Research Prizes

Lucy van de Wiel
PhD dissertation:
Freezing Fertility. Oocyte Cryopreservation and the Gender Politics of Ageing.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. M. Bal, Prof. dr. J. van Dijck
Co-supervisor: Dr. E. Peeren
Nomination: University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Humanities

Report by the Selection Committee
Examining the introduction of ‘oocyte cryopreservation’ (the freezing of eggs) in the early 21st century, using the innovative methods associated with the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, this thesis relates the concern with why or if women should freeze their eggs to a contemporary rethinking and politicisation of ageing. The dissertation shows how the possibility of freezing eggs, which allows motherhood to be postponed, has profound consequences for the way in which female aging is understood. The material the thesis examines is diverse and includes time-lapse photography, documentaries, and news coverage, and the author deftly synthesizes gender studies, biotechnology studies and ageing studies. Parallel to this, the author analyses the cultural debates around these technological developments, showing how egg freezing triggers a series of discussions which are similar internationally and indicative about the sign of the times as a whole. The jury considers this dissertation highly original, lucidly written and above all an important theoretical contribution to understanding gender constructions, reproduction and ageing.

Lucy van de Wiel’s research focuses on the socio-cultural dimensions of new reproductive technologies. Her dissertation Freezing Fertility: Oocyte Cryopreservation and the Gender Politics of Ageing deals with the wide-ranging implications of egg freezing, an increasingly popular fertility technology with global reach. Combining cultural analysis, media studies, reproductive sociology and science and technology studies, the study critically examines the controversial introduction of oocyte cryopreservation in the early 21st century and argues that the possibility of freezing eggs has profound consequences for the way in which female ageing is understood. With close analyses of visual and textual mediations of this technology—including documentaries, informed consent forms, news coverage and medical imagery—she analyses the changing relations between fertility and ageing that emerge with the advent of oocyte cryopreservation.

Lucy van de Wiel received her PhD in 2015 at the University of Amsterdam and won the 2016 ASCA Award for best dissertation. She pursued postgraduate studies as a HSP and Fulbright grantee in Rhetorics at the University of California, Berkeley, holds a Research MA in Cultural Analysis (cum laude) from the University of Amsterdam and an MA in Film Curating (with distinction) from the London Film School and London Consortium, University of London. She currently works as a Research Associate at the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc), University of Cambridge. Here she continues her research into egg freezing, is developing a new research project on embryo selection and leads a major Wellcome Trust-funded outreach programme about reproductive technologies called Life in Glass.