Global Fertility Chains

October 4, 2019

Global Fertility Chains is a collaborative research project, initiated by Siggie Vertommen, that analyses the political economy of the (assisted) reproductive practices, policies, markets and infrastructures through a network or chain-based approach. It follows the global trajectories of egg cells, sperm, embryos, wombs, breast milk, surrogates, egg cell providers, intended parents, fertility doctors, fertility brokers as they travel across discursive (imaginaries, discourses, narratives, etc) and material (territorial, bodily, molecular, etc) borders to make babies, families and profit.


Siggie Vertommen

Siggie Vertommen

Siggie Vertommen is a feminist researcher and organizer.

She is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Conflict and Development Studies at Ghent University and she is also affiliated with the Reproduction of Sociology Research Group at the University of Cambridge. Her research explores the political economy of global fertility chains, with an empirical focus on the transnational surrogacy chain between Israel/Palestine, Ukraine (egg cell provision) and Georgia (surrogacy). She is interested in understanding women’s participation in the fertility industry from a reproductive labour perspective, at the crossroads of ongoing histories of (bio)capitalism and (settler)colonialism.

Siggie is also an organizer with the Women’s Strike and Slow Science. And she loves dogs, she really does.

Bronwyn Parry

Bronwyn Parry

Bronwyn Parry is Professor in Social Science, Health and Medicine and is the Head of the School of Global Affairs at King’s College London.

Her first book, ‘Trading the Genome: Investigating the Commodification of Bio-information’ revealed how biological materials are collected for use in the US pharmaceutical industry and how the engineered artefacts derived from them (i.e. cell lines, tissues samples and sequenced DNA) are then traded internationally as part of a new global resource economy in ‘bio-information.’ She subsequently received a major grant from the Wellcome Trust to investigate the social, ethical and legal complexities that attend the creation and operation of human tissue banks in the UK, completing this work through a three-year ethnography of the Addenbrooke’s Hospital Brain bank. As part of her wider commitment to promoting the visual arts as a medium for communicating complex ethical issues in science to a wider public, she mounted a groundbreaking interactive exhibition Mind Over Matter with the artist Ania Dabrowska in 2011, which explored attitudes to memory loss and brain donation for dementia research.

Bronwyn was elected to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in 2007 and has contributed to reports on the forensic use of bio-information, the recent crisis in public health in the UK and dementia care. She has also undertaken comparative work on the role of international regulatory regimes and acted as a consultant for the UN and the UK government in this capacity. She is about to embark on a new collaborative international bioethics project that investigates the production, consumption and regulation of assisted reproductive services in rural and urban centres within India.

Michal Nahman

Michal Nahman

Michal Nahman is an anthropologist working at the crossroads of medical and political anthropology. Her research has focused mainly on transnational human egg donation, specifically her ethnographic study centred on ‘traffic’ in ova between Israel/Palestine and Romania. It looked at the ways in which political, economic and global forces shaped and were shaped by practices of cross border reproductive care. That research was generously funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and the Social Science and humanities Research Council of Canada. She subsequently worked on an ethnographic research project entitled ReproMigrants, examining the experiences of egg donors across borders. She is now looking into the political economy of breastmilk donations in Bangalore.

Prior becoming a Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England in Bristol, she was a Lecturer in Sociology at Lancaster University. She has been a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the BIOS centre at the London School of Economics (2010-2011), and is currently an affiliated scholar of the Cambridge Sociology of Reproduction Research Group (ReproSoc). She has published one full length ethnographic monograph entitled, Extractions: An Ethnography of Reproductive Tourism (Palgrave, 2013), which is now out in paperback. She has been an invited panelist on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed programme and her work has informed the Nuffield Foundation’s work on donor conception and anonymity.

More recently she has taken up visual social methods, and produced a documentary film entitled, Atomised Mothers: A Film about Isolation, ‘Austerity’ and the politics of parenting (

Aïlien Reyns

Aïlien Reyns

Aïlien Reyns is a historian, intermedia artist and researcher who focuses on topics such as migration, public/private space, ethnic/gender discourse, and digital communication. A love for (meta-)narrative, popular culture, and the transformative beauty found at the technical margins of cinematography defines the aesthetic of her oeuvre. Her work always departs from the collection of auditory and/or visual sources, out of which she then selects and composes the narrative and aesthetic elements for her work in co-creative dialogue with her research subjects.

In 2012, Aïlien co-founded TRIPOT with Marius Packbier. Within this Brussels-based artist collective she has developed an oeuvre that is characterized by interdisciplinary research methods and a participatory production process. Her work was exhibited at multiple international art festivals as IFFRotterdam and Schunk* (NL), the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein (DE), the International Experimental Video Art Festival in Museo de Almeria (ES), Yilan Museum of Art (TWN), The Picture Show in New York and the Scholarship Media Festival, University of Pennsylvania (USA). Apart from her artistic work, Aïlien teaches Visual Techniques to visual anthropologists at the University of Antwerp.

Recent works:


Project history

Since the mid-2000s transnational surrogacy has transformed into a popular and lucrative niche in the global fertility market, assisting mostly economically well-off infertile couples in making their procreative dreams come true. As part of what has been called the new sexual division of labour,  women from the Global South and East are increasingly commodifying their reproductive bodies, capacities and biologies by working as surrogates or egg cell providers. In 2017, Siggie Vertommen received a Marie Curie fellowship at King’s College London to conduct fieldwork-based research on the global surrogacy chain between Israel/Palestine and Georgia. In 2019, she obtained a postdoctoral grant from the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (FWO) to continue this research at Ghent University and explore how the Ukrainian egg cell market fits into the global fertility chain between Israel/Palestine and Georgia.

Surrogacy and egg donation arrangements are often perceived as “neo-colonial, patriarchal, exploitative nightmares” by policy makers, researchers and activists alike. Market critics therefore propose a gift system based on altruistic donations, while market proponents encourage the commercialisation of reproductive tissues and services. This project transcends these moral dilemmas by mapping the changing regimes of labour and property in one ‘actually existing’ fertility chain that is becoming increasingly popular, i.e. between Israel/Palestine, Ukraine and Georgia. Siggie is ethnographically mapping the reproductive trail of Israeli commissioning parents as they outsource the reproductive labour of gestation and ovulation to available and affordable egg cell providers in Ukraine and surrogates in Georgia in an attempt to have genetically related children.

In the summer of 2017 and the spring of 2018, Siggie teamed up with the Belgian audiovisual artist Aïlien Reyns for a multimedia reportage(pictures and article in Mo Magazine), funded by Fonds Pascal Decroos, on the baby business between Israel and Georgia.

Building on this work, Siggie Vertommen, Michal Nahman and Bronwyn Parry obtained a Wellcome Trust (2018-2019) grant to look at the global political economy of cross-border reproduction, the networked markets to which it gives rise and their variegated regimes of property, labour and capital accumulation. This resulted in various international conferences, workshops, publications and reading groups.

    (c) edgar ruiz lopez

    Workshops, conferences and events

    Mining Back: Data Skills for Researching Corporations and Governments

    (9 December 2019, King's College London)

    During this workshop with Dr. Anna Feigenbaum we bring together key strategies for investigative research on the global fertility industry, showcasing a range of data sources, as well as freely available and easy to access tools that can be used to ‘mine back’ or obtain and analyse data of government and corporate elites. Geared toward non-coders, qualitative researchers and those with limited budgets and resources, these strategies for ‘mining back’ include advanced searching techniques, data scraping from a webpage, liberating PDF tables, and creating visual power-maps. This workshop focuses on the reproductive technologies industry in the UK, but most of the skills and resources we will introduce are adaptable across any research project engaged in investigating corporations or governments.

    Resistance is Fertile: Reproduction, Politics and Resistance

    (14 September at Goldsmiths in London)

    This is a one-day conference, organised by Grace Tillyard, Claire Horn and Siggie Vertommen that takes the politics of reproduction as its starting point, and focuses on questions related to the social, technological and political economic dimensions of reproduction as a site of oppression and resistance. The conference includes a keynote by Ruha Benjamin (Princeton), four panels on reproductive justice, labour, digital media and borders, and a closing round table with activists and organisers. More info on the conference, here

    They say it's love but is it actually unpaid work?

    (17 June Antiuniversity Festival, London)

    During this workshop with members of the Women’s Strike Assembly UK and Decrim Now: National Campaign for Sex Workers Rights, we will collectively share thoughts, questions and ideas surrounding love, motherhood, pregnancy and sex and the inherent contradictions and tensions they present. This workshop is part of a series of political education events on ‘WTF is reproduction?’organised by the Women’s Strike UKas part of the annual AntiuniversityFestival in London.

    Colonial Lineages of Global Fertility Chains

    (28-29 March King’s College London)

    This was a two-day international workshop that discussed the emergence and development of (assisted) reproductive technologies at the crossroads of ongoing histories of biocapitalism and (settler)colonialism. Workshop participants were Alys Weinbaum, Deboleena Roy, Silvia Possoco, Sonja Van Wichelen, Vincenzo Pavone, Johanna Gondouin, Lucy Van de Wiel, Sayani Mitra, Camille Barbagallo, Kathryn Medien, Bronwyn Parry, Michal Nahman, Prabha Kotiswaran, Anne Pollock and Sigrid Vertommen. A full report from the workshop can be read here.

    Critically Mapping Cross-Border Reproduction

    (1st of February 2019, University of the West of England)

    Here we grappled with the question of borders as racialising reproductive technologies. This one-day conference included a keynote lecture by Prof. Diana Marre (AFIN, University of Barcelona), 12 presentations divided over four panels on Markets, Mobilities, Solidarities and Methodologies, and a closing round table on Reproductive Justice with Mwenza Blell, Michal Nahman and Sayani Mitra. A more in-depth account of the conference, can be read here.

    Reading group

    In 2017, we started a reading group on Reproduction and Resistance: Making babies in the 21stcentury at King’s College London and Goldsmiths. Organised by Siggie Vertommen, Giulia Cavaliere, Grace Tillyard and Matteo Mameli, this interdisciplinary reading group reflects on what it means to reproduce in the age of persistent racist and sexist attitudes, of climate change skepticism and of renewed tendency of controlling the population. We collectively read and discuss classic and contemporary works on the “multiple” role of biological and social reproduction, encompassing themes such as reproduction and slavery, anticolonialism, new media, xenofeminsm, labour, motherhood and feminisms, climate change and population control. More info on the reading group, here

    Publications and Outreach

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