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Culley, L, Hudson, N. and Van Rooilj, F. ( eds ) Marginalised reproduction: ethnicity, infertility and reproductive technologies . Tunbridge Wells : Earthscan , 2009 £60 224 pp . ISBN 978-1844-075-768 ( hbk ).

Anti-racism in a multi-cultural, stratified world presents the impossible task of addressing equity and difference for both individuals and groups. As Michel Wieviorka commented in a chapter in the 1997 collection Debating Cultural Hybridity (P. Werbner and T. Modood, eds, Zed Books), anti-racism ‘has to navigate between the Scylla of universalism and the Charybdis of differentialism and to encourage the continual and pragmatic search for an articulation of the two registers’ (p.149). Navigating to avoid such monsters is crucial in researching reproductive technologies and their availability or otherwise to ethnic minorities in the Western world.

As a multi-disciplinary collection, this volume offers a range of perspectives on how ethnicity, culture and infertility play out in particular contexts. As well as discussing experience of and policy around infertility, the chapters offer glimpses of the rich cultural critique available by examining the majority culture from the view-point of the involuntarily infertile minority ethnic couple.

A fear of over-fertile immigrants haunts European social democracies. The high fertility rates, pro-natalism and gendered division of labour of some minority groups sits uneasily with individualistic and anti-sexist discourses. Son preference among minorities is frowned upon and there has been a minor moral panic in British hospitals regarding the use of ante-natal scans to terminate female foetuses selectively.

Expressing sexuality in the wrong way, with excessive abandon or repression, is the basis of deep-rooted prejudice between groups. The cultural norms of regulating sexuality and reproduction do not translate easily across cultures. Well-meaning cultural relativism breaks down in the face of another group’s norms and expectations around circumcision, cousin marriage, arranged marriage or polygamy. New technologies such as ICSI or intracytoplasmic sperm injection present new means for cultural groups to misunderstand one another.

The sacrifices that migrants make to find a place in a new society are frequently justified in terms of the opportunities that will be available to the next generation. The distress of involuntary infertility is potentially compounded by a sense of privation that has been endured in vain.

The global inequalities in mortality are stark and the irony of our iniquitous world order is brought into sharp relief when minorities’ needs for reproductive assistance are considered. In wealthy nations there is pressure for reproductive technology to be made more widely available at a time when infant mortality in the majority world could be cut by low-tech interventions to improve basic sanitation. Migrants who move between these worlds are negotiating and embodying these contradictions. The experience of infertility in the rich world, where assisted reproductive technology is rationed or prohibitively expensive, may force a migrant to return to her country of origin in search of an affordable pregnancy.

Marginalized Reproduction is divided into two parts. The first five chapters rehearse general conceptual, methodological and political issues with respect to researching ethnic diversity, indicating how these apply to researching infertility. Part II is made up of six chapters describing research in different national settings, including Britain, the Netherlands and Australia, and focussing on specific responses to infertility (including, ethnomedicine and Ireland’s problematic embryo) and of ethnicity (including Turkish and Moroccan minority groups).

Chapter 5 of Part 1 by Yasmin Gunaratnam discusses difference in the research process. Her focus is on ethnic and racialised difference and how this may be relevant in negotiating access to a research site and the unfolding interpersonal transaction of fieldwork. She writes fluently about the complexities of forming relations with research participants based on common interests or experiences, while acknowledging that difference is part of the same process. Could a researcher’s identity as childless be similarly addressed in the context of research into reproduction? Unlike a racialized identity, being a parent can be an invisible or a hidden aspect of a researcher’s identity. Parallels between ethnic and parenting identities are potentially interesting because are both constructed as biologically determined and are powerfully embodied states.

Chapter 6 by Lorraine Culley and Nicky Hudson describes their research on involuntary infertility among British Asians. This is a carefully worded account that avoids essentialising the cultural tendencies described. Worries about financing treatment and a lack of information about emotional support described by British Asians are similar to those of other British service users. The chapter ends with a statement that an inadequate provision of publicly funded IVF represents one of the main difficulties faced by infertile minority ethnic couples. This implies other debates for the future. How does the hetero-normativity of assisted reproductive technology play out in minority ethnic groups? How should funding for reproductive technology compete against other priorities, particularly in the tax-funded NHS, where migrants are portrayed as a burden? Mythological monsters to be circumnavigated at a later date.