Amrita Pande

Amrita PandeWombs in labor and the Paradox of Cross Border Commercial Surrogacy

In this paper I analyze a fundamental paradox of cross border commercial surrogacy – wherein a market that literally produces humans and human relationships is critically dependent on the maintenance of a global racial reproductive hierarchy that privileges certain relationships while completing denying others. To understand the once booming market of surrogacy in India I situate it within its rather contradictory reproductive history – the post colonial state agenda of aggressive antinatalism at home coupled with the neo-liberal imperative of unrestrained fertility tourism. This national agenda resonates with a broader global population control program that frames the high fertility rates of countries in the global south as a “global danger” that needs to be controlled at whatever cost. At one level, the womb-mothers (surrogates) subvert these hegemonic discourses by taking control over their bodies and using their fertile bodies “productively”. At another level, as they align their own reproduction through decisions about fertility, sterilization and abortion, in order to (re)produce children of higher classes and privileged nations, they ultimately conform to this global imperative of reducing the fertility of lower class women in the global south. Despite these global structural inequalities, or perhaps because of it, surrogates’ creatively construct kinship ties with the baby and the intended mother. These ties cross boundaries based on class, caste and religion and sometimes even race and nation. Although powerful, I discuss the poignancy of these relationships – they disrupt hegemonic genetic and patriarchal bases of kinship ties but ultimately reify structures of inequality. In the final analysis, I bring it all together with the recent dramatic changes in the political economy of surrogacy – wherein all countries in the global south have banned the practice. Does the transnational phenomenon of surrogacy change form and nature as nations pass protectionist bans?

Amrita Pande, author of Wombs in Labor: Transnational Commercial Surrogacy in India (2014: Columbia University Press) teaches in the Sociology department at University of Cape Town. Her research focuses on the intersection of globalization and intimacy. Her work has appeared in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Gender and Society, Critical Social Policy, International Migration Review, Qualitative Sociology, Feminist Studies, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, Current Sociology, Anthropologica, PhiloSOPHIA, Reproductive BioMedicine and in numerous edited volumes and newspapers. She is currently involved in a large NRF-funded research project mapping “global fertility flows”  – flows of reproductive actors, labourers, bodies and substances (eggs, sperms, embryos) that connect the world in unexpected ways.

In her other avatar, she is an educator-performer touring the world with a multi-media production, Made in India: Notes from a Baby Farm based on her ethnographic work on surrogacy. Details of Made in India available at

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