Exploring Networks of Transnational Surrogacy

This article is part of the TRAFO series Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’. Today, we put the spotlight on the Exploratory WorkshopExploring Networks of Transnational Surrogacy”, which will take place on February 14-15th at Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin. We talk to the convener, Anika König, about the upcoming workshop.

Anika, you are the convener of the upcoming explorative workshop “Exploring Networks of Transnational Surrogacy”. How did you come up with the idea?

I have been working on the topic of transnational surrogacy for several years now. During this time, the global surrogacy industry has changed considerably. India – one of the most important reproductive hubs worldwide – has banned surrogacy for foreigners, as have Thailand, Mexico (State of Tabasco), and Nepal. As a result of these prohibitions, agencies and clinics move across borders, or sometimes even to other continents, in order to be able to continue offering their services. Even before this development, surrogacy frequently was a transnational encounter – including the flying in and flying out of intended parents and gametes, and sometimes even surrogates. But this mobility and fluidity has increased since the banning of surrogacy in some of the surrogacy hubs. One researcher alone is unable to map and investigate this huge transnational network of reproduction. Therefore, it is important to set up collaborations between researchers, who focus on different regions of the world. I felt that organizing an Explorative Workshop would be a wonderful opportunity to bring some of these scholars together, most of whom have worked on this topic for many years and who are interested in collaborating and working on a joint research agenda.

In your own research you describe that German speaking countries (Germany and Switzerland) are among the most legally restrictive and culturally sceptical regarding the practice of surrogacy. How do you explain this fact?

While Germany and Switzerland have extremely strict legal regulations of surrogacy, a critical view of this reproductive practice is in fact quite common in many other countries as well. However, the concurrence of a moral regime and a legal system, both of which strongly condemn surrogacy, facilitates a social climate where it is almost impossible to even discuss a legalization of this particular form of reproduction.

Surrogacy is a transnational phenomenon and is based on global inequalities and legal diversity. As such, it is also of interest to other disciplines such as medicine or gender studies. What kind of contribution can the social sciences make to the study of surrogacy in neighboring fields?

Surrogacy is a topic that touches on many academic fields, ranging from medical to legal studies, from gender studies to bioethics, just to name a few. But the important contribution that we as anthropologists and sociologists can make is that we talk to the people who are involved and we spend a lot of time with them during our research. The resulting ethnographies can serve as a source of valuable empirical information for researchers from other disciplines, in the same way that we benefit from their research. For example, social research can learn a lot from jurisprudence when we take a closer look at the different legal systems regulating surrogacy in different countries – ranging from Israel, where under certain circumstances surrogacy may be publicly funded, to Germany and Switzerland, where it is strictly banned. On the other side, empirical research may also make a contribution to legal studies and the development of new laws. In Germany, for example, there are growing calls – especially from scholars dealing with medically-assisted reproduction in practice, such as physicians, psychologists, but also social researchers and ethicists – for a new law that does justice to the current state of reproductive medicine (which so far is regulated by the Embryo Protection Act and the Adoption Placement Act, both of which came into effect before the turn of the millennium). This shows that a topic like surrogacy must be looked at from a range of disciplinary angles because it is so multifaceted, controversial, and can take so many different forms.

What was the most surprising moment while researching this topic?

When I began working on surrogacy, I had a very clear idea about it – I felt that it is an extremely exploitative and neo-colonial reproductive technology. However, taking a closer look at it and meeting the people who are actually involved (especially the intended parents and surrogates), I learned that surrogacy is in fact much more complex and can take many more different forms from what I had expected. While it can certainly be exploitative and highly problematic in regards to ethics, it can also be a positive and rewarding experience for all persons involved. I thus suggest that we do not speak of surrogacy as a single practice but use the term in the plural – surrogacies – in order to accommodate the fact that it can take so many diverse forms.


About the Convener

Anika König is a senior lecturer at the University of Lucerne in Switzerland. Her research interests are medical anthropology (especially reproductive technologies), the anthropology of violence, the body, and the senses. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from The Australian National University and an MA from Freie Universität Berlin (Anthropology) and Technische Universität Berlin (Sociology). She has conducted research in Indonesia, the United States, Germany, and Switzerland and is currently working on a book on transnational surrogacy commissioned by German and Swiss intended parents.


Citation: Anika König, Exploring Networks of Transnational Surrogacy, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 17.01.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/17352.


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