The research project employs the anthropological study of surrogate motherhood in order to address the potential merging of ethnographic study and digital fiction. It is organized along two interrelated strands of theoretical and methodological questions.

STRAND 1 Key Themes

 

The first phase entails literature review and small-scale ethnographic study in order to create a data tank from which the second phase will quarry. Participant observation and semi-structured interviews will be organized around the following themes:

Conceptualizations of motherhood: Explore the cultural meaning attributed to pregnancy and birth in the Greek ethnographic context and detect to what extent this conceptualization is upset by a “paradox” experience of joint motherhood in terms of social and emotional agency. The final text aspires to create a narrative space where corporeal and social motherhood are intertwined.

The womb as gift and as commodity: Discuss the varying ways of becoming a surrogate mother, within a wide spectrum that ranges from altruistic offer (a ‘gift’ in anthropologically traditional terms) to a commodification of the human body (as in the practices of ‘womb rental’).

 

The medical discourse: Document the ways that the medical discourse about low fertility and surrogate motherhood, and the female body as a whole, intervenes in the experience of pregnancy and motherhood.

 

Social inequality: Analyze the social, ethnic and other demographic characteristics of the women who partake in this exchange and determine the differences that emerge in terms of social inequality.

Kinship transformations: Document the emerging forms of kinship that subjects feel they engage in, through recently-available forms of becoming a parent.

STRAND 2 Key Themes

The second phase scrutinizes fiction ethnography and digital textuality. Research-based hypertext ethnography sheds a fresh light on a set of questions that have preoccupied anthropology since the rise of cultural critique, including the textual representation of subjects, authorship, dialogical ethnography, limited access to research findings and new modalities of sociality and readership. The central questions in the second research phase are:

Representation: The problem of representational arbitrariness that has troubled anthropology for over a century is re-appraised as an experimental focal point through which to talk about research subjects in the language of literature. The fictional representation of ethnographic data interrogates the very limits between objectivity and subjectivity as imprinted in 'scientific' and 'literary' language in the past decades. The project wishes to explore the thesis that the world of the imaginary (fiction-writing) could have more possibility to help us experience and understand the real (ethnographic findings).

Authorship: Since academic writing has often failed to engage with the ways of apprehension of non-academic audiences, research-based fiction may be an answer to a wider politics of representation and sharing research findings. The multi-vocal ethnography achieved through the use of multiple media has been shown to enrich and nuance the concept of the ethnographic text. Even though fiction writing may be viewed as promoting the singularity of authorship on the part of the ethnographer, the replacement of academic jargon with literary fiction might actually diminish the effect of this authoritative voice and re-shift the focus on research subjects’ experience (here: surrogate motherhood).

 

Readership: In its digital form, ethnographic hypertext allows for the possibility of certain key functions in contemporary writing and readership, such as multilinearity, multivocality and multimodality. The production of theory-free narration thus promulgates the subtle transformations which are taking place in the social sciences where more and more ethnographers use hypermedia in planning, design, analysis, and presentation of ethnographic work. Such ventures also bridge the gap between material-book cultures of conventional readership and younger readers, who are more prone to digital reading, and problematize the politics of (academic) web-publishing.

 

Social change: Computer science as well as performative and conceptual arts have already addressed the probability of experiencing ‘augmented’ reality in the near future; the present project seeks to systematically and experimentally addressed the embedding/incorporating ethnographic research into an emerging modality of understanding, which gradually alters human perception and sensibility. Experimenting with the use of new narrative media provides a platform of new engagements with society and social science alike.

STRANDS 1+2 are interrelated and present various conceptual, theoretical and methodological affinities yet to be determined in the course of the ethnographic study.