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Week 17

Theme Four: Medicine, science, and the family

Week 17

Who’s the daddy? Genetics and parental identity

‘Blood is thicker than water’: that’s the truism that most of us grew up with. But blood ties have never been the sole, or even necessarily the most socially powerful marker of kinship either in our culture or globally. Today, we will look at different models of ‘parenthood’ and different understandings of ‘kinship’, as they have emerged over the course of the last 150 years, and assess the impacts that science and technology have had on these fundamental social structures. We will focus in particular on ‘fatherhood’, ‘social’, ‘biological’, and ‘fractured’.


Seminar topic: Blood, genes, and the modern ‘family’

Have our models of ‘family’ become more or less biological since the introduction of the new reproductive technologies? Have NRTs acted inclusively or exclusively in western culture and society? Where does the nature/nurture debate fit into this changing picture?


Required Reading:


  • Cynthia R Daniels, Janet Golden, ‘Procreative Compounds: Popular Eugenics, Artificial Insemination and the Rise of the American Sperm Banking Industry’, Journal of Social History, Vol 38, Number 1, Fall 2004, pp. 5-27.
  • Dorothy Nelkin, M. Susan Lindee, ‘Chapter 4, The Molecular Family’, in their The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon (New York: W.H.Freeman and Co, 1995
  • Kim M Blankenship, Beth Rushing, Sizanne Onorato, ‘Reproductive Technologies and the US Courts’, Gender and Socety 7:1 (1993): 8-31


§ Jon Turney, Frankenstein’s Footsteps: Science, genetics and popular culture (London: Yale University Press, 1998), ‘Chapter 8: Baby of the Century’. (Read if you have time, for analysis of public/media perceptions of new reproductive technologies)


Background and Further Reading:

*Dorothy Nelkin, M. Susan Lindee, “Chapter 1, The Powers of the Gene”, in their The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon (New York: W.H.Freeman and Co, 1995) If you feel a bit lost, and want a clear and funny introduction to the place of the gene in pop culture, this is the chapter for you!


Films: Junior, Children of Men; The Midwife’s Tale, In the Family


Gay Becker, The Elusive Embryo: How Men and Women Approach New Reproductive Technologies (Berkeley: University of Californa Press, 2000) ‘Introduction’, ‘Chapter 4: Genes and Generations’, Chapter 8 ‘Decisions about Donors’.

Kim M. Blankenship, Beth Rushing, Suzanne A. Onorato and Renee White, ‘Reproductive Technologies and the U.S. Courts’, Gender and Society, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 8-31.

Fenella Cannell, ‘Concepts of Parenthood: The Warnock Report, the Gillick Debate, and Modern Myths’, American Ethnologist, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Nov., 1990), pp. 667-686.

Ruth F. Chadwick (ed.), Ethics, reproduction and genetic control (London : Croom Helm, 1987).

Richard Collier Masculinity, Law and the Family (London, 1995)

Nathaniel Comfort, ‘"Polyhybrid Heterogeneous Bastards": Promoting Medical Genetics in America in the 1930s and 1940s’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 61, Number 4, October 2006, pp. 415-455.

Cynthia R. Daniels, ‘Between Fathers and Fetuses: The Social Construction of Male Reproduction and the Politics of Fetal Harm’, Signs, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Spring, 1997), pp. 579-616.

Megan Doolittle, ‘Fatherhood, Religious Belief and the Protection of Children in Nineteenth-Century Families’, in Gender and Fatherhood in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Trev Lynn Broughton and Helen Rogers (Basingstoke, 2007) pp. 31–42

Jose Van Dyck (also Dijck), Manufacturing Babies and Public Consent: Debating the New Reproductive Technologies (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1995), “Introduction’ and ‘Chapter 6: From Need to Right: The Legalization of Genetic Motherhood’.

Jeanette Edwards, Born and Bred: Idioms of Kinship and New Reproductive technologies in England (Oxford: OUP, 2000) esp. Chapters 8 and 9.

Ellen Herman, ‘The Paradoxical Rationalization of Modern Adoption’, Journal of Social History, Vol. 36, Number 2, Winter 2002, pp. 339-385.

Judith Walzer Leavitt, ‘What Do Men Have to Do with It? Fathers and Mid-Twentieth-Century Childbirth’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 77, Number 2, Summer 2003, pp. 235-262.

Charlene E. Miall, ‘The Stigma of Adoptive Parent Status: Perceptions of Community Attitudes toward Adoption and the Experience of Informal Social Sanctioning’, Family Relations, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Jan., 1987), pp. 34-39.

Dorothy Nelkin, M. Susan Lindee, “Chapter 8, Genetic Essentialism Applied”, in their The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon (New York: W.H.Freeman and Co, 1995).

Irma van der Ploeg ‘Hermaphrodite Patients: In Vitro Fertilization and the Transformation of Male Infertility’, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 460-481.

Seline Szkupinski Quiroga, ‘Blood Is Thicker than Water: Policing Donor Insemination and the Reproduction of Whiteness’, Hypatia, Vol. 22, Number 2, Spring 2007, pp. 143-161 BEWARE (but don’t be afraid): this article is full of jargon. But don’t be put off: focus on Quiroga’s useful discussion of biological vs social kinship and especially her very clear comments on the ‘privileging of genetic kinship’.

Helena Ragoné, ‘Chasing the Blood Tie: Surrogate Mothers, Adoptive Mothers and Fathers’, American Ethnologist, Vol. 23, No. 2 (May, 1996), pp. 352-365.

Margarete Sandelowski, ‘Compelled to Try: The Never-Enough Quality of Conceptive Technology’, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Mar., 1991), pp. 29-47.

Lucinda Vandervort, ‘Reproductive Choice: Screening Policy and Access to the Means of Reproduction’, Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 28, Number 2, May 2006, pp. 438-464.