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Accepted Paper:

'A friend, not the mother': affective and economic narratives in (de-)kinning relationships between surrogates and intended parents in the US  
Marcin Smietana (Ca' Foscari University of Venice)

Paper short abstract:

Based on my qualitative research, I discuss how surrogates and intended parents in the US de-kin their relationships by means of contractual intentions and economic compensation, at the same time, however, kinning and de-commodifying these relationships by means of friendship.

Paper long abstract:

In commercial surrogacy in the US (as opposed to India or Russia), surrogates and parents often establish friendships, whereby surrogates resemble family friends or distant relatives, thus allowing to cautiously kin and so de-commodify their contractual relationships. Should this affective narrative of friendship fail, the relationships are de-kinned by legal contracts establishing that the initial intentions to be parents, in conjunction with the economic compensation given to the surrogate, determine parenthood.

Economics indeed may kin, as also in some gay father couples commissioning surrogacy embryos are created with the sperm of the one whose family of origin or productive work provide economic resources for reproduction. Most gay couples, however, prefer to implant two embryos, each with the sperm of one of the fathers, so as to co-opt the latent legal potential the genetic link has for kinning.

These findings show that through surrogacy in the US kinship ties are re-established in terms of the normative industrial society nuclear family, in agreement with other scholarship on ARTs (Thompson, 2005), adoption (Marre & Briggs, 2009), or lesbian and gay families (Pichardo Galán, 2009; Stacey, 2004). At the same time, these normative family scripts are also slowly changed by the transactional possibility of de-kinning the birth mother or kinning a second parent in a same-sex union.

I draw on a year and a half of qualitative research with ethnographic elements I carried out in the US, with twenty surrogate mothers and forty intended parents, within my postdoctoral project 'SurrogARTs' (

Panel P036
Kinning and de-kinning: kinship practices between "parental figures", "reproductive collaborators" and children among new family configurations
  Session 1