Donna Haraway. Reproducing the Future: Essays on Anthropology, Kinship and the New Reproductive Technologies.
Marilyn Strathern. New York: Routledge, 1992. 208 pp.
University of California, Santa Cruz
Eight essays contextualized by the British 1990 Human Fertilization and Embryology Act, Reproducing the Future inquires into "what is thinkable with respect to kinship" (p. 2). Provoked by the new reproductive technologies and Thatherism's cultural revolution, Strathern asks how it is possible to "think" a new biological, legal, and social object in the world — "the human embryo in the very early stages of development, alive but outside the parental body" (p. 4). This entity renders problematic the Euro-American boundaries between nature and culture, recognition and construction, natural facts and social interpretations. Acutely aware that ethnographers' discourse about Melanesian ideas of personhood and kinship is itself an anthropological artifact, Strathern puts those concepts to exquisite use in dissecting the cognitive dynamics of Euro-American reproductive models. Her empirical materials are parliamentary debates and media reports, and her target is her own society's ceaseless reworkings of "individuality." She writes acidly and sardonically to show "how difficult Euro-Americans find it to conceptualise relationships" (p. 11). Formed by British social anthropology, Western feminism, and Melanesian ethnography, Strathern writes intricate cognitive philosophy, where her central conviction is "that it matters what ideas one uses to think other ideas (with)" (p. 10).
Focusing on hybrid entities and ideas, the collection opens with a quotation from a televised discussion about artificial life (A-Life). In A-life's production of simulated worlds, what counts as the real world is displaced. Kinship thinking is not dissimilar. Strathern
uses the discussion of A-Life to stress that "you can tell a culture by what it can and cannot bring together" (p. 2). Euro-Americans have taken for granted that, however conventional aspects of kinship may be, fundamentally it has to do with the "natural facts of life." The dilemma posed by the new reproductive technologies is that what has been taken as natural becomes the locus of artifactuality. Nature itself becomes die product of deliberate intervention. Simultaneously, the entire reproductive model involving heredity and development, change and continuity, natural foundations and social elaborations becomes reduced to the instrumentalized genetic individual.
But if the genetic origin/link is nowadays "real" kinship, and if a genetic programme is popularly thought to have its own momentum, then will the rest of human affairs — relationships, events, cultures — be seen as a surrogate for reality? . .. What then should anthropology reproduce? [p. 179]
Part I explores how Euro-Americans have been forced to become explicit about the assumptions of their biosocial reproductive model. Both biology and culture get "assisted," for example, in medical, legal, and commercial practices. The locus of reality, of facticity separate from metaphoricity, is at stake. "The more facilitation is given to the biological reproduction of human persons, the harder it is to think of a domain of natural facts independent of social intervention" (p. 30). In a mordant, critical, funny essay, Strathern disassembles the consumerist ideology of choice permeating the discourse of assisted conception. The child becomes the embodiment of the parents' act of choice. Collapsing other analogies, choice becomes the measure of all action. Desire, itself "enterprised up," is what is left of natural foundations. "The chances are that a culture that thinks itself enterprising will simply reproduce more and more technologies for its marketable reproduction" (p. 43).
Part II is two tightly argued essays rooted in Melanesian ethnography, which is put into tense conversation with feminist and deconstructionist concerns and with Euro-Ameri-can notions of individuality and kinship. The Melanesian premises that die child is the repository of the actions of multiple others and that social activity is the dissolution and partition of completed entities are used to clarify and make strange Euro-American assumptions about the individual and society (e.g., socialization), as well as scholarly presumptions about revealing hidden meanings of linguistic and cultural texts through hermeneutic practices. Strathern's contrasts between Melanesian and "our" dismantling projects also make current anthropological fascination with hybridity, creolization, and collage uncomfortable respites from the terrors of modernist culture concepts.
Part III contrasts Melanesian concepts and Euro-American kinship thinking in relation to the status of the early embryo. Gift-giving, coercion, partitioning, representing complexity, developmental versus episodic time, and problems of analogy are brought to bear on the dilemmas Euro-Americans face as their assumptions about natural process, continuity and change, choice, chance, and individuality come to self-destructing fruition in the emerging figure of the embryo, "enter-prised up" for our consumption.