Christina Weis

IMG_2994 (3)‘Fertile’, ‘docile’, yet undesired. Ethnic stratifications of the ‘other’, non‑Slavic surrogacy worker


Commercial gestational surrogacy is a process whereby a woman receives financial compensation for gestating a baby, with whom she shares no genetic link, for another person (the client parent) to raise. In Russia, commercial gestational surrogacy is legal and the country often referred to as a ‘reproductive paradise.’ While other countries, such as India, Mexico and Thailand, have clamped down on (commercial) surrogacy, Russia continues to permit the purchase of the women’s reproductive labour for citizens and foreigners alike, and even facilitates surrogacy arrangements for gay individuals despite the government’s homophobic agenda. Surrogacy arrangements in Russia are increasing in popularity for client parents from abroad. On a global scale, (cross-border) fertility treatments show a clear trend of reproducing whiteness (Harrison 2016; Speier 2016). In surrogacy specifically that means that ‘brown’ and ‘black’ bodies are deployed to reproduce ‘white’ babies for ‘white’ customers.

Based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork amongst surrogacy agents, surrogacy workers, client parents and medical staff in St Petersburg, Russia, I show that also the markets in surrogacy in St Petersburg are ethnically stratified, but propel a different trend of reproducing whiteness: women of Central Asian origin, in Russia derogatively referred to as ‘Eastern’ and ‘black’ are othered and marginalised, and their bodies and reproductive labour coded as ‘not good enough’, ‘unclean’, ‘too unreliable’, and even ‘too dangerous’ to gestate for Slavic (‘white’) client parents. I argue that the ethnic stratification of surrogacy in Russia propels the reproduction of whiteness not by exploiting the bodies and labour of ‘women of colour,’ but by marginalising Central Asian women in the markets in surrogacy. In consideration of changing global reproductive flows, such regional differences demand closer attention.

Christina Weis is a social and cultural anthropologist and member of the Centre of Reproduction Research at De Montfort University, UK. She is interested in medical anthropology, social aspects of in/fertility and reproduction, ARTs, reproductive justice, women’s rights, and post‑socialism. She submitted her PhD thesis on commercial, gestational surrogacy in St Petersburg, Russia, in September 2017. In April 2016, she joined Dr Michal Nahman on the ethnographic research project ‘ReproMigrants’, studying migrant women workers’ experiences of egg provision in Catalonia. She is currently also a research assistant to the SAPPHIRE project ‘Moving through motherhood: Supporting women to engage in physical activity during and after pregnancy’ at the University of Leicester and to REELER (Responsible Ethical Learning with Robotics) at De Montfort University.

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