Accepted Paper:

The making and unmaking of children: collaboration or collusion?  
Jennifer Speirs (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Adoption and donor-assisted conception often rely on extensive temporal and geographic collaboration between strangers. Where there is anonymity and exclusion of significant stakeholders, collaborators may be accused of colluding to create children through exploiting their own elite status.

Paper long abstract:

In adoption and donor-assisted conception, there is collaboration between strangers over time and space. Children born in one place may be adopted by people living elsewhere including abroad, a process that may last many years. Donor-conceived children are the outcome of technologies involving the freezing, quarantine and possible long term storage of donated semen. Semen produced and frozen in one place may then be exported to sperm banks and clinics globally.

UK laws prohibit anonymous semen (and egg and embryo) donation and allow adopted people to obtain their pre-adoption names and the names of their birth parents. In many countries adopted people cannot access this information, and donor-conceived people are not allowed to obtain identifying information about their donor(s). There is collaboration in the making of children, but significant stakeholders are excluded, especially the children themselves and the birth parents of children being adopted. Where there is anonymity, children are made but also unmade: new children are invented with new names, new identities, new histories and new ancestors.

The revelations in the recently-released film Philomena, concerning the 'selling' of children from Ireland to adoptive parents in America, have caused widespread outrage and shock partly because of the perceived collusion in a morally repugnant trade, and possible conspiracy between political and religious institutions. Exploring these reactions and some ethnographic data from interviews with UK semen donors, I propose the significance of differentials of intention, power and status between collaborators in the making and unmaking of children.

Panel IP04
Collaboratively assembling persons