About this site

Welcome to my site. My friends and I created this to share some of my work and - more importantly - to invite an exchange of ideas.

I've been a sociologist for a long time. and ventured into a number of different fields over the years: birth and midwifery (which I still think of as my home base); the new genetics and reproductive technologies; medical sociology; bioethics; issues in disability; adoption; race; and now food studies too. Some of you might know my work in one of these areas, others in a different area. What would be really interesting would be to have people talk, with each other and with me, across areas. I've tried, with some success over the years, to talk to midwives about genetics; to encourage people who do new reproductive technologies to think about home birth; to have bioethicists pay more attention to what medical sociology can offer; to get people in Food Studies thinking where midwifery issues overlap with their concerns. These are invariably the most fun and stimulating conversations I've ever been a part of. Connecting people, connecting ideas, weaving the webs that pull us together - nothing could make me happier. So this site, a gift from my friends, is my place to do this kind of weaving.

We've grouped my work by area - but please, if you're here because you have gotten anything useful out of my work in one area, do poke around for a minute in another. Bring your insights and wisdom and experience to a new place, a new issue. Let's see what we can weave together.

- Barbara Katz Rothman

Panel Discussion on Tightrope: A Racial Journey

Gail Garfield was one of my 'progeny,' a dissertation I was very pleased to have chaired many years back.  Her most recent book is TIGHTROPE: A RACIAL JOURNEY TO THE AGE OF OBAMA.  More than autobiography, it's a fine example of 'autoethnography,' of applying the sociological imagination to one's own life.  She's my colleague at CUNY now, at John Jay College and they invited me to participate in a panel to celebrate the publication of the book.  I'm just a ten minute bit of this one hour panel, but listening to this may well make you run out and read the book!  So it's well worth posting for that.

Click here to watch the video.

Decision Traps and Haunting Images: Still thinking about Prenatal Testing

It’s coming up on thirty years since I published THE TENTATIVE PREGNANCY.  The technology’s changed in some ways. Information comes earlier.  And it’s routinized.  What used to be a problem facing relatively few pregnant women --  those who were over 35 or so, those who had a family history of a genetic disorder of some sort -- is now a problem facing every pregnancy in America.  Or so it would be if people faced the problem. 

Prenatal screening for conditions which have no solution but abortion is routine.  And routinely unacknowledged.  People do an ultrasound scan for the joy of ‘seeing the baby.’  But the ultrasounds weren’t introduced for fun, aren’t paid for by insurance companies for fun, aren’t done as routine medical care for fun.  Ultrasound, along with maternal blood tests, are being done to diagnose conditions in the fetus, and those conditions are not treatable.

Abortions following prenatal testing are nothing like abortions to get ‘unpregnant,’ abortions to just return oneself to normal after an accidental, unplanned and unwanted pregnancy.  These abortions, abortions because this particular fetus should not become one’s baby,  are experienced very differently.  In THE TENTATIVE PREGNANCY I showed how painful this was for the women involved, women who were told how lucky they were to have choices, but often experienced themselves as horrifically trapped.

Two new books cast interesting light on all this from two very different countries.  Germany recognizes the eugenic underpinnings of all prenatal screening.  While Americans assure me that this has nothing to do with eugenics, it’s just about having healthy babies, Germans have been forced by their history to recognize that having healthy babies, or being ‘well born,’ is what eugenics means.   Silja Samerski did a book on the DECISION TRAPS that people are facing when they have genetic testing.  She asked me to write a preface, and it’s available below.

Tine M. Gammeltoft, wrote HAUNTING IMAGES: A CULTURAL ACCOUNT OF SELECTIVE REPRODUCTION IN VIETNAM, and my review of that book is also available below. The Vietnamese are in an interesting position because while Americans and Germans too can see ‘fetal defects’ as acts of god, of random cruelty in the world, the Vietnamese see them as war crimes, the ongoing consequences of Agent Orange, and it shapes their discussion. 

Context shapes everything of course.  But pregnancy is also a context: the nature of pregnancy as an intimate social relationship shapes women’s experiences of prenatal testing and selective abortion that Americans, caught in an absurdly fraught discussion of abortion, cannot afford to see.  Until the trap is sprung. 

If you missed the link to my preface in DECISION TRAPS, click here.
To access my review of HAUNTING IMAGES, click here.