Deakin University

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Six Days in Plastic: Potentiality, Normalization, and In Vitro Embryos in the Postgenomic Age

journal contribution
posted on 2022-01-01, 00:00 authored by Tessa Moll
Part of the normalization of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) is the premise that the children born from in vitro fertilization (IVF) are no different from their counterparts conceived spontaneously. However, interest in peri-conception health and new epigenetic understandings of biological plasticity has led to some questioning the presumed irrelevance of conception in vitro, and when doing so, describing IVF children as “apparently healthy.” Taking “apparently” and “healthy” seriously, this article explores how modes of attention—ways of naming and framing embryo potentiality—shape understandings of health and normality. I contend that understanding the politics of potentiality, and how they may emerge in a postgenomic age, requires an unpacking of various modes of attention and framing. Ethnographic findings from South Africa’s fertility clinics and emerging literature on epigenetic variation in IVF conception demonstrate how, under a genetic mode of attention, IVF clinics views “abnormality” as fated, unviable, and discardable. Exploring the possibility of answering the postgenomic questions to IVF reveals structural challenges to knowing long-term health implications. Incipient attempts within the fertility clinic at managing these questions shows various strategic techniques, such as leveraging epigenetics to marketable ends and shifts to individual responsibility.



Science Technology and Human Values


1 - 24


SAGE Publications


London, Eng.







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal