About the course

The internet has turned into a global marketplace where no longer only goods such as iphones, cars or books are sold and traded but where people also offer their bodies, body parts or their intimate services for sale. The online space of the internet brings together buyers and sellers of scarce (lively) commodities such as organs, eggs, sperm and intimate services ranging from sex to the gestation of a baby. The very concept of the ‘commodification of the body’ seems counter-intuitive, the human body being, seemingly, one of the few objects in life that cannot, or should not, be bought and sold. Despite this, we are witnessing the birth of both a tranche of new ‘bodily commodities’ and a new global and virtual market for those commodities. But what kind of market is this? Is this really ‘new’, or a ‘market’? If so, how did it come into being? What are its geographical parameters? How does it work across spatial and cultural borders? How does it function and what effects does it have on people’s bodies and lives in different regions of the world?

This course traces in a first step the trajectory of this emergent transnational market in bodily commodities: How it came into being in its current economic and organizational form. What are the continuities and disjunctures between past and present markets of bodily commodities? In a second step, the course explores the spatialities of these markets, tracing the movements and mobilities of the bodies and body parts that are for sale. In a third step, the internet is analysed as one particular space that is crucial for the emergence and spatial expansion of this market. In a forth step, the students develop a small research project in which they engage with one particular market. The internet as a field of research will be the focus of the methodological discussions of this course.

Outline of classes

23.2. | What is special about the commodification of bodies?

2.3. | The moral limits of bodily markets?

9.3. | Researching body markets online (expert input Nina Fargahi, NZZ)

16.3. | How much worth is a kidney? Introducing domestic organ donation (expert input Swisstransplant)

23.3. | Who sells his/her kidney? Introducing transnational organ trade (expert input Roberto Andorno)

30.3. | Wombs for rent? Introducing surrogacy markets (expert input Veronika Siegl)

20.4. | Consultation sessions

27.4. | Consultation sessions

4.5. | Organ donation – group presentations

11.5. | Egg and sperm markets – group presentations (discussant Laura Perler)

18.5. | Surrogacy markets – group presentations (discussants are students from class For love and money)