Dr. Sheela Saravanan

Saravanan 2

Core Areas

Socio-ethics of reproductive health and new reproductive technologies using ethnomethodology and cross-cultural analysis. Concepts of phenomenology of the body, symbolic interactionism and capabilities approach. These concepts/methodologies are applied to birthing practices, commercial surrogacy and prenatal diagnosis in Asia and Europe.


Project: Individual desires/expectations about children in Germany and India in the context of prenatal genetic diagnosis and selective abortions

Prenatal and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis offers a plethora of possibilities for individuals to plan their family and to identify genetic attributes of children. The known reasons for such selective abortions include attributes such as; (un)desirable gender, sensory, cognitive, or physical impairment, or desired genetic properties. Ethical voices and the gender/disability rights movement worldwide raise concerns that selecting attributes of children based on gender, disease or disability is morally problematic because it embodies and reinforces prejudices. This study aims to examine individual notion of desired attributes of children shaped by the social experiences in the German and Indian contexts that lead to selective abortions. Although the known expectations about children include gender and genetic properties the study is not limited to examining these attributes but rather expects further in-depth understanding of a spectrum of considerations by individuals in the context of prenatal diagnosis and selective diagnosis. These may also include practical familial issues of bringing up special children and/or gender issues within the family. The research draws conceptually on the works of Mead 1962, symbolic interactionism between the self and the generalized other, Lindemann 1996, Kessler and McKenna 1978, gender and disability as a social construct in the context of Körper and Leib in shaping the notion of desired children. This study applies methodological approaches of Garfinkels, (1967) phenomenology in ethnomethodology as it provides insight on individual conduct/thought and forms of social organization. Qualitative methodology of in-depth interviews will be used in clinical and family settings in Germany and India with mothers and family members and structured interviews will be conducted with medical practitioners and personnel from research institutions and selected government programmes. This will add knowledge conceptually and methodologically to the above given theories and research methods. The cross-cultural analysis is a significant aspect of this study because it aims to bring out the deeper life mechanisms that are embedded in different cultural frameworks. The proposed project is a significant contribution to the socio-ethical discourse of the growing global use of new reproductive technologies and the ethical and regulatory challenges that it has posed.


Selected Publications

  • Saravanan S. (2013). An ethnomethodological approach to examine exploitation in the context of capacity, trust and experience of commercial surrogacy in India, Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 8:10.
  • Saravanan S, Johnson H, Turrell G, Fraser J. (2012). Re-examining authoritative knowledge in the design and content of a traditional birth attendant training in India, Midwifery, 28:120-30.
  • Saravanan S, Turrell G, Johnson H, Fraser J, Patterson C. (2011). Traditional birth attendant training and local birthing practices in India, Evaluation and Programme Planning, 34: 254-265.
  • Saravanan S. (2010). Transnational surrogacy and objectification of gestational mothers, Economic and Political Weekly, 45: 26-29.
  • Saravanan S, Turrell G, Johnson H, Fraser J. (2010). Birthing practices of traditional birth attendants in South Asia in the context of training programmes, Journal of Health Management, 12: 93-121.
  • Saravanan, S., Johnson, H., Turrell, G., and Fraser, J (2009). Social roles and birthing practices of traditional birth attendants in India with reference to other developing countries, Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, 15(4): 57-89.