Accepted Paper:

Forever on the threshold? Permanent liminality and the disputes about kinship.  


Jennifer Speirs (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Adopted people and donor offspring without access to information about their genetic origins and who speak of their lifelong in-beweenness, highlight the permanence of beliefs and ways of thinking about parenthood that remain in laws and practices alongside otherwise fluid contemporary kinship.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based on practice as an adoption counsellor and on fieldwork as a social anthropologist which has explored aspects of anonymous semen donation as it was practised in the UK for over seventy years. During the time of the fieldwork the law on human reproduction was changed, but without retrospective effect, so that identifying information about semen, egg and embryo donors could be provided to their adult donor offspring. It appeared at first as a shifting ethnographic field, but the changes were of a particular kind and the resistance and ambivalence of the medical profession towards them were indicative of continuity and of enduring beliefs, particularly in respect of what is meant by 'father'.

The need to maintain closed adoption and donor records is based not on empirical evidence, but on deeply held ideas about kinship. Support for secrecy is based on beliefs about how kinship should be, on confidence that parent-child relationships will not be harmed by deceit, and that it is possible and correct to keep secrets from children even into adulthood. However for many adopted and donor-conceived people, the secrecy or lack of information is a cause of permanent liminality, feelings of belonging wholly to neither their social/nurturing nor their genetic kin.

Panel P114
Permanence: anthropologies of what stays