From Mother/Fetus to Holobiont(s): A Material Feminist Ontology of the Pregnant Body

Chikako Takeshita


Across scientific, medical, legal, political, popular, and religious discourses, the “mother” and the “fetus” are regarded as being separated by a physical boundary. Time and time again, feminist theorists have proposed ways to disband the mother/fetus division derived from Cartesian self/other binarism and individualism. The goal of this article is to introduce and explore an alternative ontology of the pregnant body I call the motherfetus. I follow material feminist Karen Barad (2007) in contending that the “fetus” does not preexist as an object with a distinct agency who interacts with the “mother,” but only materializes through what Barad calls intra-action. I argue that the pregnant body can be reconfigured in such a way that the material distinction between the “mother” and the “fetus” disappears. This endeavor entails re-interpreting material “evidences” provided by twenty-first century technosciences while mobilizing the motherfetus as an apparatus of bodily production. Through a lens that insists on rejecting the genetic, immunological, anatomical, and physiological separation of the “mother” and “fetus,” this article will borrow elements from immunology, microchimerism, and the human microbiome to generate multiple incarnations of the motherfetus as a material-discursive product. In the conclusion, I will examine how the motherfetus as a feminist theory can alter the ways in which the pregnant body is dealt with in feminist activisms as well as in scientific studies and medical practices.



Pregnancy, Fetus, Feminist Theory, Agential Realism

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