In my course project, I plan to examine the relationship of reproductive technology and culture. My purpose is to interrogate two main ideas: how institutions prescribe technology to fit particular cultures as well as how individuals appropriate technologies and enculturate those technologies on their own behalf. This examination will involve questions of ethnicity, culture, rhetoric, technology, agency, and how these five categories interact. In the context of this proposal, I would like to follow the line of thinking leading me to this area, and I will conclude with an explanation of the more exact plan I am formulating to interrogate this intersection of technology and culture.
Because I am a product of Western culture, I believe it may be more informative for me to examine how such webs play out in an Eastern culture. The obvious choice of country for my subject, then,—because of the international spotlight on reproductive issues and the controversial “one-child” policy—is China. I will give an overview of this policy and discuss how reproductive technologies have driven cultural and social changes in relation to it, and I will make a case that understanding of this phenomenon in the Western world is limited.
I will also devote considerable space to looking at how Eastern uses of reproductive technologies have influenced the Western conventions that we often believe are ours alone. I will incorporate knowledge about the roots of medical technologies as they relate to reproductive medicine and I will discuss how such technologies are appropriated/reappropriated/poached. I plan to use Michel de Certeau’s theories about production as a framework over which to weave my examination of the everyday decisions and technologies made and used within the cultures I will examine. Because de Certeau argues for two productions—the first being equivalent to creation and the second being consumption, a sort of re-creation—I can situate American and Chinese consumption of reproductive technologies relative to each other.
I will also use de Certeau’s term “poaching” to promote understanding of how one culture’s use of a technology may differ from when another culture takes up the same technologies. By poaching a product and re-creating it in one’s own context, othered communities find a tactic to gain power. This is what has happened in China as women abort female fetuses in an attempt to heed the cultural desire for sons. While this tactic reinforces the power of the culture, it also undermines other social desires (such as the opportunity for a Chinese son to find a Chinese wife, to say nothing of the ethical issues at stake).
My working question, then, in order to examine the relationship between how institutions prescribe technologies and how individuals appropriate technologies depending on cultural influences, will be: In what ways and for what reasons do Chinese women poach reproductive technologies? This question, though a workable starting point, presents problematic avenues for inquiry from the very beginning. I will address such complications early in my paper, including: how one might define “Chinese women,” since the term does not represent a homogenous culture; what poaching means in regard to where a technology came from; why women are placed in a position to do this poaching; and how my own situatedness influences this investigation.
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