Doris Bonnet, Fabrice Cahen and Virginie Rozée

Doris Bonnet, senior researcher emeritus at the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement (IRD), and INED researchers Fabrice Cahen and Virginie Rozée answer questions about their book, Procréation and imaginaires collectifs.

(Interview conducted in December 2021)

What are the “collective imaginaries” (imaginaires collectifs, imagination-driven collective representations) referred to in the title of your book?

The book brings together contributions that study how social actors project representations drawn from a shared mythological, theological, or fictional stock onto the question of technologically assisted reproduction. Collective and cultural representations of this sort may be found in all societies that develop “new” reproductive techniques. 

What collective representations of artificial reproduction are diffused through literature, film and television fiction?

Dimensions and tones vary. For example, the Québécois film “Starbuck” cannot really be compared with “Blade Runner.” Our book centers on the dominant approach found in science fiction and discourses on what the future holds and the “dystopias” or undesirable future worlds they imagine and describe. We refer frequently in it to a set of founding narratives, particularly—in the western world—Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932. It is striking the degree to which metaphors suggesting an idea of “industrialization” (the “laboratory,” the “factory,” the “store”)—metaphors sometimes used by health professionals themselves—resonate in contemporary debates on medically assisted procreation and all non-conventional forms of engendering. 

What is the place of collective representations and the collective imagination in contemporary societies?

They are central—and when they take the place of rational debate we have a problem. There is little documentation of the supposed tie between evolving reproductive techniques and a kind of civilizational sea change, yet that notion is rarely questioned. While anticipation and dystopia have obvious reflexive virtues, they should not obfuscate what empirical studies in the human and social sciences tell us, particularly about how far we still are from entirely “technicized” reproduction and entirely effective reproductive technology. Our book thus suggests the importance of relativizing the idea of “all-powerful” technology, showing that such representations are often in fact expressions of anxiety.