Sociology Gold: The sociology research of Goldsmiths, University of London

PhD project: Surrogacy – a new reproductive freedom? An analysis of the representation of surrogacy across TV and film genres

Candidate: Lulu Le Vay

The number of babies registered in Britain after being born to a surrogate is on the rise. In 2013, 167 babies were registered in Britain born to a surrogate mother, up from 131 in 2011. Recent data collected by the FTS (Families Through Surrogacy) from 12 overseas surrogacy clinics show an increase of 180 per cent, between 2010-2013, of intended parents from the UK using their services. In the United States, 5, 000 babies were born from surrogates between 2004-2008. In India, according to The Business Insider (September, 2013), there are an estimated 3, 000 clinics, bringing into the country in the region of $400 million per year.

This thesis explores the representations of surrogacy across TV and film genres through the textual analysis of a selection of key texts from documentary, reality TV, sitcom, soap opera, film and TV drama, and audience research. Through this analysis, and audience research with women of different ages, and from different cultural and class backgrounds, it explores if these representations are influencing the female subject’s moral and ethical position on the practice. The empirical audience research exploring these representations will also reveal, through the analysis of the audience’s reflexivity to particular texts, whether some genres have more impact over others. Further, I examine how the different genres explore the key driving forces behind surrogacy; how the cult of celebrity has impacted on the practice; and how the narratives of surrogacy across these different genres – via storylines and character portrayal – attempt to reinforce ideologies of patriarchy, motherhood, and the hetero-normative nuclear family. Additionally, the research will illuminate how the viewer is able to relate the text’s representations and discourses to their own lives, while linking to the broader extra-textual media, social, political and cultural landscape.

The theoretical underpinning employed to interpret and reveal key themes from the textual analysis and the audience findings include Bourdieu’s (1992, 1999) concepts of symbolic power, symbolic violence and social and cultural capital, Sara Ahmed’s (2010) work on affective economies, happiness and happy objects, and Lauren Berlant’s (2011) theories of cruel optimism in relation to social mobility and social inclusion. A range of feminist research on reproduction and representation will also be mobilized to aid the analysis, as will Foucault’s ideas on discipline, punishment and the confession, and Marx’s (1867) theories of estranged and alienated labour.

The textual analysis of the representations of surrogacy across TV and film, and the exploration of the reception of these texts by audiences, makes this thesis a significant and substantial contribution to the field, particularly in the context of surrogacy becoming a booming, unregulated industry with complex ethical, legal and moral repercussions within the expanding field of reproductive technology.

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