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Sociology: People


Malissa Shaw

Malissa Shaw
Malissa Shaw
Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
Research Interests
Biotechnologies: Stem Cells and Assisted Reproduction, Gender Theory, Latin American Culture and Society, Political Economy of Health, Substance: Stem Cells, Embryos and other Biogenetic Tissues, Biomedical knowledge(s), practices and technologies, Science & technology studies, Sociology of the body, Embodiment, Agency and coercion

Thesis Title: Embodied Agency and Agentic Bodies: Negotiating Medicalization in Colombian Assisted Reproduction

Thesis Abstract:

This thesis explores the processual nature of agency and constraints in the experience of medicalized conception in a not yet explored locale: Bogota, Colombia. In ten months of ethnographic research at two fertility centers in Bogota, and interview data from over 100 in-depth interviews with women and men undergoing ARTs and clinic staff, a complex ART industry driven by both doctors (qua entrepreneurs) and the couples seeking medicalized conception was explored. This thesis identifies how relationships in the clinic combined with understandings of “the fragmented body” (as a medicalized object under scrutiny) and “the self” (as a conscious agent), to produce intricate dynamics of agency and constraints that co-evolved in a processual manner.

Tracing the experiences of women in infertility treatment chronologically, the thesis explores how knowledge was established and renegotiated through productive power fields that relationally incorporated embodied, personal knowledge and authoritative medical expertise. Women adapted to constraints in both active and passive ways to create and assert their ever-transforming agentive capacities. In these processes, they were constantly reflecting on, and renegotiating their position in the treatment process, as well as in their social lives more broadly.  

Drawing on, and seeking to contribute to, literature on agency in ARTs from across the world, particularly literature that considers agency as a process co-established by the constraints it confronts, this thesis makes two key arguments: First, that agency in Colombian ART clinics is defined as reflection and renegotiation, rather than as something which occurs at a singular moment of reflection and renegotiation. Second, that this negotiated process is constrained, but not contained. In other words, agency is a process that looks both backwards and forwards. Women and couples incorporated different personal histories and embodied knowledge into negotiating the treatment process and constraints they encountered, and adapted their experiences of ART treatments to other aspects of their lives, negotiating constraints that reach beyond the clinical setting. 


  • MSc in Medical Anthropology, University of Amsterdam
  • BA in International Relations & Spanish Language, Literature, and Cultural, Syracuse University


  • H. Pelzel, C. Schlamp, M. Waclawski, M. Shaw, & R. Nickells. Silencing of Fem1cR3 gene expression in the DBA/2J mouse precedes retinal ganglion cell death and is associated with Histone Deacetylase Activity. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. 2012; 52(3):1428-1435.
  • T. Gerrits & M. Shaw. Biomedical infertility care in sub-Saharan Africa: a social science review of current practices, experiences and viewpoints. Facts, Views, & Visions in ObGyn. 2010; 2(3):194-207.

Conferences & Seminars 

  • PROMETEO Video Conference, Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales, La Universidad Central de Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador, September 15, 2015. Invited speaker as part of the project “Ethical, Legal, and Communication Dilemmas at the Interface Between Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Genetic Testing,” Presentation: The Situation of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) in Colombia. 
  • Social Studies of Sciences, Technologies and Professions Research Group, Permanent Seminar Series, Universidad del Rosario, Bogota, Colombia, December 10, 2015. Presentation: Multiple Perspectives and Lack of Collaboration in the Context of Assisted Reproductive Technologies in Colombia.  
  • British Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK, April 15-17, 2015. Roundtable discussion: Negotiating Liminality in Assisted Reproduction.
  • New Directions: Theory, Methods, Ethics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK, March 30-31, 2015. Panel discussion: Present versus Missing: the Body as Boundary.
  • American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., December 3-7. Presentation: (Re)producing Potential: The Dual-Potentiality of Medically Assisted Reproduction in Bogotá, Colombia. Awarded University of Edinburgh, School of Social and Political Sciences Conference Fund.
  • São Paulo School of Advanced Sciences on Biotechnology, Biosocialities and the Governance of Life Sciences, State University of Campinas, Campinas, Brazil, August 11-15, 2014. Awarded full funding from the organizing committee to attend and participate in the week long workshop.
  • American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL, November 20-24, 2013. Presentation: Altering the Concept of Conception: The Medicalization of Reproduction in Colombia. Awarded Society of Medical Anthropology Student Travel Grant.
  • American Society for Reproductive Medicine Annual Meeting, Boston, MA, October 12-17, 2013. Poster Presentation: Level of Patient Understanding of IVF in a Fertility Clinic in Colombia.
  • II Encuentro de las Ciencias Humanas y Tecnológicas para la integración en el Conosur Internacional de Conocimiento: Diálogos en nuestra América, Universidad Sergio Arboleda, Bogotá, Colombia, May 2-4, 2013. Presentation: Assisted Reproductive Technologies in Bogota: Re-evaluating Gender Dynamics
  • Permanent Seminar Series: Science, Technology, and Medical Social Sciences Group, Universidad Nacional, Bogotá, Colombia, April 1, 2013. Seminar: Experience and Interpretation of In-vitro Fertilization in Colombia.
  • New Directions: Theory, Methods, Ethics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK, April 26-27, 2012. Presentation: Pragmatic Embodiment: Experiences and Conceptualisations in a Bogotano Fertility Clinic.
  • Society for Social Studies of Sciences Annual Meeting, Cleveland, OH, November 2-5, 2011. Presentation: Infertility in Latin America: A Review of Present Polities, Practices, and Experiences.      

Teaching Experience at The University of Edinburgh: 


  • Anthropology of Global Health, Guest Lecturer (Masters in Medical Anthropology Program) 
  • Sustainable Development 1A: Introducing Sustainable Development, Course Lecturer

Post-Graduate Tutoring 

  • Research Skills in the Social Sciences: Data Collection

Undergraduate Tutoring 

  • Sociology 1A, The Sociological Imagination: Individuals and Society
  • Sociology 1B, The Sociological Imagination: Private Troubles, Public Problems
  • Sociology 2, Transformations of Self and Sociology
  • Social and Political Enquiry 2
  • Sociology 2B, Researching Social Life
  • Bachelors in Medicine and Bachelors in Surgery Program, Health, Ethics and Society 


  • Prof. Patricia Jeffery
  • Dr. Gill Haddow