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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Communicating Reproduction Conference: brief report

I attended the Communicating Reproduction conference in Cambridge last week: a very good if also very intense and concentrated event. I liked the set-up - precirculated papers, hour-long sessions, speakers given 10 mins to present an overview of their paper, two discussants (at least one specialising in an entirely different period to the paper!) and then general discussion, which was very enthusiastic and animated.

The papers covered a very wide chronological range - from the middle ages to the  C21st edition of the photographs of Lennart Nilsson's famous foetus photographs A Child Is Born - and different modes of communication, including the cinematic (there was a showing of the 1960s German sex education film Helga, though unfortunately a subtitled version had proved impossible to procure). It became clear that reproduction featured in numerous genres and indeed texts on reproduction not only mixed up genres (as was noted in the discussion after Helga) but could shift from genre to genre according to the particular context within which they were read and who was doing the reading, so that a text which might be appropriate and instructive in a single-sex group might be positively pornographic 'forbidden knowledge' in solitary reading by an individual of different gender.

Occasionally one would have liked more sense of how the topics of discussion were formed in a wider circulation of communication (I particularly wondered whether the 1970s 'home birth' movement had any interaction with the British natural childbirth movement that had emerged almost two decades previously, or with e.g. the Dutch system in which home-based, midwife-attended childbirth had never really gone away).

Participants also had an opportunity to see the Books and Babies exhibition in Cambridge University Library at a conference reception, at which conversation and discussion continued to be very lively, and continued over a conference dinner in the well-chosen Riceboat Keralan restaurant.

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