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The Genetics and Identity Politics of Parenthood and Family: We are family? - Workshop Report

February 20 – October 3 2008

Venue: ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, The University of Edinburgh

Organised by: Innogen, The University of Edinburgh


This was the fourth workshop held as part of a stream of five workshops investigating the phenomenon of genetics and genetic knowledge within the sphere of identity politics.  Previous workshops have focussed on issues such as the categorisation of ethnicity (E-genis); health activism (Cesagen); the forensic use of DNA and genetic databases (EGN Forum).  The final event will bring some of the major themes discussed throughout the series together and is planned for later in 2009.  This is a report of the fourth workshop that raised questions about how family and parent-child relationships are constructed, resisted or affirmed, and the role of genetics in that process.  The discussions were based around three inter-linked themes: 1) Reproducing the family: Children of your “own” or “your own” children?  2) Children’s “need” for a father and mother: Who’s the Daddy? 3) What and who is family?

Issues for discussion included:

  • What implications does the recent recommendation by the HFEA to remove reference to the “need for a father” have for lesbian and gay couples wishing to have a child?

  • How has the need for couples to have their “own” children interacted with technological and medical advances?

  • Should children born from donated eggs or sperm be able to source this information from their birth certificates?

  • What is family in the context of genetic risk information?

  • In the absence of a biological connection to a parent, does a social connection suffice?  In what ways is genetic inheritance important? 

  • How do we recognise and maintain family relationships? For example, what is the role of character traits and physical resemblances in maintaining relations?

The event was organised by Gill Haddow at INNOGEN with help and support from Katie Featherstone, Janet Carsten and Jennifer Speirs.  Thanks go to Angela McEwan at INNOGEN and Margaret Rennex at the EGN Forum for essential administrative support. 

The workshop brought together academics from the fields of science studies, anthropology and counselling to discuss the role of genetics with regards to changing constructions of the family and kin relationships in different legal and social arenas. Reproductive technologies and the ways in which they raise questions about the importance of “genetic information” proved to be one of the main anchor points of discussion. The workshop finished with an experimental exploration of family concepts and narratives by using fiction writing.,24166,en.t4.html