Embryo Tales

Lynn M. Morgan

in Icons of Life

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2009 | ISBN: 9780520260436
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944725 | DOI:
Embryo Tales

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While feminist scholars traced the emergence of the public fetus to ultrasound and other imaging technologies, this chapter examines how embryos were recruited much earlier to “speak” about the social issues of the day. When the Scopes trial was underway in 1925, embryologists weighed in on the side of Darwinian evolution by invoking the human embryonic tail to argue that humans were descended from monkeys. Embryologists trained at Johns Hopkins University went to China in the second decade of the twentieth century, where they collected Chinese embryos and fetuses to study what they called “racial embryology.” Throughout the latter twentieth century, embryo specimens were recruited to “speak” about a changing and ever-expanding array of social issues, from birth defects to women's rights to global warming. When embryos “speak,” of course, their utterances reflect the concerns of the grownups who put words in their mouths. But there is a reciprocal effect as well, when the emergence and increasing volubility of embryos fuels debate and sparks social anxiety.

Keywords: embryos; social issues; Scopes trial; evolution; racial embryology

Chapter.  12516 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medical Anthropology

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