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Cultural Conceptions

On Reproductive Technologies and the Remaking of Life

1997
Author:

Valerie Hartouni

Cultural Conceptions

Examines the meaning of “life” in an era of emerging biotechnology.

A thoughtful examination considering the cultural effects of new reproductive technologies as reflected in video images, popular journalism, scientific debates, legal briefs, and policy decisions.

With epistemological canniness and a fine sense of subtlety, Valerie Hartouni traces how the humanized ‘fetal form’ takes shape as an accepted and undisputed object of cultural perception. She offers as well an analysis of what happens in policy debates when this ‘form’ is taken for granted. These wry analytic forays are iconoclastic in the best sense. Cultural Conceptions takes apart the icons that have been valorized as given objects of perception, exposing what has become sacralized in the making of the object, subjecting a perceptual piety to the glare of critical attention, and providing an altogether new, and disarming, account of the graphic politics of reproduction.

Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley

Cultural Conceptions

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What happens to prevailing beliefs about the uniqueness of individual life when life can be cloned? Or to traditional understandings of family relationships when a child can have up to five parents? These are some of the questions addressed by Valerie Hartouni in her consideration of the cultural effects of new reproductive technologies as reflected in video images, popular journalism, scientific debates, legal briefs, and policy decisions.

In Cultural Conceptions, Hartouni tracks the circulation and communication of various myths, images, and stories pertaining to new reproductive technologies and their effects, both imagined and real, during the past two decades. While addressing topics ranging from surrogacy and cloning to adoption, ultrasound imaging, and abortion, Hartouni looks to American popular culture for clues to what these new-and not so new-reproductive practices tell us about issues of personhood.

Hartouni investigates the emergence of new anxieties about the nature of selfhood as well as the recurrence of age-old myths regarding individuality, sexuality, property, and family. She argues that both are being played out in cultural contests over the meaning and organization of women’s reproductive capacity. In her discussion of provocative issues such as the Bell Curve controversy and the Baby M. case, Hartouni traces the dialectic of crisis and containment unleashed by reproductive technologies. Ultimately, however, Cultural Conceptions argues that the anxieties that surround new reproductive technologies provide openings for alternative understandings and practices of life to emerge and challenge those currently in place.

A thoughtful, daring, and original look at this complex set of issues, Cultural Conceptions provides an much-needed guide to our nation’s psyche as we approach the new millennium.

Valerie Hartouni is associate professor in the Department of Communication and director of the women’s studies program at the University of California, San Diego.

Cultural Conceptions

With epistemological canniness and a fine sense of subtlety, Valerie Hartouni traces how the humanized ‘fetal form’ takes shape as an accepted and undisputed object of cultural perception. She offers as well an analysis of what happens in policy debates when this ‘form’ is taken for granted. These wry analytic forays are iconoclastic in the best sense. Cultural Conceptions takes apart the icons that have been valorized as given objects of perception, exposing what has become sacralized in the making of the object, subjecting a perceptual piety to the glare of critical attention, and providing an altogether new, and disarming, account of the graphic politics of reproduction.

Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley

Valerie Hartouni’s Cultural Conceptions is an insightful, coolly passionate reading of the present. Hartouni provides a vivid set of accounts tracking the profound refigurations of what counts as natural today. She helps us to see the future that is already with us.

Paul Rabinow, University of California, Berkeley

In Cultural Conceptions, Valerie Hartouni approaches the complexities of contemporary reproduction through an exploration of the processes of sight and visual representation. Basing her theoretical argument on a questioning of vision, she deftly interweaves concrete analyses of court documents, popular press accounts, and video production to create a multilayered analysis which is both provocative and accessible.

Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies

Valerie Hartouni has written a guide to the strange new world of reproductive technologies as they are showing up in the newspapers, on television, in video, and in our conversations.

Contemporary Sociology

An intelligent series of interconnected but relatively self-contained essays on and around the politics of reproduction in the contemporary United States. Hartouni successfully demonstrates the value of being an intelligent and self-reflexive participant in the contemporary traffic in reproductive meanings and practices. Cultural Conceptions deserves a wide readership.

ISIS: History of Science Society

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