Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Science and Technology Studies


By 1908 a new, doctor inserted, scientific contraceptive had gained some acceptance in areas of Germany. This technology became known as the intrauterine contraceptive device. By 1930 it enjoyed limited international success through its alliance with the International Sex Reform movement. The devices became linked with campaigns to take the suffrage struggle into the private sphere, a technological means for achieving modernity for women. In the 1960s the Population Council remade this contraceptive system as a mass produced global network of population control. Then in the 1970s the Dalkon Shield became synonymous with corporate misconduct. The women's health movement accused intrauterine device protagonists of exploiting women's inequality to produce a dangerous technology that was destroying women's health. Whilst copper intrauterine devices escaped the tarnish of the Dalkon Shield, the litigation over the Copper-7 that resulted in a punitive damages finding against Searle in 1988, resulted in a serious decline in further research into intrauterine devices. This thesis explores the production processes through which the discovery, success, development and failure of intrauterine devices were constructed.

My work is a case study located at the intersection of feminist critiques of science and technology, and constructivist sociology of science. I investigate gendered outcomes of the heterogeneous negotiations that stabilise intrauterine device technologies, paying attention to the effects generated by the active participation of social movements in such negotiations. This study is informed by a modified actor network framework (Latour and Gallon), presenting the social, identity, the technical, the natural and the boundary between them as network effects. I focus on the translations of human and non-human actants constitutive of intrauterine device contraceptives as socio-technical networks, whether they occur in courts or in laboratories. I examine how authority is distributed to particular research sites, and how we learn to trust in numbers as calculations of risks and benefits. I suggest that such a form of story-telling about technologies opens novel possibilities for solidarity formation and collective engagement with sociotechnical networks, including issues of regulation and policy formation.

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