Art Imitating Study

Inherently generative, the placenta is sometimes represented or used in artistic practice. Some people are grossed out by this, while others appreciate commemorations of this special organ that is integral to bringing a new life into the world. In my case, the placenta is my object of study and I spend a lot (A LOT) of time thinking about it from a scientific, theoretical and philosophical standpoint. For a gift for generous new friends, and as a way to think placenta from a different angle, I stitched this:

Cross Stitched Placenta by Rebecca Scott

Text on the side reads “Thank you” – to my friends, and to this thing I’ve had the pleasure of studying for the past three years.

Placenta as Protagonist

A casual fireside conversation about the placenta with a new friend last summer inspired a wonderful short story about studying placenta. It’s by Chris Benjamin, author of the new novel Drive-by Saviours. The story is a wonderful mashup of worlds… just like the placenta is a mashup of biological and social worlds occupied by mother, father, and fetus. I’m utterly impressed at Chris’ insight into this enigmatic organ which is typically so little understood and appreciated, and a little tickled that my commentary on the placenta reached into the world of literature. An excerpt from the story:

“Well,” she said, “Thank God I don’t work with the Kaili of Central Sulawesi. I’d never get the chance to study a placenta if everybody buried them.”

I smiled and nodded, wondered if she was perhaps a bit crazy. I hoped so. Crazy women liked me.

“I’m a placental scientist,” she said.

I nodded, as if that was only natural, but the revelation shocked me. “Small world,” I said. “I study ethnographic interpretations of the placenta.”

“Excuse me?”

“Um, I study various indigenous cultures and their treatments of the placenta. What it means to them and what they do with it.”

“Fascinating,” she said.

I smiled.

Chris is always looking for avenues to publish material like this. Contact him here.

IFPA Annual Conference “Fetus and Placenta: A Perfect Harmony”

I will have the privilege and pleasure of attending the upcoming International Federation of Placenta Associations (IFPA) conference entitled “Fetus and Placenta: A Perfect Harmony” held in Santiago de Chile this October. I’m looking forward to hearing the many talks and meeting with the diverse delegates at the conference. I’m also keen to talk about my project on the sociology of the science of the placenta with any delegates that are interested.

If social scientists and scientists were to collaborate more meaningfully, significant gains could be made in fields such as maternal and fetal health. Yet as it stands, such collaborations face significant barriers, as social scientists and scientists struggle to understand the approaches, languages, and priorities of the other. I’m motivated to find out “how science works” and to bring this knowledge back to sociology in the hopes of removing some of these barriers; likewise, I try to bring sociological approaches and knowledge to my scientific collaborators and colleagues. To this end, I am working on elucidating the ways in which scientific knowledge about the placenta is developed and employed, finding out what motivates scientists to study the placenta, exploring the history of the science of the placenta, gauging public understandings of the science of maternal and fetal health, and forging transdisciplinary collaborations between scientists and social scientists.

I conduct interviews with scientists and do participant observation in scientific laboratories that study the placenta. I’d be very pleased to share more about my study and hear any perspectives and ideas from scientists (including graduate students) working with the placenta. I can be contacted at

Update: I had an exceptionally rich experience at the conference. I could not be more appreciative of the many people I met and talked to at the conference. I look forward to the conference next year!