The Oocyte Economy

The Changing Meaning of Human Eggs

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: Published: May 2019

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Science and Technology Studies > Feminist Science Studies, Sociology

In recent years increasing numbers of women from wealthy countries have turned to egg donation, egg freezing, and in vitro fertilization to become pregnant, especially later in life. This trend has created new ways of using, exchanging, and understanding oocytes—the reproductive cells specific to women. In The Oocyte Economy Catherine Waldby draws on 130 interviews---with scientists, clinicians, and women who have either donated or frozen their oocytes or received those of another woman---to trace how the history of human oocytes' perceived value intersects with the biological and social life of women. Demonstrating how oocytes have come to be understood as discrete and scarce biomedical objects open to valuation, management, and exchange, Waldby examines the global market for oocytes and the power dynamics between recipients and the often younger and poorer donors. With this exploration of the oocyte economy and its contemporary biopolitical significance, Waldby rethinks the relationship between fertility, gendered experience, and biomedical innovation.


"What Waldby presents so compellingly is that there is an oocyte economy. Eggs have value and meaning, indeed they have different values and meanings in different contexts." — Jane Maienschein, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

"The Oocyte Economy is not only a rigorous study but a riveting read." — Claire Horn, Women's Review of Books

"This book offers a fascinating foray into the changing meaning of human oocytes for Western women and reproductive scientists. As such, it is a must-read for scholars of reproduction, and for related courses in anthropology, sociology, gender studies, and the history of science and medicine."

— Marcia C. Inhorn, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"A thought-provoking and original examination of the emergence of an economy premised on deep cultural beliefs about the meaning of oocytes.… Likely to become required reading in medicine, gender, and in the interdisciplinary field of reproduction." — Rosanna Hertz, Society

“An exceptionally compelling account of the emergence of an economy that has fully disrupted the conventional mechanics of family formation and romantic narratives of singular mother-child relations. In this beautifully written and elegantly argued work, Catherine Waldby invites us to consider the oocyte as potent actuator of past and present identities and new, previously unimagined forms of distributed maternity and to explore the multiply constituted landscape of complex parental rights and obligations to which its use gives rise.” — Bronwyn Parry, author of Trading the Genome: Investigating the Commodification of Bio-Information

“Drawing on extensive fieldwork and rich empirical material, The Oocyte Economy follows the manifold trajectories of women's reproductive cells, investigating how they intersect with matters of race, gender and class. Catherine Waldby's new book not only provides the best overview to date of how oocytes are mobilized in multiple forms of commercialization and capitalization, but significantly expands our understanding of contemporary reproductive biopolitics.” — Thomas Lemke, author of Foucault’s Analysis of Modern Governmentality: A Critique of Political Reason

“Catherine Waldby continues her meditation on tissue economies with this brilliant examination of women's reproductive cells. Beautifully written, this book will be of interest to anyone who cares about the politics of reproduction, and it is likely to become required reading for scholars of gender, medicine, and embodiment.” — Rene Almeling, author of Sex Cells: The Medical Market for Eggs and Sperm


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Catherine Waldby is Director of the Research School of Social Sciences at Australian National University and the author and coauthor of several books, including Clinical Labor: Tissue Donors and Research Subjects in the Global Bioeconomy, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction  1
1. Temporal Oocytes: Fertility and Deep Time  23
2. Twentieth-Century Oocytes: Experiment and Experience  41
3. Precious Oocytes: IVF and the Deficit Spiral  64
4. Global Oocytes: Medical Tourism and the Transaction of Fertility  88
5. Cold-Chain Oocytes: Vitrification and the Formation of Corporate Egg Banks  119
6. Private Oocytes: Personal Egg Banking and Generational Time  114
7. Innovation Oocytes: Therapeutic Cloning and Mitochondrial Donation  161
Conclusion  191
Appendix  199
Notes  205
References  211
Index  231
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0472-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0411-0