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.
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
"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.
“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.”
Gender and 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.”
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, and Sexuality
“Seizing the Means of Reproduction offers a sophisticated theoretical analysis of the entanglements between health feminism and biomedicalization in the late twentieth century.”
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
“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
“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.”
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."
Social History of Medicine
“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.”
“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. . . .”