever the explanation, the level of the research on U.K.

surrogacy (and kinship) is lamentable. It is to be hoped

that his data on embryo research are of better quality so

that others have been able to comment more favourably.


London, England. zo I 92

I agree with Abrahams that it is useful when investigat- ing the social implications of the new reproductive tech- nologies to point out that we are sometimes dealing with new versions of old fundamental problems. In this case, our ideas about what is "natural," our concept of the person, and our views about the family and relations are all to some degree affected by the new reproductive technologies and the bewildering possibilities they offer for the organization of reproduction. Just how they will influence legislation and public attitudes in the long run has yet to be seen, but cases like the Baby Cotton and Virgin Birth controversies provide glimpses of what is at stake. Moreover, as Abrahams says, these technologies will probably be transferred elsewhere, and anthropolo- gists should therefore also be alert to the ramification of these developments in non-Western contexts.

Responses to my article highlight the dilemmas facing anthropologists when dealing with controversial public issues close to home. Strathern (1992 b) sums it up rather well: it is not so much the difficulty of generating new knowledge as "the problematic nature of studying what we already know." One cannot become involved in the new reproductive technologies without acknowledging the contributions of others to the public debate, whether they be doctors, politicians, theologians, geneticists, or moral philosophers. Yet these debates and the concerns they reflect are themselves cultural artifacts to be ana- lysed. Melhuus is wise therefore to draw our attention to the problem of "context" faced by anthropologists working in modern literate societies, particularly when dealing with text. But the questions of what status or space anthropological knowledge might occupy within an area already claimed by so many other expert dis- courses and in what context these competing voices might be understood has more or less been answered in the preceding discussion of attitudes towards fertility

and conception and their relation to structures of kin-

ship, property rights, and power.

Stolcke is right to stress the need for further detailed investigation of the relationship between these ele- ments. Whether this comes from a "feminist" or an "an- thropological" perspective is hardly the issue, and I have no quarrel with the claim that these approaches can be successfully combined. Stolcke is wrong, however, to claim that I provide evidence of a "legal streamlining" of the contradictions entailed by the new reproductive technologies for assumptions about the "normal" family and the nature of kin bonds. What the evidence shows is that British legislators are still struggling to reconcile those contributions; if they had already done so, these issues would not be so contested.

Schneider's assertion that the new reproductive tech- nologies in no way challenge our basic assumptions about parenthood, procreation, conception, and the fam- ily is based on an interesting view of culture and kinship but a rather rigid and decontextualized set of premises. Anyone who accuses others of not understanding "the nature of culture" no doubt is de facto attributing to himself this understanding. To make sweeping general- izations about the "nature" of even British or European culture is not always feasible, however, and any attempt to do so carries with it the inevitable risk of oversimpli- fying reality. It was certainly not my intention to at- tempt to establish fundamental laws about the nature of kinship in Britain, although this does not preclude examining British attitudes to issues relating to kinship and conception in the search for different levels of meaning.

Schneider reduces European culture to a formula in- volving ''blood" and "love," stressing the primacy of the latter. While this kind of approach, with its echoes of Levi-Straussian structuralism, does provide some useful insights, its overformulaic character is more likely to produce myopia. One should avoid the temptation, how- ever intellectually pleasing, of reducing culture to a set of neat, hierarchically ordered oppositions wherein fun- damental categories of "blood" and "love" become sim- ply signs or "cultural imperatives" for relationships based on "biogenetics" versus those based on "diffuse, enduring solidarity." These "imperatives" tell us little about the nature or character of those relationships as they are lived or perceived by real people on the ground. Nor is it clear in what sense these "imperatives" actually impel people to action. As a theory of human moti- vation the idea is devoid of cultural context.

The argument that the "structure" of Western kinship remains unchallenged by the new reproductive technol- ogies is a fair one, even if it is at odds with what most scholars, including many anthropologists, now take to be axiomatic (cf. Fox's comment and Franklin 1992). But it can be sustained only if one accepts a limited view of kinship as being, at root, simply a matter of an enduring, a priori "blood-love" matrix. To do this, however, is to adopt a peculiarly uniform and static view of culture. Despite claims to the contrary, Schneider is in fact ar- guing for the long-term stability of cultural features: this

is the flaw inherent in his argument about the deep

structure (or "nature") of Western kinship. The argu-

ment begins to come apart as soon as one broadens the

definition so as not to preclude those dimensions of le-

gitimacy, inheritance, property, and other social consid-

erations that are normally embedded in any cultural

reckoning of kinship. By treating kinship as an isolable

and seemingly autonomous category, Schneider fails to

connect its sociological aspects with its cognitive di-

mension: to do so would threaten the stability of his

highly abstract model.

And yet the new reproductive technologies do disrupt definitions of kinship even in Schneider's terms. The possibility of procreation without sex for virgins or les- bians in a Birmingham clinic or elsewhere certainly challenges the notion that heterosexual sex is the basis upon which conjugal love and hence family solidarity is constructed. Indeed, pace Schneider, one might define "sex" as the symbolic and material link between "blood" and "love." Similarly, the creation of diffuse, enduring solidarity or "love" based on maternal bonding is bound to be questioned by surrogate motherhood, since the potential for rival claims to being a child's mother inevitably confuses the category of motherhood as it is understood in British society. In both these in- stances the definition of parenthood is strained. Just be- cause there are as yet few recognized alternatives to the culturally established pattern of family statuses does not mean that these are either "non-controversial" or un- problematic.

Both Frankenberg and Melhuus raise methodological questions about the status of text as a source of anthro- pological data and whether one can accurately discuss British "public opinion" when one's evidence is con- fined to the views of highly organized lobbies, profes- sional politicians, and an elite committee. (Frankenberg might also have included the British press and various scientific journals, which also provided valuable source material.) While I agree that these people and institu- tions may not, in fact, be representative of public opin- ion as a whole, this raises the question of who, if anyone, is. Would questionnaires and opinion polls have pro- vided a better source of cultural data? I think not. What- ever our political persuasion or outlook on society, it is not unreasonable to claim that the politicians and organized interest groups in a liberal parliamentary de- mocracy do represent, to some degree at least, the atti- tudes and opinions of their members and supporters. However complicated the reality, this idea is intrinsic to the theory and practice of democratic government. The significance of these debates and texts, therefore, is that they provide a valuable source of cultural data on a host of ethical, moral, and legal problems facing British society in the late 20th century (cf. Riviere 1985). More- over, they enable us to analyse the way in which current thinking on these issues is translated into policy making and into discourses on a range of issues including kin- ship, personhood, and medical ethics. These concerns are not confined to national elites or specialists, either, as is confirmed by recent anthropological research in the

SHORE Virgin Births and Sterile Debates I 313

U.K. on the way in which "lay" people make sense of the new reproductive technologies (Edwards 1992).Frankenberg is right to point out that it is not so much "soci- ety" that has a vested interest in controlling reproduc- tion as the dominant institutions within it, which are engaged in a continuous contest to hegemonize dis- courses about conception.

Collier and Delaney's criticism that anthropologists

share many of the biased assumptions of the debaters

remains uncorroborated. Indeed, the idea that the family

as a "natural" entity is itself a cultural construction aris-

ing from the organization of social inequality is nothing

new in social anthropology, and their points about pater-

nity in no way contradict my argument that beliefs

about conception are essential to the construction of

parenthood and that, in Britain at least, a patriarchal bias

continues to prevail in such reckonings. As Melhuus

points out, "the differential approach to women's and

men's infertility is yet another clue to the construction

of gender." The controversy over "virgin births" in Brit-

ain does indeed also involve the absence of sex in procre-

ation, but this too must be seen in terms of the challenge

it poses to paternity, precisely because of the key role

that sex plays in the construction and stability of the

nuclear family.

Finally, Lambert's contention that further consider- ation is needed of the various material ways in which new forms of control over fertility are practised points the way for future research. However, the separation of "substantive" from "symbolic" in this context repre- sents a false dichotomy-particularly when one is ex- ploring the relationship between the way in which peo- ple talk and think about new reproductive technologies and the way in which these discourses are subsequently translated into legislation. The analysis of Parliamen- tary and media debates thus assumes an eminently prac- tical as well as a symbolic importance. The suggestion that this public concern and media attention might para- doxically subvert the radical potential of the new repro- ductive technologies by ensuring that they are used con- servatively may well have an element of truth to it. On the other hand, such publicity might equally drive re- search into the new reproductive technologies under- ground. As Fox warns, quoting Crichton, the danger is that genetic research is increasingly being carried out "in secret, in haste, and for profit." This also indicates some of the directions and incentives for further anthro- pological research, though it highlights yet again the di- lemmas confronting anthropological study in this ethi- cally fraught area.

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