Biological Relatives

IVF, Stem Cells, and the Future of Kinship

Biological Relatives

Experimental Futures

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Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 30 illustrations, 1 table Published: November 2013

Author: Sarah Franklin

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality, Science and Technology Studies > Feminist Science Studies

Thirty-five years after its initial success as a form of technologically assisted human reproduction, and five million miracle babies later, in vitro fertilization (IVF) has become a routine procedure worldwide. In Biological Relatives, Sarah Franklin explores how the normalization of IVF has changed how both technology and biology are understood. Drawing on anthropology, feminist theory, and science studies, Franklin charts the evolution of IVF from an experimental research technique into a global technological platform used for a wide variety of applications, including genetic diagnosis, livestock breeding, cloning, and stem cell research. She contends that despite its ubiquity, IVF remains a highly paradoxical technology that confirms the relative and contingent nature of biology while creating new biological relatives. Using IVF as a lens, Franklin presents a bold and lucid thesis linking technologies of gender and sex to reproductive biomedicine, contemporary bioinnovation, and the future of kinship.


"[A] well-researched, conceptually rigorous, and thoroughly interdisciplinary discussion of new reproductive technologies. . . . This cutting-edge volume is essential for scholars and practitioners interested in the ethics of reproductive technologies, technology theory case studies, sex/gender reinforcing and challenging practices, and medical humanities in general. . . . Highly recommended. Upper division undergraduates and above." — S. M. Weiss, Choice

“Being well informed about these areas of contemporary biology requires familiarity with both natural and social sciences. Sarah Franklin’s Biological Relatives provides a much-needed account of one such area…. Her range is wide, but her examples are precise and disciplined. Reading the book illuminates ways to see across divides, and there are some striking images along the way.”  — Charis Thompson, Science Magazine

Biological Relatives presents a complex examination of a topic that has been too often simplified or fragmented and provides feminist scholars of science with a new framework through which to analyze the relationship between biology and technology in a post-IVF age. . . . The book’s willingness to dwell with the many ambiguities of IVF—what Franklin refers to as its ‘curious’ elements—thus makes an important contribution to our understanding of what it means to live in a post-IVF age.”  — Sara DiCaglio, Configurations

Biological Relatives goes far beyond earlier studies to provide new and valuable insight into the history of IVF. These include new perspectives on both complex evolutionary processes of biology and the overall historical descriptions about feminist debates over IVF in connection with the notion of kinship and women’s actual voices. Finally, Franklin successfully cultivates a novel and constructive account of the dynamics, complexity and hybridity in the history of IVF in connection with related science fields and social and cultural areas.” — Kaori Sasak, Medical History

“[M]any insightful connections, interweaving of disparate texts, and rich interplay of themes. . . .. It is unquestionably an impressive scholarly study. . . .” — Melinda Bonnie Fagan, Metascience

“Franklin’s rigorously researched and exhaustive look at ‘the normalization of I.V.F.’ grounds the procedure firmly in technology and science, not to mention philosophy, anthropology, agriculture, feminism, and history.” — Sarah Erdreich, Lilith

“As much analytic and precise as evocative and inspiring, the skilful assemblages of ethnographic evidences with literary sources, the perceptive combination of Marxist, Foucauldian and Latourian conceptualisations with feminist approaches and the narrative juxtaposition of chapters that Franklin elaborates constitutes itself an original written reproductive formula which develops along complex and non-linear trajectories. This book constitutes a reference for all those who approach the study of technology or kinship and is inescapable for those who adventure into the intersections between these two concepts.” — Giulia Zanini, Tecnoscienza

"Biological Relatives would fit well in advanced undergraduate courses in medical anthropology and sociology, gender and reproduction, feminist theory, and social theories of technology. It will also be invaluable in graduate coursework across a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, feminist studies, and science and technology studies, as well as for researchers and clinicians who work at the perpetually unstable frontiers of reproduction, bioinnovation, and kinship." — Crista Craven & Thomas Tierney, American Ethnologist

“Not since Donna J. Haraway’s 1997 book, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©Meets_OncoMouse™ have I read such a major contribution to theorizing technoscience. … The book leaves us with a cultural rendering and an archeology of a technology, from the ambivalent relations with its form as a reproductive technology to the many ways that IVF is also a tool itself in the coevolving biotech industries. IVF is not only biologically reproductive, but also technologically reproductive. This book should be read by anyone interested in theorizing biotechnology and the future of social relations.” — Laura Mamo, American Journal of Sociology

Biological Relatives amounts to an impressive and important exploration of the curious world, effects, and various 'lives' of IVF. It is a book that dares to be multidimensional and non-reductionist, and which shows the complexity of relationships, biological and technological as well as familial. … [A] much-needed, important, and sensitive analysis of IVF and the changed relationships it introduces to biology, technology, and kinship.” — Petra Nordqvist, Technology and Culture

[T]his exciting book delivers a powerful theory of biology and technology that challenges scholars of Science and Technology Studies, the anthropology of kinship, and gender and feminist theory to consider and respond. It will be a must-read for any scholar of IVF,synthetic biology, the anthropology of science and nature, or gender studies.”  — Ian Vincent McGonigle, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“How to think about reproductive substance as technology and about technology as reproductive substance? Sarah Franklin’s book begins with this ambitious question. The latter is brilliantly answered in the eight chapters of the book. Like a mosaic, they address the genealogy of IVF and ARTs in general, the constitutive interaction of IVF with stem cell science, the debates over sex, reproduction and gender, feminist debates over the development and implementation of ARTs, as well as our future after IVF. The book draws cogently and originally from Marx, Foucault, Haraway, Firestone, Strathern and Thomson, developing a thoroughly new perspective on sex, gender and reproduction but also on biology, society and technology."  — Vincenzo Pavone, Biosocieties

"Biological Relatives argues that examining IVF provides a lens into the relationship between artifice and nature as we create technologies that can recreate us. Franklin’s book not only summarizes and advances the discussion of IVF within feminist thought, but also provides both a philosophical discussion on technology and emerging biological technologies, and an in-depth look at the social dimensions of IVF. Biological Relatives is of interest for social scientists concerned with reproduction and technology, as well as with innovative approaches to feminist social theory more generally." — Eric Ketcham, New Genetics and Society

"A model of what interdisciplinary intelligence can accomplish. Across several fields Biological Relatives shows how specific platforms or tools in the history of reproduction, kinship, and gender have provided discursive liftoff for further sites of knowledge and exploration. One of the strengths of this gripping account lies in that specificity, beginning with the iconic IVF and its epistemic work: a brilliant and exhilarating reprise of what we thought we knew, but now know differently." — Marilyn Strathern, University of Cambridge

"Hurtled with eggs, sperm, embryos, technicians, scientists, photographers, and critters of many species, including humans, we are all redone by the histories and practices of IVF. Sarah Franklin makes vivid how IVF is a kin-making, person-making, and world-making engine, one that refabricates the facts of life into bundles of kin and bundles of kin into facts of life. No wonder I read Biological Relatives as a fabulous work of SF in all its tones—string figures, speculative fabulation, science fact. Because Franklin's multigeneric gifts are generous, my debts are large." — Donna Harraway, University of California, Santa Cruz


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sarah Franklin holds the Professorship in Sociology at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy and coeditor (with Susan McKinnon) of Relative Values: Reconfiguring Kinship Studies, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Relatively Biological 1

1. Miracle Babies 31

2. Living Tools 68

3. Embryo Pioneers 102

4. Reproductive Technologies 150

5. Living IVF 185

6. IVF Live 221

7. Frontier Culture 258

8. After IVF 297

Afterword 311

Notes 313

References 333

Index 351
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