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 Roman votive offering in form of placenta ( to assist in pregnancy and childbirth), circa 200 BCE

(Wellcome Images CC BY 4.0)


FRSG Courses
Medical Anthropology Lectures for the MSc in Clinical Embryology, Institute of Reproductive Sciences, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Oxford University: 2013-2017

Dr Philip Kreager
Introduction: The anthropology and demography of infertility in the developing world

This lecture provides the framework for the course, and necessary background:

(a) an overview of global demographic incidence, history, and geographic spread of infertility; how infertility is defined in varying ways in the scientific literature; the implications of fertility transition (i.e. of declining fertility) for infertility patterns; and issues of data reliability;

(b) making the demographic background real draws on classic social and cultural anthropology, placing individuals’ and couples’ reproductive problems in the context of family and kinship systems, community networks, and indigenous explanatory systems; problems arising when state and NGO interventions encounter local cultures can then be addressed within this framework;

(c) particular attention is given to social and cultural controls over the body, and how reproduction and sexuality fit into such controls.

Dr Alison Shaw:
Consanguinity and genetic risk

Consanguineous couples may marry earlier and have more babies than non-consanguineous but end up with the same number of living children because of the morbidity from the elevated recessive risk. Infertility is not the only reason for using ARTs. People may consider using ARTs when they don't have a fertility problem as such, but they have unsuccessful reproduction - repeated miscarriages, repeated infant deaths - as may be the case for consanguineous couples. This lecture will discuss the implications of kinship and parental consanguinity for people's ideas about the causes of infertility, repeated miscarriage and infant death, and ART use. It will also discuss different state and family strategies to manage the elevated risk of recessive disorders, with examples to include Oman, Israel, Turkey and South India.

Dr Morgan Clarke:
Anthropological perspectives on kinship, religion and reproductive technology

Assisted reproductive technologies have the potential to challenge many existing social categories and assumptions, especially those around kinship and the family. This lecture presents some of the anthropological debates around ART and kinship, starting with 'the West, but then going on to consider the distinctive ways in which local religious traditions have addressed these challenges in Israel and the Islamic Middle East.

Dr Kaveri Qureshi:
Infertile Couples and the Quest for a Child

Assisted reproductive technologies have found widespread acceptance because they offer a remedy for infertility; an answer to the suffering of ‘desperate couples’. However, anthropological literature suggests that use of these commodified technologies is heavily stratified; particular segments of society are deemed worthy of reproduction, and provide lucrative markets. Beyond the ‘medical miracle’, we will examine critiques of ARTs as a gruelling obstacle course for the privileged couples who are able to avail them; an exploitative transnational enterprise; and largely absent in the world’s ‘infertility belt’, where fertility treatment is a top priority, but largely unmet, reproductive health need.

Dr Nadine Beckmann:
Access to New Technologies of fertility treatment, with particular reference to Tropical Africa

This lecture addresses access to the new technologies for fertility treatment, with particular reference to countries that are too poor to pay for them. I shall talk about the African infertility belt, the poor situation of hospitals and maternity services there, and the consequent high desire for children in combination with high pregnancy risks. These issues will be related to recent global health initiatives, especially for HIV/AIDS, which invest large sums of money into the treatment of HIV/AIDS (and also some into maternity services), but continue to ignore the need for fertility treatment services. Finally, we will discuss fertility treatment tourism, and the impact of neoliberal privatised regimes of health care. In the face of generally high fertility, intervention programmes continue to focus on family planning to contain fertility, while local communities regard raising fertility as top priority.

Institute of Human Sciences

The anthropological and historical demography of fertility is a core component of the Honour School Finals paper in Population for the Human Sciences BA at Oxford, and supervision for this part of the course is carried out under the direction of Dr Kreager.


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Roman votive offering, for childbirth, circa 300 BCE

(Wellcome Images CC BY 4.0)

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