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Reimagining the Reproductive Citizen Before and After the Reproductive Turn

Ina Batzke

Pages 443 - 461



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

This essay focuses on literary conceptions of the “reproductive citizen.” In a reading of two utopian and feminist reimaginations of reproduction, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "Herland" (1915) and Octavia E. Butler’s "Fledgling" (2005), traditional connotations of reproduction as furthering the nation by offspring that resembles the current citizenry are linked to the twenty-first-century renewal of reproductive ideologies, in particular in the context of reproduction technology. "Herland"’s utopian world, in which women reproduce through parthenogenesis and create a female-only society, underscores a deeply eugenic form of reproduction as the underlying mechanism that accounts for the ‘perfect’ utopia. Of course, "Herland" was published decades before any scientific debates about artificial reproduction were even feasible. "Fledgling", in contrast, was published after the so-called “reproductive turn” and casts a utopian vision of a future where artificial reproduction is possible and multispecies family-making is encouraged. Nevertheless, this utopia also suffers from social constructs of race that are disguised as biological facts—and thus depends on similar eugenic negotiations regarding who can or rather should be a reproductive citizen. In contrast to "Herland", however, "Fledgling" interrogates these long-standing interconnections between reproduction, race, and utopia via its protagonist, Shori, a Black human-vampire hybrid. While genetic engineering caused Shori to occupy a position between reproductive perfection and racial contamination in the first place, the eventual acceptance of Shori as a “new reproductive citizen” enables a careful entanglement of biological traits and their transference into the social and political realm.

Keywords: reproduction; reproductive turn; utopia; feminism; reproductive citizen

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