Natali Valdez, “Weighing the Future: Race, Science, and Pregnancy Trials in the Postgenomic Era” (U California Press, 2022)

In Weighing the Future: Race, Science, and Pregnancy Trials in the Postgenomic Era (University of California Press, 2022), Natali Valdez examines research trials that enroll pregnant people in the United States and England. These research trials aim to lower the health risks to future generations by intervening in and studying the diet and exercise of pregnant people. As an ethnographer, Valdez enrolled pregnant participants into the studies, met with them to administer the intervention, and observed the processes of the trials. Valdez argues that these studies focus on the pregnant individual without accounting for the social, cultural, economic, and environmental factors that present risk factors to their pregnancies. Structural factors such as racism, pollution, and poverty are not acknowledged, studied, or tracked. And this focus on the individual forecloses addressing issues, such as unstable housing, childcare, immigration, and racism. In the book, Valdez discusses how pregnancy trials have changed very little since the 1950s, the politics of recruiting participants to the trials, and how they handle racial diversity. Valdez asserts that these trials use race as an unstable and inconsistent marker of identifying participants, but they do not address racism, which is an underlying cause of health disparities. In the episode we discuss Valdez’s arguments, ethnographic work, and experience of writing the book. Weighing the Future would be of interest to those in medical anthropology, science and technology studies, as well as women and gender studies. Weighing the Future is the first book of its kind, and it contributes much to our understandings of the increasingly salient issues of maternal health, research, and race.

Natali Valdez is an Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Wellesley College.

Reighan Gillam is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California.

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