Competition over Expert Authority in the New Field of Human IVF

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 9:15 AM
Room: F204
Oral Presentation
Jung-Ok HA , Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea
Is human IVF (in vitro fertilization) the extended version of animal IVF or is it human fertility? Such a question may seem odd today. Nevertheless, the question ignited controversy in the 1980s when the term “human IVF” first appeared, creating competition between experts.

This paper focuses on the competition over expert authority between obstetrics and gynecology clinicians (OG clinicians) and embryology (E) scientists in the 1980s when human IVF began to take root as a new field in Korea. Here I refer to human IVF not as a discipline but as a field because IVF is “an amalgam of thoughts, a mixture of habits, an assemblage of techniques” (Mol & Berg 1998), not a coherent prima facie. The process of mixing and assembling that which is originally different is neither simple nor peaceful. The new establishment of a field inevitably requires a process of determining the “dominant professional” (Oudshoorn 1994) through competing with rivals and making the field appealing to outsiders. The human IVF field in Korea was settled down by OG clinicians who had the capabilities to motivate a wide range of resources; E scientists entered the field with the help of these first players.

This paper aims to provide insight into the human IVF field of the 1980s in light of its developmental history through analyses of academic journals, in-depth interviews with experts, and analyses of discourses over the issue, all of which reveal how the experts regarded this new field as an extended version of their own expertise.

Expert authority is not self-evident but results from social politics. This insight is gained when we consider human IVF as a social reality and when we pay attention to the construction of that reality, not regarding it as a natural object. To that end, a sociological analysis is required.