Skip to main content


Call for Papers: Conception and Its Discontents

Announcements, Fellows, Public Humanities Fellows, Public Humanities

October 19, 2022

The Motherhood and Technology Working Group at the Center for the Study of Social Difference will host an in-person conference at the SOF/Heyman on “Conception and Its Discontents” on Monday, May 8, 2023 and Tuesday, May 9, 2023. They are conceiving this theme as broadly as possible and are currently accepting proposals for paper presentations and full panels representing a wide range of disciplines and approaches. The deadline is November 30, 2022.

The full call for papers is below.

Please contact [email protected] with any questions.


Conception and Its Discontents 2023 Call for Papers

Dates Monday, May 8 - Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Host Location

Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University

Submit 250-word paper proposals or 500-word panel proposals to [email protected] by November 30, 2022. Include the phrase “Conception and Its Discontents” in the title of your email. All proposals must include your name, aliation, and email address.

Theme and Description: “Conception and Its Discontents”

The Co-Directors of the Motherhood and Technology Working Group at the Center for the Study of Social Difference, Columbia University, invite proposals for papers, panels, roundtables, and other innovative presentation formats on the theme of “Conception and Its Discontents” from scholars of every rank and relevant discipline.

Medical technologies have radically transformed the biological and social experience of motherhood. Advances in genomic and reproductive care, the circulation of novel kinship structures, the entrenchment of existing global networks of power and privilege, and the politics of contested bodily sites mark this emerging constellation.

Technological advancements have in particular impacted not just the understanding of conception, but the very process by which a human embryo is created, implanted, and matured. Egg freezing, embryo storage, IVF, and surrogacy afford women new freedoms in choosing when and how to become mothers, while also raising troubling questions about the pressures of capitalism and the extension of worklife, as well as the global inequalities present in the experience of motherhood. In addition, technologies have arisen allowing for unprecedented control over not just who becomes a mother, but what kind of embryo is allowed to be implanted and to grow. Technologies such as CRISPR and NIPT have re-introduced the question of eugenics, radically shifting the very epistemology of motherhood and what it means to be “expecting.” And contemporary abortion debates draw on technology in order to make arguments both for and against access, with imaging technologies being instrumentalized in the building of a sympathetic case for the unborn, and the very notion of a “heartbeat bill” reliant on the misreading of technologies for measuring fetal activity.

While these problems are urgent today, questions of conception and technology are by no means recent developments. The 18th century saw a flourishing of philosophical and scientific theories regarding the start of human life and its formation within the womb. Such theories relied on modern technologies, such as autopsy, to atomize and visualize the body. In the 19th and 20th centuries, eugenic medical science produced theories of reproductive dierence between diering racial and social groups, leading to forced sterilization laws in both the US and in Germany. This long history of racializing the rhetoric of fertility and motherhood continues to inuence political debates on immigration and demographic changes in the present.

We welcome proposals that engage with any of these interconnected themes. Topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • Conception
  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Eugenics and gene testing Surrogacy
  • Medical racism from con(tra)ception to birth
  • Assisted Reproductive Technology Sterilization
  • Miscarriage
  • Bioethics
  • Disability
  • Theories of fertilization Trans parenthood

Image © Loie Hollowell, courtesy Pace Gallery.