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URPP Human Reproduction Reloaded | H2R

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

IDENTITY (by Dr. Daniel Drewniak & Prof. Dr. Tanja Krones)
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) 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 (by Linda Bosshart &Prof. Dr. Dorothea Lüddeckens)
Linda Bosshart's PhD research project "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 (by Anina Meier & Prof. Dr. Annuska Derks)
The empirical PhD research project “Potentialities of CRISPR: An ethnography of reproductive medicine in Switzerland”  explores gene-editing procedures (CRISPR/Cas9) in reproductive medicine in Switzerland from an ethnographic perspective. A case study is used to follow the different discourses, practices and actors involved at the moment of negotiating a (future) use of genome editing in human reproduction. It also traces the historical development of CRISPR and looks at applications in medicine, research and agriculture. This allows for contouring of the question of what it means to be and become human at the moment of a possible application of gene editing. The main research question is: How are reproductive and gene-editing technologies developed, applied, and discussed daily in IVF and CRISPR laboratories and clinics? A focus lies on the sub question of how experts negotiate and make futures through the technology of CRISPR, and what role expertise plays in the shaping of certain future imaginaries.

Through participant observation and interviews with health care professionals, scientists, including those involved in the URPP H2R, as well as other actors, the PhD project aims to gain insights into the question of how the good life, but also possible risk, is negotiated in reproductive clinics and laboratories in Switzerland through the making and editing of human DNA. What is the role of scientists and their expertise in shaping futures and in inscribing culture in biological processes? On a theoretical level, the project seeks to make a contribution to the Anthropology of Futures, Technologies and the Good Life.


Altruistic Surrogacy.!? (by Lea Heistrüvers & Prof. Dr. Tanja Krones)
The PhD research project “Altruistic Surrogacy.!?”  explores the experience of altruistic/non-commercial surrogate mothers. By conducting qualitative interviews this project focuses on the perspectives of altruistic surrogates. This project will be enriched by a potentially high degree of internationality, transcultural and -social aspects, as well as religious diversity. The expected duration of this research project is from November 2022 till November 2025.


Reproductive Loss and Bereavement in Medically Assisted Reproduction (LoMAR) (by Dr. Julia Böcker & PD Dr. Nina Jakoby)
The sociological study seeks to understand experiences of reproductive loss and grief by intended parents who have undergone a fertility treatment (PDF, 143 KB). On the one hand, reproductive loss refers to miscarriage and other forms of embryo or baby loss. On the other hand, failed reproduction often goes hand in hand with ‘secondary losses’, e.g., loss of a happy partnership or an identity as a future parent. Mourning involuntary childlessness, unsuccessful fertility treatment or pregnancy loss may also be rooted in failing social norms and ideals regarding life-course, femininity, natural parenthood or genetic relation. By conducting narrative interviews with affected women (and their partners), we explore the social conditions, modes and meanings of loss and bereavement as well as coping strategies within the context of fertility treatment.

Weiterführende Informationen

Flyer Verlust und Trauer in der Kinderwunschbehandlung

More about Flyer Verlust und Trauer in der Kinderwunschbehandlung

Flyer Unerfüllter Kinderwunsch

More about Flyer Unerfüllter Kinderwunsch

Co-Leaders Ethnography of Human Reproduction and Single Case Studies in Threshold Areas