Biopolitics and reproduction

Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture

Biopolitics and reproduction

In this interdisciplinary research group, we engage in a variety of questions related to reproduction and the ways in which the production of life is regulated in a historical, international and contemporary Norwegian perspective. Topics that are of interest for us is for example how biopolitical regulations are justified and if and how these justifications are related to certain understandings of gender and body, how innovative biotechnology is producing new understandings of nature and normality, and how conceptions of demography and national fertility numbers relate to international migration and the climate crisis.

10 Mar 2020 Sonia Ahmadi

Current Projects

Current Projects

Articulations of surrogacy on the websites of surrogacy agencies and ART clinics in Russia 

The project concerns local assemblages that enable transnational surrogacy to Russia with a main focus on the surrogate, conceptualised as the material-semiotic generative node. While websites of the surrogacy agencies and reproductive clinics serve as an entry point into the worldings of Russian surrogacy, the project builds empirically on the range of data (national legislation, interviews, websites).

The project asks whether and how the status of the surrogate as human is challenged in the contemporary worldings of surrogacy in Russia provided by the agencies and clinics.
The project is theoretically anchored in new materialism.

Contact person: Maria Kirpichenko


The aim of this project is to explore what has – until quite recently – been a politically and publicly tacit relation between national reproduction and climate change, but which is an emerging topic both in politics and in the general public. In the first phases of the project we analyse public discourses on fertility and family planning in contemporary Norway. The next step is to interview various experts, stakeholders and interest groups, as well as Norwegian lay people. The project has a comparative dimension which is operationalized through a collaboration with gender researchers at Ochanomizu University in Tokyo (Norway-Japan: Bridging Research and Education in Gender Equality and Diversity).

Contact person: Guro Korsnes Kristensen

The project studies how Norwegian women are considering the possibility to become an egg donor, following egg donation as recently legally acclaimed. Qualitative interviews with women ask about their attitudes to egg donation related to perceptions of their body, of parenthood and kinship, including gendered conceptions and expectations of these matters.

Participants: Merete Lie (Project Leader) and Guro Korsnes Kristensen

Duration: 2022-2025

Completed Projects

Completed Projects

The (Trans)Gender Equality Paradox: An assessment of the Gender Recognition Act in Norway

PhD project, france rose hartline (completed in 2020)

france researched the effect of the Gender Recognition Act of July 2016 which allows individuals in Norway to change their legal gender without medical sterilization or state assessment. Based on the post-structuralist framework of queer theory, france's research examined how trans people's personal experiences and social roles have been shaped by the act. Particular focus was given to the socio-legal framework that shapes cultural understandings of gender.

Through interviews with trans people who have changed their legal gender after the act was implemented, and an analysis of the change in the law and associated material, france sought to demonstrate how subjectivities are materialized through gendered citizenship. His goal was to both explore the connection between legal identity and personal experiences, as well as contribute to increased knowledge in public and state discussions about which changes might be the best for the Norwegian trans movement.

"The social meaning of children". Fertility, gender and class

NFR/FRISAM 2009-2012

Project leaders: Anne Lise Ellingsæter UiO, An-Magritt Jensen NTNU, Merete Lie NTNU

The objective of the project was to increase insight into structural and cultural conditions that affect the choice to have children with a focus on gender and class. We asked why people have children and what children mean to them, and we studied the choice to have children as a process that includes both negotiations and ambivalence. Emphasis is placed on the interaction between cultural and economic conditions, and to what extent this leads to different decision-making processes among women and men and within different socio-economic groups.

Qualitative data was collected from 90 informants aged 25-35 from two of the largest cities in Norway, and divided into women and men in working-class and upper-middle-class occupations. There was a unanimous opinion that the decision about children must be the couple's joint decision (same-sex couples and single people were not included in the project). This signals an increased cultural awareness of fatherhood and equality in responsibility for children. The time for parenthood is important, and having children before both are ready threatens the individual's autonomy. Through a survey of the importance of the informants' social networks, we found that men rarely talk to friends about having children, while women prepare the decision through conversations with friends. The study also examined the financial conditions for the choice to have children, and to what extent family policy arrangements are included in these considerations. Having children appeared to be of little financial risk and family policy arrangements are to a small extent drawn into the informants' concrete plans and choices about having children. But the fact that family policy was of significant importance is nevertheless confirmed indirectly: across class divisions, the schemes are taken for granted, and the welfare state schemes a central foundation for parenthood.

An anthology based on collaboration with researchers in Europe analyzed the choice to have children, including countries with very low (Italy, Germany) versus relatively high fertility (Nordic, France): Anne Lise Ellingsaeter, An-Magritt Jensen & Merete Lie (eds): "The Social Meaning of Children and Fertility Change in Europe". Routledge 2013

"The Other Fathers". About fatherhood and masculinity among minority ethnic men in the gender equality country Norway.

(NTNU/HF, 2010 – 2016)

PhD project, Anette Hoel

The dissertation's main problem was: How do minority ethnic men in Norway understand and manage their fatherhood? 

The empirical starting point for answering the problem is qualitative interviews with 24 men from different ethnic backgrounds. The fact that the Norwegian population is increasingly multicultural means that there are variations in lifestyles and values. In the work with data collection and analysis of the material, I encountered methodological challenges in capturing the complexity of situations in general, and the complex, ambiguous and diverse ways of being a father as an ethnic minority in the gender equality country Norway in particular. This led me to become aware that research on variation in multicultural society brings with it questions about procedures for scientific knowledge production. The thesis consists of four independent scientific works. A method article was presented first, because it deals with what has become the main line of the thesis: an argument for a theoretical, methodological and analytical approach to complexity. The next three articles presented were developed in mutual interaction with the method article. Thematically, the articles dealt with attitudes to the father quota, cultural hybridization in fatherhood, and understandings of "the good father".

A "two-egg" work: Technopolitical negotiations on fertilized eggs and human medical biotechnology

PhD project, Marie Antonsen

Human medical biotechnology has been a turbulent field of science and research in Norway for the past 30 years, and political regulation of it has proven to be very challenging. Much of the problem has been linked to the use of fertilized eggs in research and treatment. The use of fertilized eggs in human medical biotechnology opens up a development where one, put at the forefront, can create life and take life, extend, improve and reshape life. This part of the biotechnological development is therefore understood as useful and necessary, but at the same time also challenging and dangerous for our humanity. A fertilized egg is described both as a human life with full rights, and as a highly potent research object. There are therefore constant negotiations about the use of these eggs and their constitution. In other words, the fertilized egg appears as a very unstable entity, which challenges basic categories in our world.

It is therefore not just the fertilized egg itself or its use that is negotiated in these conflicts. The discussions about human medical biotechnology can be understood as controversies, where our established knowledge of what constitutes a life, a good life, good research and a good society, has been greatly destabilized. The boundaries between various dichotomies such as life and death, nature and culture, fact and value, science and politics are at stake. This instability gives birth to a lot of work, which is about getting these new and potentially risky entities and practices located and reconfigured into (bake?) places where they can once again be understood and controlled.

In this project, I analyzed the actor network that is "interested in" the fertilized eggs, I examined actors and institutions that work with and for it in various ways. I asked, In which places and in which rooms is this work done? Who is doing it and how? What effects does this work seem to have? By following the fertilized egg in this work, I analyzed the connections and translations it is part of, also understood as practices and effects. I sought to de- and reconstruct the montage (the set of connections) that this field constitutes.

Reproductive relationships: Gender and reproduction in change

RCN/ Program for gender research 2009-2013

Employees: Merete Lie, project manager; Kristin H. Spilker, postdoctoral fellow; Malin Noem Ravn, researcher.

In the project, we examined how equality was understood in the processes leading up to becoming parents. We studied whether reproduction is a field where we meet the limit for equality - in the sense that the understanding of the biological body is marked as a limit-setter. On the one hand, cultural and technological changes open the way to creating new types of families, such as when same-sex couples have children 'together'. In the case of heterosexual couples, reproductive technology has helped to give more people the opportunity to create traditional families with mother, father, child. Therefore, we can say that reproductive technology partly changes and partly maintains the distribution of roles in reproduction.

Our research showed that today fertility treatment had been included in what we understood as common and accepted ways of having children. Our interviews showed that one was not considered infertile until they had tried fertility treatment - whereas previously one was considered infertile if they needed such treatment.

Lie, Merete; Lykke, Nina (2017). Assisted Reproduction Across Borders. Feminist Perspectives on Normalizations, Disruptions and Transmissions. Routledge. 2017. ISBN 978-1-138-67464-6.

To read more about the project, we refer to the final report for the project.

Inside out: New images and new ideas about the body

Funded by NFR/KULVER 2010-2014

Employees: Merete Lie, project manager; Anja Johansen, PhD; Manuela Perrotta, postdoctoral fellow.

The project studied scientific images at the micro level; their production and use in different contexts: in laboratories, in medical practice in fertility clinics, and in art and science museums. These were images of phenomena that are invisible to the human eye, but which, with the help of electron microscopes with enormous magnification and built-in photo technology, appeared as traditional photographs. The images were used in information activities, for example about assisted reproduction and cancer treatment, in popular science, and they had also found their way into advertising and art. Scientific images and imaging techniques were not only used in research but had become indispensable in many types of medical practice. The images were also used in information material to illustrate the course of diseases and medical treatment or to inform about new research. Within assisted reproduction, both the development of the methods and their implementation in practice depended on being able to see egg and sperm cells under a microscope, and in the fertility clinic the patients also got to look at their own cells.

Insight into the production process tells about the truth value of the images; that is, which elements are made visible, what remains invisible, and how realistic the images are. The professional view is shaped in an interaction between the researcher's prior knowledge and the observations in the microscope, and in this interaction between knowing and discovering, the prior knowledge contributes to the shaping of the research objects.

A popular genre is portrait-like images of cells where a single cell is depicted against a dark or neutral background. In images within this tradition, each individual cell appears as a definable unit and with an existence independent of the human body. Today's cell images contribute to each individual cell appearing as individual and independent of the body. The images help cells materialize; that is, cells are transformed from abstract theory about how organic tissues are built to appear as identifiable objects. The images contribute to a cultural process where the human body is increasingly understood at a micro level with cells, genes and chromosomes as the vital elements in the understanding of reproduction and the body's functions.

Film: "The beautiful, the true and the good. A film about medical images."

External site for Inside Out

The body (re)mediated: Scientific images of the body in art, media and popular science

(NFR/KULVER 2010-2014)

PhD project, Anja Johansen

The project was part of the Inside Out project. New images and new conceptions of the body (Prof. Merete Lie), and investigated how new visualization technologies contribute to redefining the body through making previously invisible phenomena and processes visible.

Various imaging technologies and visualizations have opened up new sensory and knowledge-based access to the environment, and are playing an increasingly large role in natural science research, especially biomedicine. The new medical images of the body's interior are reproduced and frequently quoted in the press, advertising and various popular science formats. In recent decades, artists have also taken an interest in scientific images and visualization technologies, and many today collaborate with researchers in their projects.

With theoretical perspectives from visual culture and science studies, in this project I undertook a critical examination of the exchanges between the spheres of art, science and popular science in the production of images of and knowledge about the body. In other words, the purpose was to study how the human body was staged, (re)mediated and interpreted, in the interaction between, among others, researchers, (bio)artists, medical practitioners and journalists. Central questions were therefore: How are scientific visualizations of the body at and below the cellular level cited and transformed in art, media and popular science? Are there important differences between science's visualizations of and narratives about the body, and those expressed in art, the media and popular science? If so, what are these differences? To what extent can contemporary art experiments contribute to new representations of and ideas about the body?

Family planning – behind the numbers. Gendered discourses about reproductive processes among Iranians and Iraqis in 'equal' Norway

PhD project, Funded by NTNU/HF

Researcher: Guro Kornes Kristensen, defended 28.10. 2011

The subject of the dissertation was family planning in multicultural Norway.

Non-Western minorities have a reproductive behavior that differs from ethnic Norwegians. This has been seldom explored, and there is a need to understand more. The aim of the thesis was therefore to generate more knowledge about reproductive processes among our new compatriots of non-Western origin. I investigated and sought to explain how the reproductive patterns among non-Western immigrants in Norway could be understood. Or, as stated in the project's title, I wanted to get behind the numbers to see what lies here.

Furthermore, I looked at the relevant reproduction patterns as a source of ideas and negotiations about gender and sexuality. In this way, the project not only helped to better understand the reproduction patterns among non-Western minorities, but also provided increased knowledge about the ethnic other and about various integration opportunities and challenges.