Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Towards a Four Fields Anthropology of Fetuses

Looking for a few good anthropologists interested in talking across the four fields:

The 112th AAA Annual meeting will be held at the Chicago Hilton November 20-24, 2103 in Chicago IL. The 2013 annual meeting theme is Future Publics, Current Engagements.

It is our hope to organize a panel of scholars from across the four fields to consider the possibilities of building publics within anthropology and furthering engagements around the concerns of reproduction. The focus of this panel will be on research in anthropology on fetuses and address the question: What is a fetus?

The work of anthropologists has contributed to an ever more nuanced understanding of fetuses as entities with cultural, social, and biological significance. A central focus of this work has been on what ideas and practices concerning fetuses reveal about the socially ascribed status of persons. Well documented is the variation in how fetuses have become interpreted across cultures and histories. Recent scholarship also examines the role of science, itself a cultural system, in the construction of fetuses and embryos as what Lynn Morgan (2009) described as “asocial biological entities.”

In this panel, we will discuss what a fetus is from the perspectives of archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. In this panel, we will consider the following questions: How has each of the four fields of anthropology conceptualized fetuses, and how might an engagement across the subfields transform our knowledge of them? What might we gain from a four fields anthropology of fetuses – what also are the challenges and limits – and what can we do to build it?

Papers will be written and presented with the goal of communicating from a particular subfield to our colleagues and peers in other subfields.

Please e-mail an abstract (no more than 250 words), paper title, and keywords, by FEBRUARY 15, 2013. Our hope is to organize the panel for invited status.

Dr. Sallie Han (
Dr. Tracy Betsinger (


  1. What a fabulous idea! This is very exciting to me. I'm a biological anthropologist who studies fetuses and placentas in nonhuman primates and humans. I will definitely be in touch!

    1. Julienne, so glad to know about your interest! Also, it so happens that I just put in a request for our campus library to get Building Babies b/c I am on a kick to read more reproduction outside of cultural anthropology :)