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Commercial surrogacy in India: Nine months of labor?

Amrita Pande, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this dissertation, an ethnography of transnational commercial surrogacy in India, I argue that existing Eurocentric and ethics-oriented frames for studying surrogacy make invisible the labor and resistances of women within this process. By framing commercial surrogacy as ‘labor’ instead, I ask: How do commercial surrogate mothers in India, as participants in a new kind of labor, challenge and/or re-affirm ideologies, discourses and practices surrounding not just surrogacy, but women’s role as producers and reproducers? Through participant observation and open ended interviews, I reveal the “labor” of women that often remains invisible and underpaid: whether in the form of “dirty” labor, “embodied labor” (labor that requires intensive use of their physical selves) or “kinship labor” (the labor of forming and maintaining kinship ties). Instead of romanticizing the everyday resistances of the surrogates, I highlight the inherent paradox of their resistances to domination by the family, the community, the clinic and the state. The multiple sites of domination imply that resistance to one set of forces often involves reification of other forms of domination. At one level, the significance of my research is that it is the only existing work on this stunning example of international division of (reproductive) labor where poor women of the global south have babies for richer women, often from the global north. This study aims to move beyond the Euro-American setting and get a broader view of the cultural response to new reproductive technologies. By calling for the recognition of commercial surrogacy as “labor”, I challenge the gendered dichotomies of natural and biology versus social and labor. Simultaneously, I deconstruct the image of the “victim” inevitably evoked whenever bodies of “Third World” women are in focus. It’s likely that the everyday resistances by the surrogates in India pose very little threat to the fundamentally exploitative structure of transnational surrogacy. What they do represent, however, is a constant process of negotiation and strategizing at the local level. They provoke a reappraisal of existing assumptions surrounding not just surrogacy but our understanding of new forms of women’s labor and local resistances, new bases for forming kinship ties and novel responses to new reproductive technologies and biomedicalization.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Womens studies|Sociology|South Asian Studies

Recommended Citation

Pande, Amrita, "Commercial surrogacy in India: Nine months of labor?" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3409640.