Going Into labor: (un)making mothers in India's transnational surrogacy markets
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In this study, I am concerned with the practices of representation and labor control that enable the extraction of value from the bodies of working class women in India’s transnational surrogacy markets. Recent ethnographic studies on transnational surrogacy in India have conceptualized surrogacy as a form of waged labor and focused on critically examining the structure of surrogacy markets and the production of mother-workers. This study builds on these ethnographic approaches towards surrogacy as labor, and analyzes the discourses and the practices of labor control that enable service providers to extract value from the women’s bodies; a large part of this value accrues from their treatment as disposable. I begin by analyzing the discourses around surrogate mothers in three key sites of representation, that is, the news media, service provider websites and the draft legislation that is set to regulate the use of assisted reproductive technologies in India. Subsequently, I critically examine my interactions with service providers in New Delhi to unearth the mechanisms of disciplining and surveillance that are used to control, discipline and ensure productivity of the surrogate labor. My findings suggest that surrogate mothers are always framed within the competing discourses of “exploitation” and “empowerment” in the press, while the service providers represent them within the frames of “opportunity”. In the draft legislation, the rights of surrogate mothers are based on the market-based assumptions about reproductive autonomy and the disposability of working class women’s bodies. A critical examination of my interactions with service providers, and their recruitment and disciplining strategies, reveals the ways by which labor is effectively disciplined and controlled for value extraction. Thus, this study highlights some of the ways by which working class women’s labor is exploited and their bodies are treated as disposable. Future studies should attend to the ways in which the surrogate mothers experience these practices that they are subject to and whether, or not, disrupt the production of the “ideal” mother-worker.