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The Foetal Condition: A Sociology of Engendering and Abortion

The Foetal Condition: A Sociology of Engendering and Abortion

Luc Boltanski

ISBN: 978-0-745-68349-2

Oct 2013

448 pages

$23.99

Description

Abortion is a contentious issue in social life but it has rarely been subjected to careful scrutiny in the social sciences. While the legalization of abortion has brought it into the public domain, it still remains a sensitive topic in many cultures, often hidden from view and rarely spoken about, consigned to a shadowy existence.

Drawing on reports gathered from hospital settings and in-depth interviews with women who have had abortions, Luc Boltanski sets out to explain the ambiguous status of this social practice. Abortion, he argues, has to remain in the shadows, for it reveals a contradiction at the heart of the social contract: the principle of the uniqueness of beings conflicts with the postulate of their replaceable nature, a postulate without which no society would achieve demographic renewal.

This leads Boltanski to explore the way human beings are engendered and to analyze the symbolic constraints that preside over their entry into society. What makes a human being is not the foetus as such, ensconced within the body, but rather the process by which it is taken up symbolically in speech - that is, its symbolic adoption. But this symbolic adoption presupposes the possibility of discriminating among embryos that are indistinguishable. For society, and sometimes for individuals, the arbitrary character of this discrimination is hard to tolerate. The contradiction is made bearable, Boltanski shows, by a grammatical categorization: the “project” foetus - adopted by its parents, who use speech to welcome the new being and give it a name - is juxtaposed to the “tumoral” foetus, an accidental embryo that will not be the object of a life-forming project.

Bringing together grammar, narrations of life experience and an historical perspective, this highly original book sheds fresh light on a social phenomenon that is widely practised but poorly understood.

Introduction 1

1 he Anthropological Dimensions of Abortion 11

2 The Two Constraints on Engendering 39

3 Understandings 60

4 The Parental Project 90

5 Constructing Foetal Categories 125

6 The Justification of Abortion 158

7 The Experience of Abortion 193

Conclusion: Forgetting Abortion 233

Notes 251

Works Cited 299

Index 317

'An utterly original treatment of an interminably discussed issue. Combining anthropological reflection with interviews, social theorizing with hospital reports, Boltanski produces an account that recasts the question of abortion, even as it cannot fail to annoy all sides in the current debate.'
Nancy Fraser, The New School for Social Research

'The Foetal Condition is not a political intervention, it does not rehash for us the endless arguments for or against abortion. Rather, it is about a far more startling topic: the connection between abortion and the process of engendering, becoming a member of the human species, at once generic and particular. Using a large range of anthropological evidence, Boltanski shows that societies have always practiced abortion, and that the silences, prohibitions or tacit acceptation of abortion touch on the troubling question of how societies define a ""human being"". This highly original book cannot fail to become a classic among anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, and ethicists.'
Eva Illouz, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Abortion is a contentious issue in social life but it has rarely been subjected to careful scrutiny in the social sciences. Here, Boltanski, a leading sociologist, seeks to develop a sociology of birth and abortion.
  • He draws on reports gathered from hospital settings and in-depth interviews with women who have had abortions.
  • He argues that abortion, even though legal in many countries, has to remain in the shadows, for it reveals a contradiction at the heart of the social contract: the principle of the uniqueness of beings conflicts with the postulate of their replaceable nature, a postulate without which no society would achieve demographic renewal.
  • This highly original work on a central and contentious issue will be of particular interest to students in sociology, cultural theory and gender studies; it will also appeal to a wider readership given the sensitivity and topicality of the subject matter.