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am grateful to Sophie for sharing such a wonderfully engaging book on what it means to understand “that labor...and nature… can only alchemize the world together by transforming one another,” and that “We are all at root responsible, and especially for the stew that is epigenetics. We are the makers of one another. And we could learn collectively to act like it” (2019: 19-20).
As seen in these sentences, there is a Harawav-ianism throughout Full Surrogacy Now that remains true to the spirit of “The Cyborg Manifesto” (even if, as Sophie has demonstrated elsewhere, Haraway’s most recent writings have lost some of that spirit in their encroaching Malthusianisms). If Sophie’s book is indeed “a disloyal, monstrous, chimerical daughter” (p. 27) of Second Wave feminism, the same could be said of its relation to Haraway, both in form and content. That form can be seen in the beautiful sentence structure and in the portmanteau words that so brilliantly assemble the histories of the present and the possibilities for future worlds. In that staged encounter between Haraway and Harvey at an AAG in 1995, Harvey notes how Haraway is able to say in one single sentence what takes him 600 pages to plod along to. Although Haraway goes on to joke that hers is a600-page sentence, there’s a truth in the statement. Similarly, each sentence in Full Surrogacy Now is a carefully-constructed affirmation of gestational labor that presages a society of inventive kinning beyond the repro-normativity of the nuclear family.
If there is a textual precision in Sophie’s writing, this is also found in the careful analysis of the various documentaries on the Akanksha Clinic, the clinical dissection of anti-surrogacy arguments and of Surrogacy-Exclusionary RadFems (SWERFS) (p. 81), and inSophie’s creative re-readings of Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex. The etymological roots of keywords are traced, as seen most closely in the amniotechnics chapter, which traces the tendrils of “amniotic fluid to the Latin liquor amnii (p 160), to the diminutive form of lamb (“as in little lambs to slaughter” p 163), and to possible Greek meanings for “a bowl or bucket in which the blood of sacrificed animals (or human offerings) was collected.” (p 163)
However, for me, it is the relationality of the book that remains its most brilliant gift to the world. Sophie states the importance of a (dialectical) cyborg relationality quite directly when distinguishing her own approach from the more family-critical anti-contractarianism of Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering (FINRRAGE). Sophie’s approach “ultimately cleaves to traditions that clashed with and superseded FINRRAGE: queer and cyborg feminisms, autonomist and social reproduction marxisms, and the Reproductive Justice movement.” (p. 55) As Sophie goes on to note, these traditions provide an important corrective – avoiding technophobia, the evisceration of class, and a blindness to cissexism, teasing out the multiplicity of relations comprising the social. That Sophie is able to develop this argument so consistently and so carefully throughout the book is a testament to her skill, insights and brilliance as a writer and researcher.
Such a relational perspective, as implied in the above, is always-already extroverted, outward looking and attendant to post-colonial, neo-colonial and settler colonial relations as they unfold in uneven ways. As with Doreen Massey’s reading of place or Gill Hart’s reading of populism, surrogacy – whether as Surrogacy™ or as Full Surrogacy Now – takes place in place through embodying and expressing relations with other places and other uneven geographies.
Such relationality always implies the possibility of another world. Hence the claim around which Chapter 6 is framed: that another surrogacy is possible. Yes, in the deeply commercial relations of the Akanksha Clinic, which Sophie analyses in such detail, Surrogacy™ is shown to thinly disguise its underlying motives through liberal feminist proclamations – captured so perfectly in Oprah’s endorsement of the clinic as “women helping women.” (p. 85) However, rather than simply rejecting surrogacy as FINRRAGE does, Sophie reconsiders how surrogacy might operate through fundamentally different sets of social relations. This is the “queer black mamahood” or “queer polymaternalism” (p. 153) Sophie turns to in the penultimate chapter. It’s also captured wonderfully in her broader vision of the reproductive commune for which comrades in reproductive justice might struggle. Sophie’s posing of the question “How do we remake pregnancy according to principles that may, as yet, still be unthinkable?” (p. 140) thereby captures this relationality and the conditions of possibility that Sophie detects within the unbearable present.
Considering such a perspective, I was constantly reminded of Diane Elson’s “Value Theory of Labor” (an ally toSophie’s gestational theory of labor) in which Elson so carefully teases out four different “aspects” of labor (framed as “antagonistic twins”social/private and abstract/concrete) before positing that in capitalist societies the abstract aspect comes to dominate. Such a framing helps Elson to specify what is distinctive about laboring within capitalist relations. Rather than those relations producing abstract labor, the former “are characterized by the dominance of the abstract aspect over other aspects of labor.” (Elson, 1979: 150) This analysis is captured so brilliantly in Elson’s conclusion:
“Marx’s analysis also recognizes the limits to the tendency to reduce individuals to bearers of value-forms [surrogates to value-forms?]. It does this by incorporating into the analysis the subjective, conscious, particular aspects of labor in the concepts of private and concrete labor; and the collective aspect of labor in the concept of social labor. The domination of the abstract aspect of labor, in the form of value, is analyzed, not in terms of the obliteration of other aspects of labor, but in terms of the subsumption of these other aspects to the abstract aspect… But the subjective, conscious and collective aspects of labor are accorded, in the analysis, a relative autonomy… The political problem is to bring together these private, concrete and social aspects of labor without the mediation of the value forms, so as to create particular, conscious collective activity directed against exploitation. Marx’s theory of value has, built into it, this possibility” (1979: 174).
This possibility, to me, also seems to be one of the antagonisms around which Sophie’s argument is constructed. She comes closest to expressing this in the conclusion to Chapter 3 when she notes the surrogate’s concrete labor is congealed within a baby, which paradoxically leads to it being expressed as a quantity of abstract labor. The political implications of this are complex and contradictory; elsewhere in the book they are also shown to be potentially liberatory.
Underlying the complexities of the non-fungibility of human life, albeit a non-fungibility that comes to be dominated by the abstract aspect of labor within Surrogacy™, Sophie writes of “the probable origin” of her “years-long pursuit of alternative – utopian – surrogacy” in a traumatic memory from childhood (p. 159). Before reading this, I had been thinking of a conversation with my Mum – also shared on the way back from a play, this time Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle – in which I think I posed a similar question to Sophie’s cheerful one from the back seat. Within the Caucasian Chalk Circle – and this isn’t in any way to obviate the complexities and problematic bases of Brecht’s conception of the feminine – a contractual relationship to child-rearing is seen to be embodied within the aristocratic figure of Natella Abashvilli. Against Natella, Brecht posits the figure of Grusha, who, echoing some of Sophie’s claims, is contingently the parent of Michael (perhaps too there is a “tragedy of worldly contingency” (p. 48) captured in the figure of Grusha whose praxis overrides the blood line that Natella herself traces). In a somewhat less nuanced version of amniotechnics, Brecht concludes the play:
“That what there is shall belong to those who are good for it, thus / The children to the maternal, that they may thrive; / The carriages to good drivers, that they are well driven; / And the valley to the waterers, that it shall bear fruit.” (Brecht, 1948)
While simultaneously linking water justice and reproductive justice in the way that Sophie urges us to, Brecht also seems to open the way for the queer polymaternalism, the “full surrogacy now” that Sophie proposes. Just as Brecht’s open reading of dialectics suggests the ways in which praxis might dissolve dominant worldviews, so Full Surrogacy Now suggests new ways of “‘becoming with’ as a practice of ‘becoming worldly’” (Haraway, 2008: 95).
There is so much more within the book to discuss. I would have loved to delve more into the lingering question Sophie poses around why capitalism appears unable to survive without the family. I would have loved to explore more around the inventive kinning that is proposed (I’m sure Bini Adamczak’s Communism for Kids, which Sophie helped to translate, would be one such bed-time resource to be shared by oddkin everywhere – it’s certainly one enjoyed by my bio-kin). And I would have loved to tease out the implications for political ecology, post-humanism and more. But these conversations will continue. The book is the most fantastic, brilliantly crafted paean to a worldly praxis that shatters existing relations while presaging new forms of living based on love, care, and comradeship.
Caucasian Chalk Circle, 1948, Play, by Bertolt Brecht.
Elson D (1979) The Value Theory of Labor. In: Elson D (ed) Value: The Representation of Labor in Capitalism. London: CSE Books.
Haraway, DJ (2008) When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Lewis S (2019) Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family. New York: Verso Books.