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Whose Biological Clock? Temporal Inevitability and Assisted Reproduction in Contemporary India

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The relation between time and ageing defines the increasingly influential concept of the biological clock. This conceptualization is especially potent in relation to the reproductive body, and its expected, inevitable decline. Imagined as a ‘curse’, the ticking clock operates both as a metaphor and a tour de force in assisted reproduction in India.

In this endeavor, I am interested in seeking out the meanings of age and ageing as they come to be understood within reproduction in India. The focus is particularly on assisted conception, and the use of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as in-vitro fertilization to engage with the issue of reproductive temporality.

What forms of socio-medical imaginings influence this form of temporality? Can time and age be seen beyond the life cycle to understand how particular technologies are used to ‘reconfigure’ it?

The linkages between ageing and infertility-fertility become more marked in the infertility clinic where the diagnostic protocols and treatment offer desired routes to parenthood according to the demands of social and moral judgements. In addition, rural-urban differences, gendered expectations of familial roles and rules, and lived environments and lifestyles have a huge impact on the use and dissemination of assisted reproductive technologies in India.

Thus, in the city of Hyderabad in South India, where I did my fieldwork, clinicians encourage women to choose parenthood over professional goals in order to subvert the inevitable biological clock. This means that the lifestyle associated with working in the highly competitive and demanding information technology industry, to which many of respondents belonged, came under harsh scrutiny. On the other hand, rising cases of infertility in rural North India led IVF specialists and patients to engage in the subversion of ideas regarding aged parenthood and expected social roles linked to the life cycle.

Yet, infertility and the associated use of assisted reproductive technologies began to resemble a road to inevitability. In India where pronatalism co-exists with the overwhelming pressure towards population control, what meaning does the desire for children born through assisted reproduction carry? It is to these dilemmas that I turn to in conceptualizing the curse of the biological clock in its temporal inevitability.

This talk is part of the ReproSoc series.

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