Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Cape Town

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Caution! Brown Wombs at Work: Transnational Commercial Surrogacy in India

Caution! Brown Wombs at Work is an ethnography of transnational commercial surrogacy in India. In this book I demonstrate that the usual Eurocentric and ethics-oriented frames for analyzing surrogacy make invisible the labor and resistances of women involved in this process. Through participant observation at clinics and surrogacy hostels and through open-ended interviews, I reveal the labor of the women: whether in the form of “dirty” or stigmatized labor, “embodied labor” (labor that requires intensive use of their physical selves) or “kinship labor” (the labor of forming and maintaining kinship ties). Simultaneously I highlight the inherent paradox of the resistive strategies of the women as they negotiate the peculiarities of this labor. The surrogates are resisting domination at various levels – at the level of the family, the community, the clinic and an aggressively anti-natal state. The multiple sites of domination imply that resistance to one set of forces often involves reification of other forms of domination. The paradoxical nature of these resistances, in turn, shapes women‟s identities as laborers, as mothers and as compatriots in an unusual labor option. At one level, the significance of this book is that it is the only existing work on this deeply disquieting instance of international division of (reproductive) labor where poor women of the global south are having babies for richer women, often from the global north. At another level, the book takes discussions on surrogacy beyond the sphere of reproduction and motherhood. By situating surrogacy within the political economy of new forms of women‟s labor emerging with globalization, it highlights the linkages between surrogacy and conceptualization of women‟s work and motherhood as well as the paradoxical impact of local resistances on national agendas and global relationships.