The infertile woman is a familiar figure in popular culture. Soap operas dramatise the tragedy of infertility, right-wing tabloids threaten career women with the horrors of involuntary childlessness, and the news media greets each new breakthrough in reproductive technology with a strange combination of celebration and dread at the potential Brave New World we are sleep-walking towards. This portrayal of a realm where science fiction threatens to spill over into fact adds to our sense of infertility as a peculiarly modern condition. Yet there is a longer history of involuntary childlessness – a history which stretches back to the Book of Genesis and beyond – as well as many different potential experiences of infertility according to nation, class, gender, and race.
This symposium will explore the history of infertility, and the place of infertility in science and culture. Our primary focus is historical, but we welcome contributions from scholars in different disciplines and employing a range of approaches – social scientific, literary, feminist, psychological, and legal. We aim to bring together researchers working on this fascinating and under-explored field in order to better understand historical and contemporary representations and experiences of infertility across different cultures and from different perspectives. Potential topics for papers include, but are not limited to:
- the role of gender, class and race in shaping experiences and representations of infertility;
- individual, familial, and social contexts of infertility;
- infertility as a bodily and/or psychological experience;
- heterosexuality, homosexuality, and involuntary childlessness;
- reproductive science and access to reproductive technologies;
- the interplay of medical, scientific, and cultural understandings of infertility;
- the role of politics, law, and religion in shaping experiences of and attitudes towards infertility;
- changing experiences of infertility across time and space, including comparative histories;
- the relation of perceptions of infertility to beliefs about fertility control, the constitution and social role of the family, and sexuality;
- different disciplinary approaches to infertility.
An edited collection based on the presented papers is planned.