CE26 - Innovation, Travail

At the edges of kinship : origins and new family configurations – ORIGINES

At the edges of kinship: origins and new familial configurations

What meaning should be given to the ties uniting people who, without being relatives in the legal sense, are connected by the circumstances of a procreative act? This multidisciplinary project (history, social anthropology, sociology and law) regards the links - real or fantasized - created by the relation to «origins« in the new family configurations (adoption, assisted reproduction, surrogacy).

Origins and new family forms: scientific, political and social issues

The research carried out in this program aims to shed a new light on the issues raised by the future of adoption, the conditions for the use of assisted reproductive technologies, the legal framework for surrogacy and the use of biogenetic knowledge. The goal is to renew the study of contemporary kinship, in particular by shedding light on the point of view of adopted or donor conceived people, which alone can help to describe the various existing connections within the new family configurations. Because of its international dimension (France, Belgium, Italy, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Brazil), the research-project develops a comparative perspective, questioning the evolution and coherence of the so-called «Euro-American« kinship. <br />In 2020, discussions are continuing in France about the revision of the laws on bioethics, especially regarding donor anonymity and women's access to assisted reproductive technologies. Other debates are underway in Quebec, Italy, Brazil, etc., regarding access to origins of adopted people or the recognition of same sex families. The aim of this program is to inform policy decisions by producing empirical results, describing how such families are constituted and how the offspring perceive their relational environment, including the connections created by origins. <br />We also intend to offer families, as well as adopted and donor conceived people, keys to understanding the complex situations they have to face.

The multidisciplinary nature of the research, conducted by 11 researchers in history, social anthropology, sociology and law, makes it possible 1) to situate the notion of origins in a historical perspective, based on the case of paternity research, 2) to analyze the situations and points of view of adopted adults, donor conceived people or families using surrogacy, 3) to compare different legal, political and cultural frameworks.
Our common reflection is implemented according to three transversal axes:
1. Narratives of origins: narrative logics, traces and materialities. The ways in which «origins« are constructed can be seen through the elaboration of narratives and their variations. Particular attention is paid to the institutional treatment as well as to the personal and family use of narrative sources (administrative and judicial archives, civil documents reconstructing the history of individuals, images and medical documents, photographs, and various objects bearing history).
2. Relationships created by origins. Three forms of connections are explored. The first is the relationship between a person and the people who contributed to their conception. The second arises from the fact of sharing, in the absence of any other link, one or more birth parents, the same donor or the same surrogate. A larger circle concerns the relationships between the families of adopted, donor-conceived and surrogate children and the families of those who contributed to their conception.
3. The perils of origin.
We analyze the points of tension, the moments of conflict, the situations of failure or of endangerment of ties and people that are also revealed by the question of origins. The aim is to shed light on and understand the difficulties caused by the pluralisation of links between people in contemporary family environments.

- First papers were presented at the Colloque Penser les origines dans les familles contemporaines : comparaison France-Québec et perspectives internationales, 87e Congrès de l'Association Francophone pour le savoir (ACFAS), Gatineau, Québec, Canada, May 28-29th, 2019.
- Four conferences were organized at the High School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) in Marseille, France (January 2019: «The experience of displaced children. Administrative «Traces«, family constructions and self-tales«, May 2019: «Medical Assistance for Procreation: issues of identity, kinship and health«) and at the Toulouse Jean Jaurès University, France (November 2019: «Same-sex parenthood: issues of kinship« and «Body given, body transplanted, body augmented«, co-organized with AS Giraud).
- First publications are available (see scientific productions and the program website).

An issue of the journal Enfances Familles Générations - «Penser les origines dans les familles contemporaines« - co-directed by Agnès Martial and Isabel Côté (and Kevin Lavoie) is currently in preparation. 2020-2021 will be dedicated to the final stages of the empirical studies, as well as to the organization of a workshop and a conference. A final colloquium will be held at the end of the program. The research will result in various publications in scientific journals and in a collective publication.
In connection with La Fabrique des écritures du Centre Norbert Elias (Marseille, France), and in close collaboration with the research team, several animated films will be made by the author and director Ann Gourmelen (https://anngourmelen.jimdo.com/) based on our studies and results, on the variations of origins in new forms of family life, for children and adolescents living in adoptive families or born by donor conception or surrogacy.

Martial A., “Multi-parenthood and contemporary family forms in French studies”, Antropologia, vol.6, n°2 N.S., 2019, p.13-26.

Sarcinelli A. ( with C.S. Guerzoni), « What is kinning all about? », Antropologia, 6(2), 2019, Numéro thématique: Kinning and De-Kinning: Rethinking Kinship Relatedness from its Edges, pp. 7-12.

Sarcinelli A., ( with C. Simon), « “With your head held high”: Italian and Belgian lesbian-parented families’ claims and strategies to obtain kinning rights », , Antropologia, 6, 2, 2019, pp. 63-82.
Martin A., « ‘Who do I look like?’: Kinning and resemblance in the experience of French donor conceived adults », Antropologia, 2019, vol.6, n°2 N.S., pp. 45-62.

Courduriès J., M. Gourarier. Introduction. “Tracer l’histoire des sujets”. Ethnologie française, n° 178, Vol. 2, 2020, pp. 257-268

Martial A., « Les archives des origines. Traces et (dis)continuités narratives dans les dossiers de l’Aide sociale à l’enfance (1995-2015) », Ethnologie française n° 178, Vol. 2, 2020, pp. 285-298

Martin A, « À propos de : Alondra Nelson, The social life of DNA. Race, reparations, and reconciliation after the genome, Boston (Ma), Beacon Press, 2016, 200p. », Ethnologie française, n° 178, Vol. 2, pp. 158-160

Courduriès, F. Tarnovski. 2020. Homoparentalités. La famille en question ? Paris, Éditions François Bourin, coll. « Genre ! ».

Situated within the fields of gender studies and research on contemporary parenthood, the objective of this project is to analyze how new family forms (created through adoption or gamete donation), relate to the question of “origins”. These issues have been the subject of recent public interest in France but have been the focus of very little empirical social science research, especially from the perspective of individuals who joined their families through adoption, gamete donation, or surrogacy. Two hypotheses will be explored by this project: 1) The relationship to origins does not create parents in the legal sense of the term, but contributes to the construction of these individuals’ identities; 2) The concept of origins reveals an important change in the growing disassociation between procreation and parenthood that produces new relationships and roles: when using new reproductive technologies, some individuals involved do not become parents, but remain at the “edges” of kinship. To examine these edges, the group’s 11 researchers will engage an interdisciplinary (history, anthropology, sociology, and law), empirical, and comparative (France, Belgium, Italy, United Kingdom, Quebec, United States, Brazil) approach to analyzing the roles and relationships historically associated with the notion of origins and parenthood in these countries. This project will allow us to analyze new forms of family life by comparing different social, cultural, political, and judicial spaces. The collective work of the research group will be supported by an online platform and four workshops that will occur over the course of the project, structured around three transversal axes: 1) Origin stories: narrative logics, traces, and materiality; 2) Relationships created by origin; 3) Hazards of origins. Findings of this project will allow for a better understanding of new relationship configurations and future transformations related to adoption or assisted reproduction, as well as provide insight to family configurations in the European and American research sites of focus. It will also produce a unique empirical understanding of how individuals confronted with the question of origins construct their relational universes within current family lives. From a social and political perspective, these data can contribute to the legal framework of scientific and medical techniques related to procreation, debates about adoption and access to assisted reproductive technology, and the legalization of surrogacy. Our research will be presented and discussed during our classes and seminars, in international conferences, and during our end-of-project conference. In addition, these findings will be published in high impact scientific journals in English as well as French. Members of this research group will serve as experts for political agencies as well as for organizations, families, and individuals concerned by the subject of origins in new forms of family life, by sharing the results of our research. In collaboration with La Fabrique des écritures innovantes en sciences sociales at the Norbert Elias Center (CNE), this project will also result in animated film produced for children and adolescents living in families created through adoption or assisted medical reproduction.

Project coordination

Agnès MARTIAL (Centre Norbert Elias)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CNRS / LISST Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique / Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Solidarités Sociétés Territoires
Université d’Ottawa / Laboratoire de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Droits de l'enfant
CNELIAS Centre Norbert Elias

Help of the ANR 287,614 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: October 2018 - 36 Months

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