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Barbara Katz Rothman

Committee Members

Hester Eisenstein

Frances Fox Piven

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Mother Country is a multi-sited, qualitative study of the United States fertility industry. I analyze the industry in two dimensions: as a particularly American institution and nascent profession, and as a destination for "reproductive tourism." The United States fertility industry, buttressed by lax federal regulation, free market principles, and high technology resources, is organized to benefit certain classes of American citizens and foreign nationals in their quest to have children. As such, the United States has become a prime destination for people seeking assisted fertility services such as commercial surrogacy, egg donation, and sex selection, which are unavailable, inaccessible, or illegal in many countries.

I employed a grounded theory and mixed-methods approach to my topic: I used participant observation and in-depth semi-structured interviews in three major metropolitan regions (New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco), to generate thick, empirical data about the fertility industry in these respective cities. I also employed ethnographic content analysis of medical and scientific journals, newspaper reports, and industry marketing materials, and comparative policy analysis on the state, federal, and international level to identify trends and patterns about the global state of the field.

I find that the United States produces ideal conditions for a fertility industry with a global reach. It boasts a robust network of fertility doctors, family law attorneys, and egg donation and surrogacy brokers, in addition to advanced technologies, high success rates, and lax federal regulation that enables clients to obtain services in locales with policies amenable to their needs and desires. Moreover, the profession itself has situated itself in such a way that enables it to secure its position as an autonomous body with gatekeeping functions, as professional organizations establish norms of self-regulation absent the teeth or enforcement of law.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.

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