Print Project Proposal: “The Changing Language of Reproductive Justice”

The language used to talk about reproductive rights is changing. Last semester I studied the historiography of reproductive justice to understand how it has emerged from studies of reproductive rights and reproductive politics to the more inclusive and activist-oriented term “reproductive justice.” As a field of historical study, reproductive justice is closely related to activism which makes it a particularly interesting and fast-changing area of study.

A major aspect of this field is understanding how language is used when talking about women’s reproductive rights. Oftentimes, reproductive rights is framed only through the lenses of abortion or the falsely framed pro-life versus pro-choice debate. Reproductive justice activists advocate for a more inclusive approach to women’s reproductive rights by thinking about the entire matrix of issues affecting a woman’s right to autonomy over her body and ability to make choices relating to her reproductive health. Historians like Laura Briggs have followed this lead by studying, for example How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics. Demonstrating how historical scholarship can parallel and inform women’s reproductive rights advocates, collectively shifting towards a reproductive justice framework to better encompass women’s experiences through an intersectional lens.

Briggs’ history built upon early works done by leading historians of reproductive rights who have long understood the relationships between reproductive rights and other politics, many of them approaching the study with an intersectional approach which accommodates women’s variety of reproductive experiences and concerns. It makes sense then that, overtime, historical scholarship has joined with reproductive justice activists to identify and name a historical field of study: Reproductive Justice. Historian of reproductive politics, Rickie Solinger, teamed up with human rights and reproductive rights activist Loretta Ross to publish Reproductive Justice: An Introduction in 2017, indicating a shift in the relationship between scholarship and activism in this area of study. With that publication, they kicked off a series published through the University of California Press: Reproductive Justice: A New Vision for the Twenty-First Century.

So, with all of that, you may be wondering what my project is! To be honest, I am struggling with how to use these digital tools productively, so in the spirit collaboration I’ve been finding in the digital history field, I am looking forward to feedback on this project idea in terms of digital tools to use and feasibility. I know that it is worthwhile and probably could work for this project, but the nuts and bolts are harder to wrap my head around. My pitch is something along these lines:

Using digital tools, perhaps the TIME Magazine corpus and Google Ngram, I will look for trends in how the language around reproductive rights and politics through activist and scholarly lenses have shifted towards the social justice framework up to the culmination of “reproductive justice” as the new vision for activism and then historiography.

What’s important about these trends is the language we use as activists, scholars, and as people who generally talk about women’s reproductive rights and how that affects policy and more importantly women’s lives. I hope this idea will work for this project because I think we can all benefit from understanding why we use the terms we use to talk about these issues.

One Reply to “Print Project Proposal: “The Changing Language of Reproductive Justice””

  1. Exploring the language of reproductive justice over time is a great idea. It is also an idea that I think you can explore well with tools like Google n-gram and the Time Magazine corpus. It is great that you have also identified some good historiography and extent work on the subject to ground your work in.

    My suggestion on this would be for you to think about what terms you would look at to begin to trace change over time in both Google n-gram and the Time corpus. That is, when does “prolife” and “prochoice” emerge as topics. What are the colocates for “abortion” overtime in Time magazine? Those are just some initial thoughts. I think you would want to dig into the historiography and pull out a lot of different words that have valances and do a good bit of open ended exploration about words that trend with those words over time. Then, as you go, pivot back and forth between close and distant reading. When you do see trends look a bit at the underlying texts and try and sort out some of the context over time.

    Given that you brought up intersectionality, it would also be great to think about how you could think about terms relating to race and class might intersect in your analysis.

    Overall, I think you have a great start to a topic. Much of the politics of reproductive rights plays out in the language and the linguistic framing that different players use. So if you did want to work on this as your project I think there is a lot of potential in this space with the tools and corpora we have at hand.

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