SP 3 Ethnography of Human Reproduction and Single Case Studies in Threshold Areas

Scientific Research Questions

The Project adopts a qualitative and empirical approach to explore the remaking of human reproduction.

  • Can exploring human reproduction at the current normative and technological boundaries help unravel the effects of reproductive technologies on what it means to be human?
  • To what extent does the prospect of genome editing change these notions?

This sub-project examines how the human is coproduced by technology, biology, and practices of meaning making, all of which change over time. It aims to provide insight into the diversity of perspectives, actions, and interactions of the people developing, implementing, and using reproductive technologies and the histories of their emergence. It draws on a combination of approaches and methodologies from social anthropology, history, religious studies, sociology, and clinical ethics. It will also work closely with the citizen-science group by inviting participants to be part of the counselling group.

Research Areas

Empirical research in this sub-project will focus on three interrelated areas:
Emergence of reproductive medicine: Current knowledge, views, and practices of reproduction do not float free from their historical contexts. Through archival work and interviews with stakeholders, the histories of reproductive technologies in Swiss clinics will be traced and linked to broader developments in society. Whereas the early discourse on reproductive medicine was shaped by fears of the historical precedent of eugenics and racial hygiene, recent developments in the field have highlighted the potential for treating and preventing heritable diseases. Does that mean that reproductive medicine has moved from realizing fertility to optimizing it?

The meaning making of human reproduction: Human reproduction is the realm in which nature and culture most intricately interconnect. To understand these  interconnections, the project engages in ethnography of human reproduction,  analyzing the discourses, practices, and perspectives of clinic staff and researchers, patients and prospective parents, and institutions that regulate and provide reproductive care services. 

Based on the insights from the historical and qualitative studies in the first phase of the URPP H2R project, the second phase will trace the historical and global entanglements of the multifaceted Swiss situation.

Empirical Projects


The study «Meine Identität. Erfahrungen und Perspektiven von Menschen, die mit Hilfe einer Spende oder Leihmutterschaft gezeugt wurden: Eine qualitative Studie (IDENTITY)» (PDF, 158 KB) by Dr. Daniel Drewniak and Prof. Dr. Tanja Krones explores experiences and perspectives of people conceived through donation or surrogacy through a qualitative Study.


Unfulfilled Wish to have Children: Meaning-Making of Reproductive Medicine in the Light of Cultural and Religious Values

Linda Bosshart's PhD research project with Prof. Dr. Dorothea Lüddeckens "Unfulfilled Wish to have Children: Meaning-Making of Reproductive Medicine in the Light of Cultural and Religious Values"  (PDF, 78 KB)explores the perspectives of people who have an unfulfilled desire to have children and who are therefore considering the possibilities of ART (Assisted Reproductive Technologies) and/or alternative medicine. The aim of her research project is to analyze the role of religious, spiritual, and cultural values in decision- and meaning-making processes and to explore to what extent these beliefs and convictions are perceived as a resource or a burden. In her study she applies qualitative research methods, especially qualitative interviews, and participant observation. 

The expected duration of the project is from October 2021 to October 2024.


Potentialities of CRISPR: An ethnography of reproductive medicine in Switzerland

More information about this empirical project by Anina Meier and Prof. Dr. Annuska Derks will follow.