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Transformations: Gender, Reproduction, and Contemporary Society (SO231-30)

Sociology has a long tradition of shaking up things we take for granted and that’s exactly what you’ll be doing if you take this module. Transformations takes something we might consider ordinary and routine – having and bringing up children – and makes it strange, something to be explained rather than assumed, certainly not natural but embedded in social and cultural values, practices and inequalities.

We start by asking ‘why do we have children?’ (and ‘why do we not?’) and ‘who needs children and how does this matter?’. Then we look at the links between gender identity and parenting, asking ‘to what extent do femininities rely on motherhood?’ and ‘how do the dominant constructions of “good” fathering links to masculinities?’.

You’ll be covering the full diversity of parenting today, including step-parents, disabled parents, single parents, gay and lesbian parents, teenage parents, adoptive parents, surrogate mothers, trans-gender parents, focusing on ideas about who’s ‘fit’ to be a parent in the 21st century and what this tells us about social norms. For example, ‘why is late motherhood so frowned upon whereas late fatherhood is not?’, ‘who should have the right to adopt?’, ‘what does it mean when a trans-man has a baby?’ and ‘why are women with disabilities so often seen as “unfit” mothers?’.

You’ll explore what it means to be pregnant and give birth in an age of medicalization and technologies, identifying the multiple social and medical meanings of the 12 and 20 week scans and asking why and how home births lost their status as ‘normal’ in the UK, and what this means for pregnant mothers, expectant fathers and midwives.

The concept of reproductive rights captures the idea that we should be able to decide whether, when and how many children to have, and exercising these rights depends on the use of contraception and abortion. Considering these technologies to be embedded in social context and shaped by human action, we ask ‘how do “race”/ethnicity and social class influence contraceptive prescribing?’, ‘could there/should there be a male pill?’, ‘how has ultrasound scanning changed the terms of the abortion debate?’.

As well as technologies to control fertility, the 21st century has seen an explosion of technologies to enhance or bypass infertility since the first IVF baby was born in 1978, so towards the end of the module you’ll be asking ‘do we have a right to infertility treatment’, ‘how is IVF gendered and how does this differ across the globe?’, ‘what are the pros and cons of egg and sperm donation?’. We then bring the module right up to date by thinking about the politics and ethics of the new genetics of reproduction that IVF has partly enabled; ‘does the trend for global surrogacy matter?’, ‘is it ethical to try to generate a “saviour sibling”?’, ‘are we at risk of making “designer babies”?’.


Module Director:

Dr. Caroline Wright

Timing and CATS

This module will run all year and is worth 30 CATS.