• 2017-18/124 - Institutionalizing Complex Exchange: A Case of Commercial Surrogacy in India
  • Dec - 2017
  • Speaker(s) : Mr. Sujit Raghunath Jagadale

The study explores institutionalization of commercial surrogacy exchange in India. Surrogacy is defined as “an arrangement in which a woman agrees to a pregnancy achieved through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), in which neither of the gametes belongs to her or her husband, with the intention to carry it and hand over the child to the person or persons for whom she is acting as a surrogate.” In commercial surrogacy surrogates receive commercial gains in-lieu of the services they provide. We argue that exchange institutionalization is a market creation since markets are ‘socially constructed structured exchanges’ (Fligstein, 1996, Humphrey, 2010). The institutionalization process described by Tolbert and Zucker (1996) informs the study. The process has the sequential stages of habitualization, objectification and, sedimentation. It examines how various actors- both central and peripheral, employ mechanisms of defining, theorizing and, identity construction (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006) to institutionalize the associated exchanges within commercial surrogacy. Every mechanism is associated with achieving legitimacy, cultural-cognitive (preconscious taken for granted understanding), normative (relation with the social norms), and/or regulative (submitting to rules and regulations by authorities) (Scott, 2001). In the commercial surrogacy, actors are unequal in their socio-economic and power positions. Thus, it problematizes the exchange relationships from the lens of fairness, equity and distributive justice. It does so by taking recourse of the Integrative Justice Model (IJM), an ethical marketing framework suggesting normative dimensions to equitably engage with impoverished exchange partners.


We employed Grounded Theory (Charmaz, 2006, Glaser & Strauss, 1967, Strauss & Corbin, 1998) approach with intensive interviews as the primary data collection instrument. We conducted 29 interviews with various market actors, mainly in Gujarat province, and some in Punjab province where commercial surrogacy flourished early. Our study revealed 17 broader themes, a level of patterned response in a data. Themes are ‘major strategies' applied by the various actors to construct the ‘practice and processes' of commercial surrogacy. These strategies are broadly classified into three mechanisms- defining, theorizing and identity construction, to understand an institutionalization of the commercial surrogacy.


In habitualization, the first stage of institutionalization, meanings of surrogacy practice and processes are created by core actors i.e. surrogates and clinics. The objective here is to minimize negative cognitive frames and, define the process. It is accomplished by employing the strategies of defining and theorizing. It is done to achieve cultural-cognitive legitimacy. Created meanings are settled in the stage of objectification by employing strategies of identity construction and theorizing by clinics and some vocal surrogates. Surrogates also resort to ‘storying’ and myth making to create positive narrations about surrogacy to achieve consensus of all stakeholders and public about commercial surrogacy. It helps to achieve the normative legitimacy to commercial surrogacy. The same mechanisms as in objectification are employed in the stage of sedimentation to continue the meanings of surrogacy practice and process. However, it is done by peripheral actors like media. It aims at low resistance by advocacy groups and continuing cultural support for the practice by public. Its objective is to achieve the regulative legitimacy. However, some signs of fragmentation (deinstitutionalization) are apparent in this stage.


Furthermore, we, based on the evidence, argue that the benefits and burdens of exchange should be equitably distributed. Banning commercial surrogacy is not going to resolve the issues; instead, it may vitiate it by denying the fundamental rights to the multitude of stakeholders. In a society, where an overwhelming population does not have a social safety net, and society judge women for their ability to fulfill a normative expectation of begetting a child, these types of exchanges are practically inevitable. Further, the omnipresence of the market cannot be challenged rather ‘prototype’ of inclusive markets need to be created. IJM is one of the possible perspectives to make these markets ‘just' and ‘fair.' We further provide a case, using IJM in the light of participant's narrative to engage with impoverished exchange partners equitably. 


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