Complete Forum on Cyborg Uterine Geography

Here – as one combined PDF – is the forum on “Cyborg Uterine Geography” as published in Dialogues in Human Geography  Volume 8 Issue 3, November 2018 with response-essays from Maria Fannin, Robyn Longhurst, Kath Browne and Heidi Nast. We discuss comradeliness, normativity, indeterminacy and the ‘queering’ maternal biology… as well as the limits of a framework of ‘generosity’ for thinking about gestational work from an antiwork perspective.
Cyborg uterine geography

Cyborg uterine geography

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My article, “Cyborg uterine geography: complicating ‘care’ and social reproduction” is now published in Volume 8, Issue 3 of the the journal Dialogues in Human Geography. It is the anchor article in a forum featuring responses from professors Heidi Nast, Robyn Longhurst, Kath Browne, and Maria Fannin – followed by a rejoinder from me. The forum threw up lots of interesting lines of contention around the politics and value of ‘generosity’, the gender of the maternal.

Abstract

Most geographers have sided with ‘cyborgs’ (technonatural subjects) against ‘goddesses’ (e.g. Mother Earth) on questions of embodiment. In itself this provides no justification for the relative dearth (in geography) of theorizing ‘with’ the uterus as a site of doing and undoing; what I propose to call uterine geography. ‘Uterine’ relations are fundamentally cyborg, animatedly labouring and not only spatial but spatializing: they make and unmake places, borders, kin. This includes not only abortion, miscarriage, menstruation and pregnancy (whose transcorporeal and chimeric character is well documented in medical anthropology) but also other life-enabling forms of holding and letting go that do not involve anatomical uteri (such as trans-mothering and other alter-familial practices). Despite our discipline’s ostensible interest in co-production, hybridity and the more-than-human, the ‘doing’ aspects of intra and interuterine processes have tended to be black-boxed in accounts of care economies and social reproduction. The proposed remedy is deromanticization: an approach that critically politicizes uterine relations as historically contingent and subject to amelioration through struggle. Potential aides include Maggie Nelson’s idea that ‘labor does you’, Suzanne Sadedin’s account of gestation’s mutual hostility and the concepts of ‘sym-poiesis’ and ‘metramorphosis’. One notable consequence of this expanded concept of the uterine is that ‘assisted reproduction’, as it is characterized today, ceases to be categorically separate from other kinds of reproduction.

The paper as a whole can currently be accessed for free here.

Some quick reflections on the discussion…

Among the overwhelmingly positive ‘forum’ responses, Longhurst was sceptical of my claim that feminist geographers (and thinkers in the humanities generally) have lacked an active verb to describe the work of being pregnant. Or at least, she doubts that the verb “to gestate” is it, noting that the pregnant women she has interviewed did not talk about “gestating”. Separately, Browne points out that while I assert “a normal prosthesis-free family does not exist,” my actual illustrations involve (exclusively) “trans communalities” and thus, she felt, “queering ‘normal’ remains a latent possibility” in my text rather than a demonstrated reality. Meanwhile, Fannin takes issue with my strategy of adopting biologist Suzanne Sadedin’s agonistic, anti-generosity narration of pregnancy as a way of advancing those aims. Pregnancy, Maria reminds me, is “hardly presented in modern medical contexts as an entirely risk-free process”. Far from iconoclastic, the basic tenets of the “war in the womb” story are actually “overfamiliar” and – as she argues – have to be understood as complicit in ongoing “structural violence aimed at [some] birth givers” in the broader social and political field. In other words: I should at minimum have prolonged my attack on the demonization of pregnancy if I was going to focus so much criticism on its romanticisation. I address this great point in-depth in my rejoinder.

Another risk (Longhurst correctly identifies) is that we erect, in language, a
sovereign subject of gestation that, for most gestators, simply feels like a lie. However, times change. Ironically, the word “gestate” once denoted the heroic action of horse-riding and is etymologically linked to the very ideal of sovereign subjecthood: gest or geste in Old French meant “famous deed or exploit” (as in: chansons de geste). To geste-ate, then, evokes to me a meta-level of action, a doing of doings: a saddling and riding of exploits and exploitations, where the fetus (or fetuses) participate(s) in the gesture. The purpose of this and of my admittedly clumsy use of abstruse language like “metramorphosis” and “sym-poetic,” as Longhurst hopefully perceives, is to get at the uncanny dynamic in pregnancy that eludes a subject/object division. As we do labour, labour does us back. This elusive quality of the distribution of agency in baby-making labour is unfortunately something I do not know how to reference in consistently simple vocabulary. Yet I am convinced of the insufficiency of the commonplaces at our disposal – formulations like “to be with child”, “to be expecting” and “to have children”, which circle around the exterior of the gestating body and conceal its creativity. Even “to be pregnant” only credits the condition passively to the actor who, having failed to be “impregnable,” was “impregnated”. As for the problem of research subjects not volunteering alternative idioms: all I can say is that some gestators do call what they are doing gestating. For me, politically, that’s enough.

Read more – including Heidi Nast’s far more oppositional response to my work – in the next issue of Dialogues.

And in the meantime, here’s a link to my anchor article: Cyborg Uterine Geography.

 

 

 

1,000 cancers: on TERFs and pregnancy

 

CN: transphobia, reproductive biology.

What I’ve today posted on my Patreon is, in the first instance, an expansion – complete with handy URLs – of a spirited lesson about gestational biology and liberatory politics I composed on Twitter (on my @reproutopia account), which gained some attention. By way of publicly schooling some self-styled Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (remember those? my podcast appearance sought to shed light), I tweeted an epic thread – which you can go read here if you like – firstly revealing how TERFs had exposed themselves, in the ugly act of gloating about trans women dying from pregnancy, as not knowing the first thing about human pregnancy. I followed up with my thoughts about gestational liberation.

The <<post>> is for patrons only for the next 10 days. It will become open-access subsequently.

1,000 cancers: on TERFs and pregnancy

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Interested? Click here:

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All Reproduction is Assisted

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Louise Bourgeois, 2008

Belatedly announcing the fact that I am part of a forum at Boston Review, Issue 7.43(3), Once and Future Feminist, sharing space with the likes of Silvia Federici and Andrea Long Chu while responding to an article by the brilliant writer Merve Emre that surveys American infertilities.

The gender of gestating is ambiguous. I am not talking about pregnancy’s deepening of one’s voice, its carpeting of one’s legs in bristly hair, or even about the ancient Greek belief that it was an analogue of men’s duty to die in battle if called upon. I am not even thinking of the heterogeneity of those who gestate. Rather, in a context where political economists are talking constantly of “the feminization of labor,” it seems to me that the economic gendering of the work itself—gestating is work, as Merve Emre says—is not as clear-cut as it would appear.

Read it here.

Footprinting the Tentacular Womb

Here is the recording of my presentation at the AAG Annual Meeting in New Orleans (April 11th, 2018): Footprinting the Tentacular Womb. This talk was part of the excellent full-day stream “From the Anthropocene to Postgenomics: New Configurations of Body-World“. I’m hoping I manage to make it more or less comprehensible (at least, for people who have some familiarity with the scholarship of Michelle Murphy and Donna Haraway) – although, I now realise, listening back, it ended up very dense. I’m still learning how to give presentations effectively and not cram too much in, but I’m happy that I got so many laughs.

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“Chthulu plays no role for me” (at Viewpoint magazine)

Head’s-up: the brilliant Marxists at Viewpoint magazine published my essay on Donna Haraway. It’s received a hell of a lot of eyeball traffic and even prompted an email from the great DH herself, so, in light of all this engagement, there are likely to be further developments, refinements or perhaps retractions of this critique! Stay tuned.

I remain for reading Haraway against Haraway. For all her chastisement of “bitter cynicism”, and for all her talk of mud and piss and worms, the chanting goddess who has displaced the earlier cyborg, at least in the pages of Staying with the Trouble, is too much of a clean-living misanthrope – and above all, too much of a pessimist – to be a comrade. Meanwhile, her neglected (if not disavowed) framework of cyborgicity becomes a more and more potent heuristic for thinking class composition and embodying its struggles every day. Cyborgs for Earthly Survival! was the slogan Haraway submitted to Socialist Review. That spirit still lives in the interstices of Staying with the Trouble. Part of our task is indeed “not to forget the stink in the air from the burning of the witches, not to forget the murders of human and nonhuman beings in the Great Catastrophes named the Plantationocene, Anthropocene, Capitalocene”. Part of it is, indeed, to “move through memory to represencing;” to grow capable of response; to become kin; and to “stay with” trouble. But the main thing is to make an altogether bigger kind of trouble.

Exciting times…

Amniotechnics

This essay of mine was published at The New Inquiry two months ago. Better late than never to log it on my blog, right? It’s called AMNIOTECHNICS, which is the name of the concept I’d like to explore in a book.

Amniotechnics is the art of holding and caring even while being ripped into, at the same time as being held. It is protecting water and protecting people from water. I want a generalized praxis of this, which doesn’t forget the importance of holding mothers and thwarted mothers and, yes, even wannabe “single fathers,” afloat in the juice; breathing but hydrated; well-watered but dry. I hope it is possible even for fantasists of ectogenetic progeny, like Frankenstein, who have dreamed of a birth unsullied by a womb, to become capable amniotechnicians in time. Their worldviews may not hold water, but I think they too have to be held. It is possible for any of us to learn that it is the holders—not the delusional “authors,” self-replicators and “patenters”—who truly people the world. “Water management” may sound unexciting, but I suspect it contains the secrets to the kinmaking practices of the future.

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If this grabs you, go read the rest of it over at TNI, email or tweet at me with your thoughts and criticisms, and watch this space for a longer version.