Seizing the Means of Reproduction

Entanglements of Feminism, Health, and Technoscience

Seizing the Means of Reproduction

Experimental Futures

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Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 24 illustrations Published: November 2012

Author: Michelle Murphy

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Science and Technology Studies > Feminist Science Studies

In Seizing the Means of Reproduction, Michelle Murphy's initial focus on the alternative health practices developed by radical feminists in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s opens into a sophisticated analysis of the transnational entanglements of American empire, population control, neoliberalism, and late-twentieth-century feminisms. Murphy concentrates on the technoscientific means—the technologies, practices, protocols, and processes—developed by feminist health activists. She argues that by politicizing the technical details of reproductive health, alternative feminist practices aimed at empowering women were also integral to late-twentieth-century biopolitics.

Murphy traces the transnational circulation of cheap, do-it-yourself health interventions, highlighting the uneasy links between economic logics, new forms of racialized governance, U.S. imperialism, family planning, and the rise of NGOs. In the twenty-first century, feminist health projects have followed complex and discomforting itineraries. The practices and ideologies of alternative health projects have found their way into World Bank guidelines, state policies, and commodified research. While the particular moment of U.S. feminism in the shadow of Cold War and postcolonialism has passed, its dynamics continue to inform the ways that health is governed and politicized today.


“By politicizing the technologies, protocols, and processes feminist health activists developed to empower women, Murphy demonstrates that the “control” of reproduction was fashioned with (not simply by) technoscience as a practical and pivotal feature of feminist politics. Seizing the Means of Reproduction is a must read for those interested in feminism, women’s health, the body, and medical sociology.” — Gayle Sulik, Gender & Society

“Reading of the book occurs at multiple levels – it is a fascinating account of the women’s self-help movement of the time; it is also a thought provoking analysis of ‘necropolitics’ with particular reference to the issues of race in the US. Finally, it situates the women’s health movement within the broader global context –where the practices, if not the protocols, were implicated globally in the policies around reproduction that were inserted into other countries in the form of US Aid. This is a challenging but extremely worthwhile read.” — Karen Willis, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health

“An indispensable reading for feminist technoscience seminars and a valuable source for gender studies as well as reproductive technologies classes.” — Habibe Burcu Baba, Culture, Health & Sexuality

Seizing the Means of Reproduction offers a sophisticated theoretical analysis of the entanglements between health feminism and biomedicalization in the late twentieth century.” — Wendy Kline, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

“Murphy’s work not only makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how reproductive technologies have been politically, socially, culturally and racially transformed and maneuvered since the 1970s, but it also elegantly, and intricately, conveys how the ‘economy of reproduction’ functions in both the developed and developing worlds, especially in the age of genetic engineering, cloning, sex-selection, and continuing contraceptive battles.”  — Tanfer Emin Tunc, American Studies

Seizing the Means of Reproduction is an important contribution to scholarship that takes reproduction seriously as a site of power, cultural production, and consumption. . . . Readers will find it an engaging read and highly relevant to new and enduring questions within STS, the history of medicine, medical anthropology and sociology, and feminist studies on gender, health and technoscience. It will also speak strongly to communities of activists and users interested in understanding and creating “better versions of technoscience and feminism” at home and abroad.” — Margaret E. MacDonald, Somatosphere

“Murphy’s balanced and detailed examination of the shifts in the tactics and investments of the women’s self-help health movement is a crucial resource in understanding how the presence and absence of different types of feminist politics shape reproductive health landscapes.” — Claire McKinney, Women's Studies Quarterly

"[Murphy] demonstrates the significance of the success, failure and co-optation of the feminist self help movement, the links between Foucauldian concepts of governmentality, bioethics and transnational flows of knowledge, and the unexpected associations between feminism and technoscience, sex, class and race. Ultimately, this book should encouracge scholars of medicine, feminism , women's history and sexuality to make broader local-to-global connections when researching reproduction."  — Christabelle Sethna, Social History of Medicine

“[A] must-read for scholars interested in feminism, sex, reproduction, and/or science studies. . . . A highly original account of feminist self-help reproductive politics, Seizing the Means of Reproduction is perhaps most compelling in terms of forwarding an understanding of how self-help practices were participants (in often contradictory ways) in the histories of neoliberalism, postcolonialism, and racial governmentality.” — Tasha N. Dubriwny, Journal of the History of Sexuality

“The author’s intricately theorized approach never obscures the crucial, material history that makes plain these entanglements’ real impact. Murphy’s book is invaluable as an overview of feminist organization in this context and as a model of ‘doing’ feminist history that understands that history in terms of its close relationship to others—embracing the ‘contradictory relations’ (p. 179) between the knowledges each makes available.” — Leanne Bibby, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“[A] complex, insightful book that explores and elaborates a feminist perspective of technoscience.” — Nancy E. Riley, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“Throughout the book, Murphy’s insights are eloquently encapsulated in the conceptual terms and frameworks that she coins or adopts. . . . Seizing the Means of Reproduction promises to be a rewarding read for feminist technoscience studies scholars, as well as historians of the women’s movement, reproductive health, and global biopolitics.” — Chikako Takeshita, Isis

“The events that Murphy writes about are more than three decades old, yet it is startling to realize just how relevant these questions are today. Much of the activism explored in Seizing the Means of Reproduction arose, at least in part, out of a desire to put reproductive healthcare decision-making in the hands of those most affected by it: women themselves. But, as the current social and political climate around women’s rights, gender and reproduction makes clear, these issues continue to incite controversy and judgment today. And this knowledge adds a surprising poignancy . . . to Seizing the Means of Reproduction. . . .” — Sarah Erdreich, Lilith

"[A]ny scholar interested in biopolitics should have a copy of this book. Not only does it provide STS with important conceptual tools for rethinking the histories of feminism and technologies, it can also serve as a gateway into larger histories of biopolitics such as 'big science,' genomics, or specific diseases."   — Jennifer Singh, New Genetics and Society

“Murphy is exceedingly attentive to issues of race, geopolitics, and class, and her analysis is historically grounded and extraordinarily relevant. . . . Seizing the Means of Reproduction [is] an absolutely invaluable resource for feminist historians, science and technology scholars, and reproductive justice advocates.” — Liz Barr, Feminist Collections

"Seizing the Means of Reproduction offers a sophisticated, original, unromantic, and challenging account of feminist reproductive politics in the USA in the 1970s and 1980s, both in its national context and as it helped to shape international development programs and strategies. Teasing out the racial politics and embedded features of white privilege that many other scholars and activists have neglected, Michelle Murphy forges a very distinctive trajectory." — Maureen McNeil, author of Feminist Cultural Studies of Science and Technology

"Ambitious, thought-provoking, and utterly compelling, Seizing the Means of Reproduction reworks the history of modern feminism as 'technoscientific counter-conduct.' Michelle Murphy convincingly locates the politics of sex and reproduction at the junction where specific technologies—the plastic speculum, the Pap smear, manual suction abortion—collide with the global trajectories of political economy." — Steven Epstein, author of Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research

"Brava! A sorely needed retheorizing of the movement of reproduction to the center of twentieth-century biopolitics and the consequences for the politicization of life. Attending to the disunity of feminisms, Michelle Murphy follows a panoply of appropriations and inventions that transformed sexed living being and the facts of life from the personal to the transnational. Feminist biopolitics—alternate forms of becoming and conditions of possibility—have revisioned the world. The book I truly wish I had written."— — Adele E. Clarke, coeditor of Biomedicalization: Technoscience, Health, and Illness in the U.S.


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michelle Murphy is Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies and of History at the University of Toronto. She is the author of the Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgements vii

Introduction: Feminism in/as Biopolitics 1

1. Assembling Protocol Feminism 25

2. Immodest Witnessing, Affective Economies, and Objectivity 68

3. Pap Smears, Cervical Cancer, and Scales 102

4. Traveling Technology and a Device for Not Performing Abortions 150

Conclusion: Living the Contradiction 177

Notes 183

Bibliography 219

Index 247
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5336-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5331-7
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