On October 23 (note: start time was changed; 2:30pm-4pm AQ 6106 Burnaby Campus), I will be giving a lecture for the Labour Studies Program and the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. I feel very privileged to be invited to give this talk at my alma mater. Here is the title and abstract! All are welcome!
Reproductive Labour in/of Science and Medicine
In labour studies, reproductive labour is typically defined as the activities involved in taking care of others on a daily basis in households. Reproductive labour, including cooking, cleaning, and socializing children, is typically unpaid as well as gendered and racialized, being performed disproportionately by women and minorities. However, in emerging research in labour studies, scholars are also increasingly paying attention to new forms of reproductive labour performed by women in conjunction with biomedicine and biological sciences. In developed countries everywhere birth rates are declining, impacting economies in profound ways and leading to shifts in public policy on labour markets, retirement, and immigration. At the same time and in the interest of mitigating these shifts, the advancement of reproductive technologies and new medical interventions into pregnancy and labour have commercialized, managed, and modernized reproduction. Women’s and fetal bodies are not only the sites of these interventions; increasingly, they are the sources of their ‘raw materials,’ which include stem cells, embryos, and other tissues of pregnancy such as placentas. The meaning of women’s labour, including their reproductive and economic labours, is thereby redefined. This lecture explores women’s labour in the context of reproductive sciences and medicine. Discussing results from two empirical research studies in placentology, or the science of placentas, the lecture explores how women are simultaneously marginalized, empowered, and interpellated into the projects of reproductive science and medicine. It also explores fundamental questions about how different academic disciplines study and theorize reproduction in a world in which science is increasingly defining and managing it. It is argued that transdisciplinary approaches to studying reproductive labour, which pursue novel methodologies and theories that are integrative of different knowledges, can help to democratize science and medicine while also advancing the health and wellbeing of women, children, families, and communities.
Rebecca Scott Yoshizawa Poster
It is now possible to download my dissertation entitled “Placentations: Agential Realism and the Science of Afterbirths” from the Queen’s Research and Learning Repository (QShare). Follow this link! And the abstract:
According to biological sciences, placentas are transient organs that are necessary for mammalian fetal development and produced by interaction of maternal and fetal cells, a process called “placentation.” The aim of this dissertation is to understand as well as elucidate effects of placentations. I employ an agential realist framework to do this analysis. As developed by Karen Barad, agential realism is a performative theory of the irreducible entanglement of matter and discourse that relates knowing and being as inseparable. Intra-action is the foundational operationalization of agential realism. Unlike interaction, which assumes that agential entities pre-exist their meeting, intra-action refers to the entanglement of mutually constituted agencies. Informed by this ‘onto-epistemology,’ I define placentation as the differential and entangled intra- and inter-species, intra- and inter-cultural, and intra- and inter-disciplinary production of placentas. This definition is ‘naturalcultural,’ presuming that nature and culture are not distinct realms occupied by distinct kinds of beings. Rather, such a duality is a performative effect of what Barad calls agential cuts enacted by the specific apparatuses that are employed to understand it. To understand placentation naturalculturally requires the breaching of disciplinary boundaries that relegate ‘culture’ as a topic proper to the social sciences and ‘nature’ to science. This dissertation breaches these boundaries, and in so doing opens up new avenues for thinking about placentations and their consequences. In order to empirically explore placentations, I interviewed and/or observed 31 scientists who study placentas, and reviewed scientific and other secondary sources. The main findings of this dissertation concern differences made by theorizing placentas in particular ways. Based on these findings, I argue that understanding placentations naturalculturally is not only a more accurate approach than the one predicating dominant scientific explanations, but also prompts new ethical, theoretical, and practical considerations concerning pregnancy, bioethics, environmentalism, health, and more.
On August 7th, 2014, I successfully defended my dissertation. It was a privilege and pleasure to have Dr. Vicki Kirby as my external examiner, Dr. Joyce Davidson as my internal examiner, Dr. Myra J. Hird as my supervisor, Dr. Cathie Krull as a committee member, Dr. Sergio Sismondo as a committee member, Dr. Rob Beamish as Department Head, and Dr. Mark Rosenberg as the defense chair. These professors made my defense a very positive and enriching experience.
I want to especially thank Dr. Myra J. Hird for her tireless supervision of my PhD throughout the years. She was instrumental in helping me make this dream come true.
I was recently asked by a friend if I have ever had, considering that I have attended university for over a decade, a professor whose ‘accent’ was too difficult to understand. I am sure that in my younger years I complained about this. As a undergraduate, I was fundamentally concerned with grades and often just wanted to be given the information I needed to get an “A.” If the way a professor spoke presented barriers to this, I felt frustrated. I do not think this way anymore. I will never forget what I learned, in a class taught by Canadian author Dione Brand, about the privileges articulated in my expectation that I should understand everything I hear. Brand held an endowed chair in the Women’s Studies department at SFU from 2000 to 2002. In a class on feminist creative writing that she taught, we read a short story (in this book by Jean Rhys, called “In the Rue de l’Arrivée”… I really had to dig into my memory and google to find it!) that had, if I can remember correctly, one or two passages written in French. This class was sometime in 2002, well before the existence of google translate. Since I do not speak French, I had no idea what the passages said, but sensed that they were central to the meaning of the story which I would have to discuss in class. During the class, another student raised their hand, asking the meaning of the passages and complaining that the publisher should have included a translation. Brand said (as I remember it), “why do you think you are entitled to understand everything you hear? Or everything you read?” These questions instantiated a shift in my perspective on the privilege of understanding. Imagine the humility behind them. My own preferred languages for speaking and hearing emerge from the sum of my personal experiences situated in larger social, political, and spatial nexuses. Others’ preferred languages emerge from theirs. Neither are “right,” and neither are “accented” – in fact, the idea of an “accent” in the first place marks the erasure of privileges which dictate whose pronunciation is the different, difficult one. It is a privilege not to understand sometimes. I am glad I don’t get to understand everything I hear. It gives me the opportunity to check who I am in relation to others, to be humbled by the experiences of others, and to revel in the space that I do not yet, and may never fully, understand.
I think that there are substantial academic and professional benefits that can be gained from the development good writing skills. As such, an area of pedagogical specialization that I am committed to developing is teaching students how to write well. I have training in writing intensive learning from Simon Fraser University, and to further cultivate my expertise, I seek out courses to teach or TA that centralize writing outcomes in assignments. Because I am always in the process of improving my own writing, I very much enjoy the mutual benefits of talking about and practicing writing skills with students.
To that end, I developed a short writing tutorial presentation which I deliver to undergraduate students who must write essays for their course assignments. I am uploading the tutorial in PDF form as a simple contribution to the ‘world out there’ and hope that it will help other teachers or students.
I normally spend about one hour exploring good writing alongside this presentation. The tutorial is most relevant for social scientific courses in the 3rd year in which students write essays in draft stages by incorporating grader feedback.
Of course I acknowledge that ideas about “good writing” are not universal. I took this into consideration when editing the presentation to upload here. For example, I originally included a slide about semicolons, but deleted it because those tricky punctuaters can be controversial…
The tutorial is here: Critical Essay Writing
I hope someone finds it useful!
I am very saddened to hear of the passing of world renown epidemiologist Dr. David Barker. I had the privilege of meeting him 2010 when he came to lecture at Queen’s University, Kingston. I was given the opportunity to present some ideas to him – just 10 minutes – regarding important intersections between sociology and his science. What a wonderful moment it was when he told me, “I completely agree with everything you’ve said.” I later wrote an article concerning the transdisciplinary and social justice potentials of the Barker hypothesis and related theories of the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD). Needless to say, his research has had a major influence on my thinking and work. Rest in peace, Dr. Barker.
I wrote a book review for the journal Public Understanding of Science of Rom Harré’s Pavlov’s Dogs and Schrödinger’s Cat: Scenes from the Living Laboratory (Oxford University Press, 2009). Here is a short excerpt:
Harré spends considerable time describing the use of plants in experiments, phenomena that demand more scholarly and public attention. He paints a picture of science teeming with diverse vital matter: animals, plants, bacteria, lichen, humans, and even “imaginary beings.” The implied thesis emphasizes research with life rather than on life.
I think the book would work well as reading material for introductory courses in science studies or animal studies.