. 1
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kinship, law and the unexpected

How can we hold in the same view both cultural or historical constructs and
generalities about social existence? In response to this anthropological conun-
drum, Kinship, Law and the Unexpected takes up an issue at the heart of studies of
society “ the way we use relationships to uncover relationships. Relationality is
a phenomenon at once contingent (on certain ways of knowing) and ubiquitous
(to social life).
The role of relations in western (Euro-American) knowledge practices, from
the scienti¬c revolution onward, raises a question about the extent to which Euro-
American kinship is the kinship of a knowledge-based society. The argument takes
the reader through current issues in biotechnology, new family formations and
legal interventions, and intellectual property debates, to matters of personhood
and ownership afforded by material from Melanesia and elsewhere. If we are often
surprised by what our relatives do, we may also be surprised by what relations tell
us about the world we live in.

Marilyn Strathern is William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology at the
University of Cambridge and Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge. She has
carried out ¬eldwork over several years in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea
(Melanesia). She is the author of The Gender of the Gift, After Nature and Property,
Substance and Effect.
Kinship, Law and the Unexpected

Relatives Are Always a Surprise

marilyn strathern
University of Cambridge
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521849920

© Marilyn Strathern 2005

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published in print format

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Preface page vii

part one. divided origins
Introduction: Divided Origins
The Child™s Two Bodies
A Tool
Divided Origins
1 Relatives Are Always a Surprise: Biotechnology in an Age
of Individualism
An Age of Individualism
Adding Debate
Individual and Common Interests
Recombinant Families
Thinking About Relatives
2 Embedded Science
Isolated Knowledge
Relations Everywhere
Kinship Uncovered
3 Emergent Properties
Multiple Origins
An Analogy
Offspring into Property
Information into Knowledge
Relations into Relations
Kinship and Knowledge
The Informational Family

part two. the arithmetic of ownership
Introduction: The Arithmetic of Ownership
Conception by Intent
Leaving ˜Knowledge™ to One Side
The Arithmetic of Ownership
4 The Patent and the Malanggan
Introducing the Body
Return to New Ireland “ 1
Patenting Technology
Return to New Ireland “ 2
5 Losing (out on) Intellectual Resources
The Terms of an Agreement
Tradition and Modernity
Body Ownership
Whole Persons: Things
Part Persons: Agents
Intellectual Resources
6 Divided Origins and the Arithmetic of Ownership
Counting People: Murik
Analogous Worlds
Counting Ancestors: Omie
Owners and Makers
Propagating Images
Intellectual Products?
Ownership of Persons?
Single and Multiple Origins
Applied Maths

Notes 163
References 201
Author Index 217
Subject Index 220

Anthropologists use relationships to uncover relationships. The device is at
the heart of social anthropology, and anthropologists also ¬nd it at the heart of
kinship. This book would not have been possible but for the wave of anthropo-
logical writing that has gone under the name of ˜the new kinship™ (studies), al-
though it does not fall into the genre. I wish to add a footnote about the role that
appeals to relationality play in anthropological studies of social life and suggest
why we should be interested in it. Appeals are made to a phenomenon at once
contingent (on certain ways of knowing) and ubiquitous (to human society).
One of the enduring methodological conundrums of anthropology is how
to hold in the same view what are clearly cultural and historical constructs
and what are equally clearly generalities about social existence. The trick is
to specify each without diminishing the other. If this is an attempt, by its
very nature the present work must be incomplete precisely because of the
speci¬c circumstances that have suggested kinship as an intriguing ¬eld for
investigation here. The ¬eld already limits (˜constructs™) the exercise.
The speci¬c circumstances are epitomised in the new kinship. Studies under
this rubric focus on the re¬‚exive nature of analytical constructs, and very often
on people™s dealings with one another under new technological regimes, with
the stimulus to indigenous re¬‚exivity that brings; people come to make new
kinds of connections between their lives and the world they live in. Much of the
substance of what follows would be familiar to such concerns, especially in the
¬rst part. Part I touches on contexts in which the new medical technologies
have posed questions for families and relatives. These contexts become, in
Part II, a foil for comparative analysis. The essays thus move from materials
lodged largely in the United States and the United Kingdom, and in the ¬rst
chapter white Australia, to creating the grounds for talking about Melanesia,
Amazonia and (brie¬‚y) Aboriginal Australia. They describe the consequences
of relationality, both in the data and in the organisation of it; several of the

essays are illustrative in this sense, deploying the term no differently from its
use in much anthropological writing.
Indeed, relationality “ as an abstract value placed on relationships “ is
highlighted in a recognisable and conventional manner through attention to
the law. Running through these essays is a commentary on the way modernist
legal thinking at once opens up and closes down predispositions to think in
terms of relations. Part I introduces Euro-American law on its own home
territory, so to speak, in both creative and regulative mode, whereas Part II
shows legal categories being introduced in situations otherwise foreign to
them, in some cases in the name of governance, in others as an analytical
device on the part of the observer. Either way, one should not overlook the
imagination and ingenuity of lawyers in dealing with new issues. Concepts
developed in the name of intellectual property offer a rich seam for mining
here and are in the foreground or background of several chapters. ˜The law™
is thus depicted in different guises, whether contributing to the conceptual
resources through which people approach problems entailing ownership or
rights, or intervening in disputes, crystallising certain cultural moments for
the sake of advocacy, and so forth.
There is a particular purchase to bringing in legal thinking. It is a discipline
and a practice that has to deal with different kinds of relationships. After
all, in European mythology, the law is the classic locus for situations where
categorical and interpersonal relations confront each other, as “ in her lectures
of the name “ Judith Butler (2000) reminds us was true of Antigone™s claim.
Ajudications in the courts, pleas on the grounds of human rights: the law deals
with persons in relation to categories. We shall see the signi¬cance of this.
The essays are intended to convey the embeddedness of relational thinking
in the way Euro-Americans come to know world, and the descriptions of social
life this embeddedness has made “ and continues to make “ possible. It offers
us truths of a very special kind. In turn, such relational thinking is successful to
the extent that it capitalises on a common capacity or facility in the making of
relations that exist in other registers altogether. From here comes the attempt
to hold in the same view what are clearly cultural and historical constructs and
what are equally clearly generalities about social existence. The Introductions
to the two parts, Divided Origins and The Arithmetic of Ownership, spell this

Separate acknowledgements are recorded at the end of each chapter, as each
originated at a particular event or for an occasion. (To this extent, they may be

read as independent pieces.) This is to record more generally my intellectual
debts to colleagues whose work makes super¬‚uous any further rehearsal of the
turn to kinship; that micro-history within anthropology has been well written.
I include Janet Carsten™s After Kinship, which rewrites the debates that shifted
the study of kinship from a mid-twentieth-century preoccupation to an arena
of much future promise; Sarah Franklin™s and Susan McKinnon™s collection
of essays on new locations for new interests, Relative Values: Recon¬guring
Kinship Studies, and the reader edited by Robert Parkin and Linda Stone,
Kinship and Family, that brings a span of diverse materials into provocative
relationship. Of ethnographically based monographs, Jeanette Edwards™ Born
and Bred: Idioms of Kinship and New Reproductive Technologies in England is
foremost. All these include re¬‚ections on the substantial materials, theories
and analyses that are constantly re-drawing kinship studies today.
This book is not only about kinship, and there are other debts; for
the stimulus of many conversations, Francoise Barbira-Freedman, Debbora
Battaglia, Joan Bestard-Camps, Barbara Bodenhorn, Corinne Hayden,
Caroline Humphrey, Alain Pottage, Paul Rabinow, Christina Toren, Eduardo
Viveiros de Castro. Benedicta Rousseau is owed special thanks. Much of the
thinking occurred in the environs of Ravenscar in North Yorkshire, under
Jenny Bartlet™s stimulating hospitality, and it is not inconsequential that Ru
Kundil and Puklum El from Mt. Hagen have stayed there too.
Chapter Three and the three chapters of Part II were ¬rst written under
the auspices of Property, Transactions and Creations: New Economic Rela-
tions in the Paci¬c. This was a three-year investigation (1999“2002) funded by
the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council (award R000 23 7838), and
acknowledgement is gratefully made. The arguments here owe much to Eric
Hirsch, co-convenor, and to Tony Crook, Melissa Demian, Andrew Holding,
Lawrence Kalinoe, Stuart Kirsch, James Leach and Karen Sykes, as well as to
Lissant Bolton and Adam Reed, and to the ephemeral association that called
itself the Trumpington Street Reading Group.
Permission to reprint or draw upon papers published elsewhere is gratefully
Chapter Three Abridged as Emergent relations, in Mario Biagioli and
Peter Galison, eds. 2003. Scienti¬c authorship: Credit and intellectual property
in science. New York: Routledge, pp. 165“94.
Chapter Four From the journal Theory, Culture and Society 18: 1 “26, 2001 ;
also pub. in Christopher Pinney and Nicholas Thomas, eds. 2000. Beyond
aesthetics: Art and the technologies of enchantment: Essays for Alfred Gell.
Oxford: Berg, pp. 259“86.

Chapter Five From Martha Mundy and Alain Pottage, eds. 2004. Law,
anthropology and the constitution of the social: Making persons and things.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 201 “33.
Chapter Six to appear in Bill Maurer and Gabriele Schwab, eds. In press.
Accelerating possession: Global futures of property and personhood. New York:
Columbia University Press.

Among several interesting developments in social anthropology at the mo-
ment, a particular trajectory directly affects the substance of this book and
leads to a different kind of acknowledgement. It is invariably to one™s bene¬t
that one consumes the work of colleagues, critical or otherwise, and there is
a temptation to be like the marketing executive or policy maker in this era of
ready responsiveness and absorb criticism the moment it is articulated. Indeed,
ethnographers these days will tell you that hardly have they jotted down ob-
servation or comment and their subjects will have come up with their own
analysis. I am sorely tempted, for example, to take on board a piece that Alberto
Cors´n Jim´ nez (2004) generously sent me; informed by James Weiner™s pre-
± e
science, it is a critique of relationality with which I ¬nd myself at almost every
step agreeing. I might not have fallen in with the criticism so readily had I not
been warmed up to the task ¬rst by Iris Jean-Klein, and Annelise Riles, and
then by Tony Crook™s (2003) work on unmediated relations in Angkaiyakmin,
Bolivip, by Monica Konrad™s (2005) account of nameless relations in Britain,
and by Andrew Moutu™s (2003) study of kinship and ownership in Iatmul. I
think, though, that I can best serve the new radicalism by my own conser-
vatism, and thus conserve what will then become an original position rather
than consume new ones! So I endeavour to remain true to a point of view
not because I defend it but because there is some mileage to be gained from
specifying “ precisely at this juncture “ what is so interesting about it that it
could become important to leave behind.
The Melpa (Hagen) term manda means something along the lines of
˜enough said™, ˜suf¬cient for the present™, ˜let™s stop for now™ “ an exhortation
to shut up, recognise an end, acknowledge a ¬nish, even though everyone
could go on talking forever.
Marilyn Strathern, August 2004
Girton College, Cambridge
part one

divided origins
Introduction: Divided Origins

T he u.k. human genetics commission™s preliminary discussion
document (HGC 2000) on the use of personal genetic information sin-
gles out children as a category with special interests. Given that ethical pro-
cedures in medicine rest crucially on the principles of informed consent and
con¬dentiality, genetic testing poses a particular nexus of problems where
children are concerned. Of course, both the question of young persons being
incapable of giving consent in their own right and the need for parents to be
informed of medical facts about their offspring long pre-date the new genet-
ics. But genetic medicine introduces a particularly challenging set of issues,
such as the testing of children for conditions for which they show no symp-
toms or for conditions that may only be relevant in adult life; the kind of
understanding families might have about Mendelian inheritance; the impli-
cations of parentage testing and of who owns knowledge about a child™s genes.
Generally lumped together as posing ethical dilemmas, these add a signi¬cant
dimension to the status of being a child. Yet, although they are important, it
is arguable that they impinge on relatively few people and are in that sense
exotic. I take the contrary view and suggest that such dilemmas arise out of and
contribute to some very general currents of thinking in contemporary Euro-
American societies.1 We might then say that these general currents simply
point to a recent phenomenon, a self-consciousness about living in a society
in which communications and the so-called knowledge economy mobilise
whole constellations of values that clamour for attention. But I would take
the same step again and argue that this, in turn, is a recent version of a long
standing preoccupation with knowledge.
Similar steps recur throughout this volume, old positions recaptured on
new terrain, and I make no apology for the not-quite replication of issues. It is
one way of working through a culture and its preoccupations, now explicitly
linked, now implicitly so. Some of the many relationships between knowledge

and kinship are the subject of the ¬rst part of this book. To make the concerns
concrete, I introduce a (seriously) playful vignette, although the precise cause
for parental anxiety depicted here may be a little behind the times.

the child™s two bodies
To be self-conscious about knowledge is in Britain a largely middle class
predilection. Miller (1997) describes how, in bringing up their children, middle
class mothers in 1990s North London used their knowledge of the world to
shape the way they would like their children to grow. They cannot do anything
about the genes; they can do everything about health, hygiene and many
common af¬‚ictions; they chat about what food children should eat and what
toys they want to play with. The outcome is that mothers come to regard
the child™s growing up as a series of defeats. The ¬rst enemy was sugar, then
sweets and biscuits, then brands such as Coca Cola, and bigger temptations
such as Barbie dolls and the ubiquitous gun: ˜an unceasing struggle between
what is regarded as the world of nature and the arti¬cial world of commodity
materialism™ (1997: 75). The battles over diet and gender are regarded as efforts
to resist commercialism and consumerism, efforts that invariably end ¬rst in
capitulation and then in the withdrawal that characterises the grandparental
generation, who ¬nd it easier to allow the child freedom to choose its own
Why struggle in the ¬rst place? As I see it, the young mother is placed in a
position of responsibility by her knowledge of the effects of these substances
and toys on the growing body, and on the growing mind and sets of behaviours.
In other words, the child™s condition depends on how the mother acts on her
knowledge of the world. If the child is fed on sugar-free food he or she will
be more healthy; love the child now and he or she will be able to love in the
future, and so forth. At the same time, what the mother sees in the way the
child grows up is her own half-hearted capacity to hold (say) the world of
commerce at bay “ or embrace it for that matter.

Parents do not give up without a struggle, within which their concept of biology
plays a major role. It is very common for such parents to insist that their infants
have an allergy to anything arti¬cial. It is as though the infants™ bodies have
antennae attuned to the mothers™ ideology of nature. Infants are said to come out
in spots as soon as they ingest any kind of additive or the wrong E-number. If
the children do not oblige (with spots) then the parents may claim these additives
cause behavioural problems, which is a harder claim to contest.
Miller 1997: 76

Although Miller does not put it in these words, the child seems to embody
the conscientiousness with which the mother has acted on her knowledge
and stuck to her principles. She must carry on until the child itself is properly
informed about things. In the interim, its development re¬‚ects the application
of her own knowledge.
Such a parent, in this view, shares body with the child twice over. First is the
body of genetic inheritance, a given, a matter regarded colloquially as being
of common blood or common substance. Second is the body that is a sign of
the parent™s devotion “ or neglect “ and in this middle class milieu it is above
all through the application of knowledge that the parent™s efforts make this
body. Miller reports that in the neighbourhood circles he observed what the
child ate or played with re¬‚ected back on to the mother™s local reputation. He
jokes that the child grows the mother.2
These mothers have to go through the same process with the next infant too;
their socialisation is not in that sense ever complete. However, there is a gradual
attrition of the effect that parents feel they have on the child. Whereas they can
mould the ¬rst child, the second already grows up under the shadow of the
¬rst child™s victories. The parent learns how to take defeat. In accepting defeat
the parent is of course acknowledging the growing autonomy of the child.
And what will cap it will be the fact that for all the struggle to impart a world
view, to teach the child to know the world that the parent knows, knowledge
will in the end divide them. In many senses, they may come to share similar
suppositions about the fundamental nature of the universe, about biology for
instance, but ultimately it will be the child™s knowledge that separates him or
her from the parent. This will be partly because information is changing all
the time and people keep up to different degrees, partly because the child must
come to be keeper of knowledge about him or herself. Here is the signi¬cance
of con¬dentiality and the age of consent. But until there is understanding, the
parent must take on the monitoring task on the child™s behalf. Parents are a
special case because of all a child™s caretakers and teachers only parents share
both bodies with the child.
The two bodies are regarded as belonging to the same world (after Viveiros
de Castro 1998a; 1998b), traditionally rendered as at once given and con-
structed. The simultaneity is captured by Latour™s (1993: 6) famous aphorism
that one will never ¬nd any network of events that is not at once ˜real, like na-
ture, narrated, like discourse, and collective, like society™. Whether in af¬rma-
tion or denial of its importance, people thus imagine themselves confronting
reality; nature (as in Miller™s account) might be the epitome, but that order
of reality can be extended to any givens of existence. Yet this really-existing
universe is inextricably bound with ways of knowing it; the world is also the

world they know that they create by their knowledge. It is the same world
in which children are explicitly tutored (tautologously, acquire knowledge
about). Kinship gives an added twist: even when people know that the routes
to knowledge are divergent, the knowledge itself imposes an obligation on the
knower in relation to those around him or her. It is a cause of moral action and
creates a compulsion to act. Such at least would appear to be the implication
of this mode of thinking. This doubled world is of course inhabited not only
by these English-speakers but also by Euro-Americans at large.
In this vignette lies just the kind of material that would fuel continuing
debate, within anthropology and beyond it, over the respective roles of the
social and the biological in kin relations. However, I wish to locate its message
rather differently “ in what it tells us about knowledge practices “ and in doing
so to introduce a difference between two modes of relating. For the mother
has to see the child as not only an extension of herself but also an extension
of the world, and that she visualises through speci¬c concepts that link the
child to this world. In other words, the child, or aspects of his or her condition
or behaviour, becomes a category, an exemplar of a type, as when it is con-
ceptualised as prone to this or that. An example of such categorisation would
be seeing one™s offspring as a typical urban child, prone to allergies linked
to eating habits, supermarket advertising, peer pressure from the playgroup,
and such like. These all need to be brought in relation to one another, and
the mother is the one to do it. In this (Euro-American) world view, persons
can thus act on other persons in the same way as they act on the world, a
folk model of the way in which ˜we engage others in the processes of our own
becoming™ (Toren 2002: 189).

a tool
So there is indeed a footnote to be written to kinship studies. It has little to
do with the substance of kinship thinking or its relevance to contemporary
concerns; it does not enlarge our sensibilities about diversity or the ingenuity
with which people work things out for themselves. It points to what people
have in common rather than what makes them distinctive. Moreover it is not
on the face of it very interesting: more a truism than a re¬‚ection, more surface
observation than deep analysis, and of little theoretical (model-building) pur-
chase. It has all the triviality of a universalism. Nonetheless, it gives present
concerns another dimension. By way of shorthand, I shall refer to it as a tool.
It works by virtue of its duplex character.
The idea of the tool3 I have in mind is not unlike the enzymes that tailor
and splice genes, the central tools of recombinant DNA in the words Pottage

(2004: 272) takes from Rheinberger. He adds: ˜biotechnological inventiveness
splices life into life™, thereby ˜dividing life into the two asymmetric regions of
technique and object™. Life is put to work on life, much as anthropology uses
relations to explore relations. The anthropologist™s tool is a duplex that divides
as it combines.
One of those present concerns we regard as contemporary comes from
scholarly practice. Although anthropologists want to go on deploying the
notion of kinship and although common sense tells them that they must
¬nd it everywhere, their analytical constructs keep pushing kinship back into
the contingencies of the constructs themselves. In particular they (the con-
structs) regularly founder on the ubiquity or otherwise of ˜biology™, ˜substance™,
˜conception™, and so forth, notions evidently part of cultural thinking. For
without that substratum, what then distinguishes kinship from any other
phenomenon? This was the old question. Yet anthropologists are not easily
going to say that there are peoples without kinship. So what is it that they go
on ¬nding everywhere? It cannot be these locally laden notions, obviously, but
must be something else. It is not necessarily going to be useful to call it kinship
either. However, and arguably, such being the compulsion of anthropology™s
own kind of relational knowledge, the search for kinship invariably throws
certain forms of sociality into relief.
Perhaps what anthropologists ¬nd everywhere are two kinds of relations.
Or rather, the realisation that relationality summons divergent thinking. A
homely example in Chapter One is phrased in terms of connections and dis-
connections between persons who may or may not be counted as relatives;
the one process implies the other. Now the relation is divided (into two kinds)
in a particularly powerful way that I want to call ˜anthropology™s relation™.
The two kinds that principally interest me here comprise the conceptual (or
categorical) and the interpersonal. On the one hand are those relations seen
to make connections through a logic or power of articulation that acquires
its own conceptual momentum; on the other hand are those relations that
are conducted in interpersonal terms, connections between persons in¬‚ected
with a precise and particular history. We may focus on the division that is
presupposed in the two kinds or on the routine social fact that they are man-
aged in tandem. Either way, it is the facility to deal with both together, to
operate two kinds of relations at the same time, that is the tool. This in-
volves more than the cognitive ability to combine and discriminate, more
than the content or ontological ¬eld (relations/relationships) being sum-
moned, and more than the particular outcomes in terms of conceptual and
interpersonal orientations. Rather, all these together de¬ne the implement
by its usefulness. It is a tool, tout court, for social living. It simultaneously

compels social imagination and social action, theoretically trivial, immensely
Both the mutual formula of connection/disconnection and the conceptual/
interpersonal tandem may be exempli¬ed in kinship systems. As far as Euro-
American kinship is concerned they are joined by a third duplex, to which
I return, namely a highly developed contrast between relations already in
existence and those that must be deliberately created. Now the particular tool
I am calling anthropology™s relation, the divergence between the conceptual
and the interpersonal, is composed neither of mutually referential opposites
(as in connection/disconnection) nor of explicit features of any one cultural
repertoire (as in the third case, which yields a contrast between the given and
the constructed). Rather, only the work of anthropological exegesis will show
how the one relation is folded into the other. We come to see that it is through
interacting with persons that diverse interactions and further connections
become intellectually conceivable, while it is through creating concepts and
categories that connections come to have a social life of their own. The latter
observation was presaged by Godelier (1986) in his search for the origins of
kinship. Kinship appears where one can imagine “ make an abstract image of “
the relative of a relative, relationships between relationships. Kinship appears
again where people make an imperative out of so doing. The imperative is
logical and moral at the same time.
In sum, as anthropologists use it, their sort of relation is a tool for investi-
gation that the discipline has borrowed from widely shared features of social
life. What gives it purchase is the facility it offers for switching, as the North
London mothers did, between relations of two kinds. The child who is the
extension of the mother is also an extension of the world she inhabits. These
mothers were involved in other switching too, as I comment in a moment.
For myself, there is a further source of interest in this duplex. It comes
from submitting to the temptation to explore the (cultural) contingency of
the very notion of relation. After what I have just said, it would be patently
absurd to see the duplex as the creation of any one locale, let alone a creation
of the scienti¬c revolution (as Chapter Two might imply); however, it seems
to have been pressed then into service in new ways, and speci¬cally in the
pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. This kind of knowledge I take as infor-
mation attached to its source in some demonstrable manner. The point is, its
formulation, use and circulation in speci¬c knowledge practices is de¬nitively
contingent. Contingency does not make it un-useful; rather, it gives the duplex
a speci¬cation of its usefulness. Thus a focus on the relational remains one of
social anthropology™s key strengths, and it does so among other things because
of anthropology™s willingness to move between conceptual and interpersonal

relations in its descriptions of social life. I believe anthropology thus arrives
at a certain truth about sociality that could not be captured in any other way.
There is clearly an account to be written about all of this, and the present
one is not quite it. (The artefactualisation of ˜the relation™ is particularly
clumsy, but it perhaps has some use as shorthand.)4 At the same time some
of the account might already have been written, which is what this collection,
drawing on the works of many others, is meant to indicate.

divided origins
Because they were formulated at different times, it may be helpful to be explicit
about the connections between the chapters.
Anthropologists are of course latter day users of the relation (anthropology™s
relation) as a tool. Others have seized on it before them, and Part I hazards
giving a special place to its development in the scienti¬c revolution and its
facilitation of that revolution. It helped produce among other things what
I venture to generalise as ˜science™s relation™, the third duplex. In fact, the
duplex that I call anthropology™s relation is not the only source of divergent
ways of relating in anthropology itself. The discipline has drawn substantially
on science™s relation as it developed in tandem with new knowledge practices
that came to describe the world in divergent ways, echoed in the North London
mothers™ anxieties over the effort to make the child as natural as possible.
The ¬rst three chapters contain a footnote within a footnote, namely a
comment on what Carsten (2004: 165) calls Schneider™s ˜key perception about
the relation between scienti¬c knowledge and kinship™. This was that the more
(Euro-)Americans learn about the biological facts of procreation, the more
they feel informed about the facts of kinship.5 Chapter One starts with a
discussion that could have been composed of many elements, drawn from
anywhere in the Euro-American world. The combination put together here
is intended to illustrate ways in which people see science as affecting their
lives, and speci¬cally biotechnology. It thus moves over terrain familiar to a
Euro-American readership and familiarly opens with an assumption about
who we and us are. If it speaks with a Euro-American voice, Euro-American
is spoken in many places and the action in this chapter takes place largely in
Australia, from early days a country at the forefront of developments in assisted
conception techniques. This aspect of biotechnology is prime material for
prevalent and media-fanned assumptions about the increase of individualism
that biotechnology supposedly brings in its wake.
In taking off from people™s preoccupations, as reported in the press and else-
where, Chapter One shows something of the value given to people™s choices

and rights in how they manage their lives and how this chimes with knowl-
edge about the given nature and obligations of heredity and family. Knowledge
brings responsibilities. However, the anthropologist is as interested in what
is not said as in what is said. The bulk of the account is taken up with a
(positivist) understanding of individuals as entities prior to relationships, so
to an age that thinks of itself as individualistic, the revelation of relationship
can come as something of a surprise. The person as an individual turns out
to be the person as a relative. This occurs in two distinct locations: one in
the turbulence of family arrangements and one in the procreative obliga-
tions kin are (newly) imagined owing one another. And right at the end I
present academic arguments that presuppose relational thinking. These last
are interestingly complicated by the substance of the debate they address, the
separateness or otherwise of pregnant mother and fetus. The example presses
home the point that the concept of relationship asks us to think about connec-
tions and disconnections together. The duplex is left at that and not further
Chapter One thus documents an arena that has brought families and
their relatives into the spotlight in the way ethicists and medical adminis-
trators approach guidelines for the deployment of new technologies. Along-
side Australian reports and reportage, U.S. and British materials point to how
law and biotechnology work together (a parallelism in their effects and fab-
rications), and how law and kinship often do not (notions of the embodied
and distributed person sit uncomfortably with the legal subject). At the same
time, Chapter One introduces science (biotechnology) largely where folk par-
lance would conventionally locate it, something to be drawn ˜into™ society.
Chapter Two opens up current discussions (among scientists, policymakers
and others) about science and society that challenges this location. However,
Chapter Two takes the challenge in an unexpected direction, asking us to
imagine science as already embedded in society. But there is also a second
challenge here. It was the anthropologist™s pre-existing interest in relation-
ships and indeed in a relational account that led me to spring two ˜surprises™
in Chapter One. We might ask how relationism comes to be embedded in
anthropological analysis in the ¬rst place.
Social anthropology is an Enlightenment-inspired, information-gathering
discipline; the ¬rst task is to grasp the role of relations in (Euro-American)
knowledge-making. Chapter Two embarks on a case for the special status
of relations in scienti¬c epistemology. To repeat the point, it is obviously
absurd to claim that what the scienti¬c revolution created was a relational
view of the world, which is the condition of social being in the ¬rst place.
So, what was being created? Perhaps one could say that ˜the relation™ (and

I am talking of anthropology™s relation) was being appropriated for particu-
lar, in this case epistemological, ends. Of course this points to little more than
tautology “ new practices of knowledge whose suppositions about relation-
ships evidently developed in new ways. But if one can talk in these terms at
all, then just such an appropriation, leading to a particular kind of (scienti¬c)
knowledge-making, would be the kind of cultural contingency for which I was
At any rate, what emerged was knowledge with divided or divergent origins,
that is, knowledge capable of looking to more than one source.6 Truth might
rest in the persuasiveness of concepts, as logically connected to other concepts,
or truth might rest in the persuasiveness of persons, bringing with them the
guarantee of professional expertise, and in either case relations had to hold.
We shall come on to that in Chapter Three. In the meantime, Chapter Two
explores the speci¬c duplex I call science™s relation.
Science™s relation is exempli¬ed in a trope that Schneider also used, though
I deploy it for different ends. I refer to the distinction between discovery and
invention, between unfolding relations already there (co-implications) and
making new relations (meaningful connections).
The distinction allows Euro-Americans two ways of getting at relational
knowledge: uncovering what is in nature and making new knowledge through
culture. A couple of contexts render this divergence apparent. (There is no
signi¬cance in there being a couple.) Thus Chapter Two considers the way
science™s relation informed a relational view within the discipline of social
anthropology itself. It also considers the echoes of scienti¬c relationism in
indigenous, here English, kinship relationships. In both cases, what is of in-
terest is a division between modes of knowledge about the world (or about
oneself as part or not part of that world). In both cases, scienti¬c knowledge
practices appear an explicit model for the interpretation of certain elements.
On much less certain ground, the argument about an implicit or embed-
ded science is made in a thoroughly speculative manner. However, if I am
driven to take the risk (of error, logical and otherwise), an indigenous ethic
in modern epistemology is at my heels. Uncovering connections and making
connections can both have the force of a moral imperative, in the ¬rst case to
exploit or conserve but otherwise acknowledge the world as it is and, in the
second, as Wagner (1975) pointed out long ago, to make human life work as
social life, the grand project of creating society. Nature and culture! The con-
trast appears at once foundational and as requiring attention. And whether
in terms of the veri¬cation of abstract knowledge or for the personal respon-
sibilities that knowledge brings, the theme of accountability runs through
Part I.

Chapter Two is broad brushed. It is science™s emphasis on particular modes
of knowing that suggests we might talk of a scienti¬c kinship system, of
Euro-American kinship as the kinship of a knowledge-based society. Chap-
ter Three attempts some detail (and becomes localised to the English-speaking
world). In particular, it attempts to justify the directionality I gave to scien-
ti¬c thinking as a possible model for aspects of kinship thinking. Although
the intention in Chapter Two had been somewhat mischievous, taking off
from contemporary yearnings to see science in society, this chapter is alto-
gether more sober. (The reader is asked to forgive the attempt at streamlining
the main argument that leads to an overburden of endnotes.) With natural
science as one source of divergent ways of conceptualising relations in the
background, it argues a general case for anthropology™s relation, a duplex that
does not rest on nature and culture. At the least it presents materials whose
questions will hopefully linger even if the effort at answering them proves
Its impetus goes back to a ˜discovery™: the verbal crossovers that the English
language allows between conceptual and interpersonal relations. It was the
inter-twining that started me off in the 1990s (Strathern 1995). Although I
was not aware at the time, Sahlins (1993: 24“5) had drawn attention to Locke™s
dictum that we necessarily know things ˜relationally™ by their dependence
on other things; a brief foray into how Locke made the concept concrete is
at the centre of this chapter. The divided modes of relationality that ¬gure
in Chapter Two make an appearance in Chapter Three in the discussion of
conceptual relations. Whether entities pre-exist relations or are brought into
existence by them is another way of referring to the contrast between applying
the creative work of the relation (invention) or uncovering its prior status
(discovery). But this does not exhaust the interest of conceptual relations;
above all they can be invested with creative or generative power.
If Locke is at the centre of Chapter Three, impetus also comes from the
sidelines: a dreadful pun heard not so many years ago in an American court that
referred to parents as the mental conceivers of a child. The part that knowledge
plays in the perception of contemporary kinship (again the directionality is
deliberate) is rendered dramatic by present-day discussions in the context of
new procreative technologies. Here it follows through issues introduced in
Chapter Two about the sensitivity of personal information, of great interest
to the law, and expands on the work of Dolgin and her formulation of the
genetic family mentioned in Chapter One. The creativity of lawyers and a
commentary on forms of reproduction “ both logical and procreative “ offers
some contrast with the end of that chapter, which had concluded with a lawyer
complaining of the law™s limitations.

The cultural contingency of interest here is anthropology™s ability to forge
a discipline out of relationality. It seems I have woven back and forth be-
tween conceptual clari¬cations and concrete instances, neither of which seems
quite up to the measure of the other. Yet that incommensurability has to be
right. All I stress in conclusion is that the duplexes mentioned here (connec-
tion/disconnection, categorical/interpersonal, given/constructed) that belong
to no single logical order, and appear to summon such diverse materials, are
all tools for grasping aspects of one world. That world is known not only from
different viewpoints but also from speci¬cally divergent, that is, related, ones.
Any of the divergences (and there will be others) produces ˜the relation™.
The contingency is the pivot or turning point that directs us to Part II.
The kinds of objects Euro-Americans make of relationality is there elucidated
with Melanesian materials in mind, where relationality is objecti¬ed, rei¬ed,
in other ways. For all the relational inventiveness that Euro-Americans pour
into their systems of knowledge, or the work that goes into making society, or
the passion of a judge™s plea that one-time parents give heed to their relation
with a child, the law does not recognise a relationship as a legal subject. Only
individuals (individual persons) can be legal subjects. It would not be too
far off beam to say that in Melanesian ways of thinking, relationships are the
equivalent of legal subjects, insofar as they are embodied in persons subject
to politico-ritual protocols and public attention.
Together the chapters in Part I comment on a particular Euro-American
appropriation of the capacity to manage two kinds of relations, two modes of
relating, at once. I have ventured in turn to discriminate between the diver-
gences offered by science™s relation and by anthropology™s relation. Of course
we can only see this process refracted through the very knowledge practices
that are built on it. Here we become particularly conscious of the creative
and productive, that is, generative operations summoned by science™s rela-
tion. So, for example, the difference between discovery and invention is not
just a scienti¬c (or as we shall see a legal) distinction but is axiomatic to a
view interested in knowledge about the world that sets up relations between
the given and the made. This key relational nexus is replicated in similar if
not identical fashion across diverse arenas, which is why it is so hard to get
away (despite best efforts) from its speci¬c location in nature and culture, bi-
ology and society, that seems to speak for everything else, including kinship.
Highly productive in advancing knowledge of the world, enabling of anthropo-
logy among many other disciplines, it remains the case that every insight
about (knowledge about) such relationality also obscures. The theoretically
more generative, and in this case more creative of systemic thinking, the more
knowledge must insist there are things beyond its ken.

Social anthropology has pointed out some of the force of such conceptual
or categorical thinking, while its interest in situations where people are simul-
taneously dealing with interpersonal relations draws it in other directions.
Can its own management of relations (conceptual and interpersonal) in fact
hold up outside the Euro-American world that anthropology indigenously
inhabits? Sometimes it likes to think its practices have origins elsewhere, too.

I am grateful to Christina Toren for her encouragement at the 2001 confer-
ence on Children in their Places, convened at Brunel University by Suzette
Heald, Ian Robinson and Christina Toren; parts of both Introductions were,
to my considerable bene¬t, aired there under the panel rubric ˜Children in an
information age™.

Relatives Are Always a Surprise: Biotechnology
in an Age of Individualism

We are living in an era of intense individualism.
Margaret Somerville, on stem cell research, in conversation
with Peter Singer. ABC TV Dateline, 16 August 2001

W hat kind of people is biotechnology turning us into? ˜we™
are no more or less than the users of it, who might be anywhere, al-
though the attendant issues discussed here re¬‚ect speci¬cally Euro-American
aspirations and concerns. Over the past twenty-¬ve years, biotechnology has
provided some powerful food for thought, challenges to how we users of it
imagine society and how we imagine our relations to one another. Public opin-
ion has, for example, seized on the idea that the new genetics is making new
kinds of persons out of us.1 Some see these new persons as ultra-individuals.
But the new genetics also makes new connections, and here there are some
surprises “ people ¬nd themselves related in unexpected ways. Then again, the
kind of people we might be becoming will depend a bit on what we already are,
and we are not always quite what we seem.2 If ours is an age of individualism,
as we constantly tell ourselves, and biotechnology feeds into that, then what
exactly is biotechnology feeding? Let me start with a case.

an age of individualism
Here is a slice of ˜ordinary life™ (after Edwards 2000), even if the circumstances
that bring it into public view are not ordinary. It concerns grandparents and
grandchildren “ two girls “ and how much they see of one another. The parents
separated just before the birth of the second girl, and the father lived at home
with his parents, so these grandparents used to see a lot of the two girls.


Grandparents are not the kind of relatives expected to frequent the law
courts.3 But it was as grandparents that the couple petitioned for visiting
rights to their grandchildren (Dolgin 2002). Some 18 months after the girls™
parents separated, their father died. The girls continued to spend time with
their father™s parents, but the mother thought it was excessive and wanted to
limit it and not allow overnight visits. This is what brought the grandparents
to court. The trial court ruled that although the children would bene¬t from
spending quality time with the grandparents, it should be balanced with time
spent with the children™s ˜nuclear family™. The case went to several appeals (the
mother appealed, and then the grandparents appealed against the reversal of
the trial court™s decision).
At the ¬nal appeal, the conclusion followed the common law assumption
that the courts should not interfere in a parent™s right to raise children as he
or she wishes.4 The ˜nuclear family™ was invoked, and the grandparents were
outside it. The U.S. Supreme Court (ultimate court of appeal) ˜found wanting
the trial court decision that favored a family of extended kin because that choice
failed to defer adequately to the decision of a ¬t mother about her children™s
familial relationships™ (Dolgin 2002: 383). Although observations were made
about extra-familial support being important in situations in which there
was only one parent “ statistics were quoted by the appeals court judges (in
1996, 28% children under 18 lived in single parent households [population not
noted]) “ the ¬nal ruling found in favour of the mother and her authority
over her daughters. This did not just mean that the mother™s wishes took
precedence over the grandparents™ but that her individual right to be the kind
of parent she wished to be was endorsed.
The judges rejected an atomistic view of family life,5 but they did endorse
parental determination. Many see ˜biotechnology™ doing what the law did.
Primarily in the form of assisted conception techniques, advances in re-
productive medicine have enhanced parental freedom of action. In vitro fer-
tilisation (IVF) and associated procedures have been offered in the name
of the nuclear family, enabling couples to have the children who will com-
plete it (see especially Haimes 1990; 1992); in the name of single parents,
allowing them to have children without entering into partnerships; and in
the name of reproductive choice, recognizing the very determination to have
children as possible grounds for claiming parentage. The kind of parenting
involved in the court case involving the grandparents is all about social ar-
rangements, whereas biotechnology attends to biology and the body™s capac-
ities. One is about rearing children, the other is about having them in the ¬rst
place “ nurture and nature, if you like, or rather nurture-helped-by-the-law

and nature-helped-by-technology. But either can be seen as encouraging an
individualism of a kind.
This individualism may involve other people, but it is the individualism
that refers to the self as the source of choice-making and to the virtues of
autonomous action.6 Parental determination is also parental autonomy. From
some points of view, this may look sel¬sh. Actually, the daughter-in-law read
sel¬shness into her in-laws™ motives. She thought that the grandparents were
thinking of themselves ¬rst and trying to turn the girls into some kind of
substitute for their lost son.

adding debate
What is interesting about adding biotechnology to such ordinary situations,
if I can put it like that, is that one adds debate. Debate has become part of the
changing social environment in which the new genetics ¬nds itself (Franklin
2001 b: 337). A doctor talking about the world™s thirteenth IVF baby, born in
Victoria, Australia, now turned 21, said:

The issues have also changed. Twenty-one years ago doctors were concentrating
on women™s early morning dash to the hospital for the collection of eggs. Now
they are debating the ethical and moral dilemmas of stem-cell research and single
women™s rights to IVF.
The Age (Melbourne), 24 July 2002

Because of the visibility of the ˜new™ techniques and the problems they pose
for decisionmaking, little is left unquestioned. Indeed, the media constantly
draw attention to the circumstances under which people choose reproduc-
tive interventions, for these appear test cases for the validity not just of this
technology but sometimes (it seems) of all technology.
Among other things, biotechnology has turned us into people who are not
surprised if intimate medical matters concerning third parties are debated in
public and who in an arena heavily dependent on the expertise of the clinician
or scientist see the need to weigh different values, bringing together public
and private moralities. After all, ˜even if one considers a union a private affair,
not necessitating [registry] papers, the birth of a child is always a public event™
(Segalen 2001 : 259). The role of the expert here has turned quite complex.
It is not just a case of science producing dilemmas for society to solve;
biotechnology has become an arena in which society speaks back (Nowotny,
Scott and Gibbons 2001 ; cf. Franklin 2001 b) and in which the public takes

an interest in experts™ agendas, including their research agendas. Of course,
scientists are not the only experts in the ¬eld; biotechnology is making us into
people who listen to ethicists and philosophers and lawyers as well. And that
is not just because their interventions affect individual lives at the points at
which people have to make dif¬cult decisions but also because of what often
makes those decisions dif¬cult. This includes the very fact that we imagine
these interventions will affect the kinds of persons we are,7 for example, how
we choose to ˜be human™. What is remarkable about the arena of biotechnology
is that such a question does not, on the face of it, have to do with excessive
violence, greed or the violation of rights but with applications that can lead
to advances in medicine. In truth, violence, greed and violation have all been
read into the development of biotechnology, but as the obverse of what we
are assured are bound to be bene¬ts, both in terms of medical treatment and
in keeping at the forefront of research. What emerged as a contentious issue
from the outset (at least in the United Kingdom with the Warnock Report in
1985[Warnock 1985]), the question of limits and where to impose them, is still
In a lesser register, if Euro-Americans do not ask the question (What kind
of people are we turning into?) about humanity then they may ask it about
society; what consequences do people™s decisions have for the kind of soci-
ety they would like to live in? Here individual self-interest emerges as the
contentious issue. Techniques welcomed to solve the problems of potential
nuclear families may be regarded as suspicious if their end result is more
single parent families. Although the desire to have a baby may be taken pos-
itively as thoroughly natural, the desire to have a child of a particular kind
or for a particular purpose can be taken negatively as an example of parental
sel¬shness.8 Contemplating the implications for Humanity or for Society is
unlikely to be where those closely involved ¬nd most dif¬culty but, fanned by
the zeal of the press, which constantly puts these cases into the public eye, it
does make dif¬cult how everyone else is to think about the phenomena.
The year 2002 brought reports of a deaf couple who intentionally had a deaf
child to match their own condition, their second, the ¬rst being four years old.
This was by sperm donation and need not have involved any ˜biotechnology™
at all, but the story ¬ts into the genre of stories about ˜genetic manipulation™.
It also was about same-sex parenthood because the partners were women.
˜Babies, deaf by design™ was one headline, to echo debate over designer babies
raised by the new genetics (The Australian, 16 April 2002).9 ˜Being [born] deaf
is just a way of life. We feel whole as deaf people and we want to share the
wonderful aspects of our deaf community™.

Commenting on these words from one of them, The Australian™s reporter
observed that the parents turned deafness from disability into cultural dif-
ference. Their decision thus highlighted the enigma of autonomous choice.
What for the couple was design for perfection for others was design for dis-
ability. Note that the couple™s design for perfection was not to have themselves
reproduced, which would have been dependent on the vagaries of genetic
recombination, but to create children who replicated their shared elective
characteristic of deafness. It was the one characteristic that they wanted to see
in their child. They said they felt they could nurture a deaf child with more
understanding than a child with normal hearing.
The couple was portrayed as sel¬sh for not thinking of the child. Where
they stressed the sense of belonging and sharing that came from being with
members of their ˜deaf community™, the newspaper stressed the fact that the
deaf are cut off from mainstream society. ˜Sooner or later their children will
have to face up to the hearing world™, observed the journalist who described
the huge technical backup system that assists them to communicate (for ex-
ample, over telephone). Interests in common at once unite and divide, and
mainstream society has suf¬cient interest in these children to pass highly
evaluative judgements on the parents™ decisions.
The case, from Maryland (United States), was reported in the Australian
press as it was across the world. The question it raises for the public “ how we
are to think about the parents™ decision? “ is seemingly ubiquitous. Although
these types of questions are debated with local issues in mind and although
the regulatory regimes are different, they strike similar chords. The dilem-
mas travel with the technology, that is, the debates crop up in surprisingly
similar forms in many otherwise different contexts.10 I already have in mind
that, based on her study of couples trying to create families through assisted
conception, Bonaccorso (2000) had come to this conclusion about Italian
practices. Procedures of litigation may differ, but the way in which values are
weighed in favour of certain kinds of family arrangements seems very famil-
iar, amid a general consensus about the causes for both congratulation and
Now the plight of the deaf couple might lead one to pit individual choice
against general public values. However, I would put it rather that we see an
interplay between what are in effect two sets of public values, which in turn
may either chime together or clash. On the one hand lies autonomy and the
individualism it promotes, and on the other hand lies altruism and interests
in common.11 Both values are written into public reactions to biotechnology;
either can be taken in a positive or a negative direction.

individual and common interests
By way of example, I focus brie¬‚y on issues concerning genetic make-up.
Western (Euro-American) imagery routinely represents individuality through
people™s unique and singular bodies, echoed in understandings of the unique
genetic template. No one else has quite the same combination of genes, bar
identical twins. The perception of individuality and the value of individualism
go together, and the signi¬cance of the unique genetic template is repeated over
and again, a twentieth century discovery so easily absorbed into pre-existing
notions about individuality that it is “ among other things “ the possibility of
compromising that uniqueness that makes cloning so threatening.12
Bodily uniqueness is a sign as much as a Euro-American symbol of auto-
nomy and of respect for the person as an individual (for recent discussion,
see Davies and Naf¬ne 2001 ; James and Palmer 2002). Indeed, the integrity of
the body is itself the subject of rights. Thus much current questioning over
embryo stem cells recalls earlier anguish over embryo research. Paradoxically,
the biotechnology that in the eyes of some destroys individual beings also
becomes one of the vehicles through which the very ˜individuality™ of em-
bryonic features become apparent. And it is the interventionist character of
biotechnology that has us formulate obligations: how to treat others.13 Here
the embryo may be depicted as a fragile and vulnerable member of the species
who needs special protection.
The individuality of a person™s make-up is also made visible through his
or her pro¬le of likely health, with an interesting quali¬cation. That genetic
diagnosis offers the possibility of being able to make sense of the person™s own
genome has at the same time stimulated great interest in the role that heredity “
inheritance from others “ plays in the transmission of disease. Nonetheless,
it is what comes together in the individual genome that will count for the pa-
tient, which can be seen as both positive and negative. Chapter Three touches
on people™s urge to seek out relatives beyond the nuclear family in order to
recover information about themselves and their medical prospects. There is
also evidence, largely from the United States (Dolgin 2000; Finkler 2000), to
suggest that some people trace relatives simply to gain this vital informa-
tion and give little regard to the possibilities of starting up relationships with
them.14 This creates (the phrase is Dolgin™s) ˜genetic families™, whose members
are ¬rst and foremost linked through the information their bodies hold about
one another. Individualism ¬‚ourishes to the extent to which these genetic ties
can be disarticulated “ severed “ from social ones.15
On the other side, of course, genes are not unique at all. Again, we ¬nd both
positive and negative values. The combinations might be unique, but the genes

themselves are replicas. People share the same range with everyone else on the
planet, and the same basic genetic mechanism with all living things “ even as
they share the genetic make-up found in millions of human bodies built in
similar ways, almost but not quite identical to one another. For however long
this has been true, it is biotechnology that moves people to make declarations
about genetic solidarity. Heredity become heritage, and the appeal is to the
macro community this creates:

The concept of genetic solidarity and altruism might be summarised as follows: We
all share the same basic human genome, although there are individual variations
which distinguish us from other people. Most of our genetic characteristics will
be present in others. This sharing of our genetic constitution not only gives rise
to opportunities to help others but it also highlights our common interests in the
fruits of medically-based genetic research.
HGC 2002: 38

What comes to mind are objections to ˜patenting genes™ (DNA), which,
some argue, puts common resources into private hands.16 The argument was
heard over the decoding of the human genome and the spectre of patent-
ing, a race fuelled by visions of public against private property, the common
interests of humankind against capital accumulation by a few. There are in
fact two rather different positions here. Membership of the human species
confers belonging, common membership arousing a sense of identity with
other human beings. The notion of common interests, however, starts rais-
ing questions of ownership of a quasi-property kind.17 That is, insofar as the
features of a common humanity can be made to yield a resource, there is
some competition as to who should enjoy its fruits: what disabilities should
be treated, who has access to the information it yields, who can bene¬t from
the development of pharmaceuticals. It also makes clearer what is implicit in
the model of common humanity, that a sense of inclusiveness at one level (we
all have [more or less] the same genome) is exclusiveness at another (other
species do not count).
Now the case of heredity concerns people working out the consequences
of discovering genetic connection, whereas the case of heritage amounts to
abstract justi¬cations for ethical behaviour. Despite these differences, I suggest
that both prompt attitudes that are thoroughly familiar from Western (Euro-
American) images of the ˜nuclear family. Now on the face of it nothing could
seem further apart than the dispersed network of relatives in which ties are
treated instrumentally (the so-called genetic families) with only the tiniest
units coming together to form (nuclear) families, and the inclusive body
of human beings that form a unity18 at a fundamental level no one should

tamper with. Yet shift perspective a bit, and if the exclusive family appears
like an individual writ large, then the community of humankind “ in this
view internally undifferentiated “ appears like an exclusive family writ large.
Whether, as in the instance of the Washington grandparents, close relatives
do not count, or whether protection extends only to the notion of what we
share with other human beings, the family looks after its own.
Some of the hold that biotechnology exercises over the imagination is its
power to intervene in realities that already play a role in the way people think
about themselves. Heredity or heritage, one can think of genes in narrower
or broader contexts in human affairs. And the boundary images of ˜family™
do their job twice over. At the same time this particular imagery is highly
selective. There are many other things we know about families. So let us not
assume what they are; let us stand back a second time, then, and return to the
ordinary family we have already encountered.

recombinant families
Here lies a surprise. The Washington grandparents who petitioned for visita-
tion rights found that the courts put different weight on the nuclear family.
But what was this nuclear family?19 By the time of the ¬rst hearing, the mother
had already remarried. The family household in which the girls were now liv-
ing included their mother, her new husband who subsequently adopted them,
a child from the new marriage, three children from an earlier marriage of hers,
and two children from the new husband™s previous marriage: eight offspring
in all, although none of the couples had had more than two or three together.
In fact, a British anthropologist, Simpson, punned of similar kinds of ar-
rangements in the United Kingdom that the resulting constellations produce
families that are ˜unclear™ rather than ˜nuclear™.
Simpson (1994; 1998) was commenting on a phenomenon that appears
in many post-divorce arrangements in Britain. There does not immediately
seem anything untoward about such family arrangements “ similar ones can
be found in many times and places, as for instance in the French example of re-
peated divorces over three generations given by Segalen (2001 : 262“3) “ except
that it does not ¬t into the model of the ˜family™ we have been considering. It
is neither narrow nor wide, it has no clear boundary. Rather, bits originating
in other families have come together to make a new one. The surprise is in
seeing what is happening: dissolution often leads to recombination (cf. Bell
2001 : 386).
The background is familiar enough. Britain has the highest divorce rate
in Europe20 ; with more than half of divorced couples in 1990 having a child

under sixteen, it may now have reached a plateau, but it is a plateau with a
distinctive con¬guration. Despite the break-ups, both families and marriage
remain popular (one in three marriages is a remarriage) (Simpson 1998: viii).
That same ¬gure is true of Australia (roughly a third of all marriages is a
remarriage).21 ˜Ten things you didn™t know about Australian families™ is how
the Sun Herald (Sydney) (23 January 2000) greeted a swathe of statistics, dating
to 1996“1998, intended to provoke surprise both at how traditional Australian
family arrangements persist and how prone to change they are. The changes
are, for instance, in the direction of rising divorce rates (40% of all marriages
after 30 years, edging to the United Kingdom™s 50%) and a rising age of women
having children, yet tradition is evident in the fact that most children are born
to parents who are married (70%), and over 70% of children under 18 who
currently live with their parents live in a nuclear family (mum, dad and the
children they had together).22 However, a sense of change is introduced by
the projection that 30% children under four will be in single parent families
by 2021 (the present ¬gure is 20%, of which the majority are single mother
families). The traditional and non-traditional exist side by side.
It is nothing new to observe that there seems as much value put on marriages
and families as ever; how they are made up is another matter. In Australia,
a high proportion of children live with both ˜biological™ parents, but there
are also many who live with only one. It may be in a single parent family, or
it may be in a recomposed one. ˜Recomposed™ is Segalen™s (2001 : 259) word
for families, as in the Washington instance, that form after the break-up of
previous ones.23 The high degree of divorce in present times throws those
recomposed families into relief, and makes them visible. ˜Divorce is the point
at which marriage is of¬cially dissolved but it is also the point at which the
principles, assumptions, [and] values . . . surrounding marriage, family and
parenting are made explicit™ (Simpson 1998: 27). Indeed, Simpson suggests
that what is new is the extent to which such recompositions have become part
of the fabric of society. Marriages might dissolve and many would regret the
rate it has reached, but families reform. Creeping up on us, as it were, is a new
realisation of ways of arranging the relationships.
Embedded in these ordinary circumstances are pointers to what is also
interesting about biotechnology. It has become part of the social fabric: ˜ART
[assisted reproductive technology] is now clearly an integral part of society™,
to quote an observation from Western Australia (Cummins 2002). What has
been creeping up on us is a world in which, for example, the thought of
replacing parts of bodies “ or even the bodies of lost persons “ follows not
far behind knowing about techniques of organ transfer or hearing of claims
on a deceased spouse™s reproductive material. Assisted conception procedures

that offer remedy to those unable to have children also encourage people to
organise careers with an expectation of late parenthood. Obviously in this
area (of assisted conception), but also where family members must make
decisions in relation to one another, for example over prolongation of life at
birth or death, biotechnology has itself become a factor in the way people
manage their lives. It adds its own ¬eld of recombinations in what it takes
to conceive children. And it is partly the degree to which the applications of
biotechnology have in turn intervened in the formation of families that has
given us recomposed families. From her French perspective, Segalen writes:

[By adopting] new legal dispositions re¬‚ecting the new attitudes towards mar-
riage, and also echoing the development of biotechnologies since the 1970s, jurists
have disarticulated marriage and ¬liation [the recognised relation of succession
between parent and child]. More children . . . enjoy the bene¬ts of a paternal pres-
ence though the father [is not what he seems]. . . . The father, according to the
Napoleonic Code, was the man who gave his genes, gave his name, and daily
raised the child in his home. These three components of ¬liation have been dis-
associated in recomposed families.
Segalen 2001 : 25924

The jurists might have taken apart marriage and ¬liation but, as people
tell themselves, reproductive technology has already taken apart ¬liation and
conception. If you look at the regular nuclear family, you may well ¬nd that
the parents have been helped by a donor. What is true, then, of families legally
recomposed through divorce and adoption is also true of biotechnological
parentage, at least insofar as the fertile components that go to make up a child
may be drawn from diverse sources, diverse bodies.
We might surmise that families composed of other families, with children
already conceived, would be largely distinct from families seeking augmen-
tation through gamete donation or IVF. But the two kinds of recomposition
can come together. Again, divorce or separation makes that coming together
visible, and following the break-up of partnerships we hear much about, for
example, disputed rights of disposal over frozen embryos.25 This is the mo-
ment at which combinations have to be disentangled.26 To take one example,
the judgement in the Washington grandparents™ petition was subsequently
cited in a Rhode Island case involving a same-sex couple who had separated,
in which one of the pair applied for visiting rights to a child born to her part-
ner through arti¬cial insemination that she had helped organise (Dolgin 2002:
402“4). What weighed with the judges was the ˜parent-like relationship™ she
had had with the child for the four years they lived together, even though once
the visitation privileges had been won she forfeited her claims to parentage

as such. In this case, the authority of the child™s ˜biological mother™ had to be
balanced against the interests of the other party asserting co-parental rights.
A complex nexus of possibilities is afforded not just by the law, then, but
also by biotechnology. Indeed, and to follow Franklin™s (2003:81) use of ˜re-
combinant™ as an epithet for certain kinds of conceptual relations, we might
borrow the metaphor again: such families are nothing if they not recombi-
nant. It would be to draw on a simple notion from a complex cellular process,
namely, that the techniques involving recombinant DNA were, at least when
new, described as permitting the ˜combination of genetic information from
very different organisms™ (Berg et al. 2002: 320). Biologists™ ability ˜to splice
and recombine different DNAs™ dates from 1973 (Reiser 2002: 7).
˜Recombinant™ is an apt term for the social forms these new families take27 ;
their formation is not just a matter of shuf¬‚ing parts around or submerging
parts in an undifferentiated whole but of cutting and splicing so that elements
work in relation to one another in distinct ways. To some extent, the elements
can be kept conceptually discrete. (You cannot undo a conception, although a
baby™s DNA will carry imprints that can separately identify each of its parents.28
You can block the social connotations of that conception, as routinely happens
when donor anonymity cuts off donors from their reproductive act.) I mean
recombinant, then, in the sense that in taking apart different components of
motherhood and fatherhood one is also putting them together in new ways, in
both conception procedures and in rearing practices, and then all over again
in combinations of the two.

thinking about relatives
There is much more going on than the ˜fragmentation™ of society. Euro-
Americans know that the thought of biotechnology marshals an extraordinary
range of hopes and fears; scientists™ own particular concerns with the devel-
opment of recombinant technology also date from the 1970s (Reiser 2002: 7).
They know technology itself is not to ˜blame™, yet many people cannot help
thinking that the new techniques draw out of them a new impetus to social
fragmentation in the form of sel¬shness.29 The hopes and fears somehow get
aligned, so that somewhat utilitarian hopes of medical advance or improved
treatments are pitched against fears about damage to society or even damage
to humanity in the way they think about themselves as ethical creatures. I have
wanted to put the complexity of some of the applications of biotechnology
into an arena of interpersonal relations already made complex by the kinds of
decisions that ordinary people “ with or without the help of the law “ make
all the time.

This is where relatives have the capacity to surprise us. Divorce rises; the
family remains popular. How can this be the case? Although particular families
break up, relationships often endure. We could even say the family dissolves but
the kinship remains.30 I have already touched on the fact that in Euro-American
culture, the body, insofar as its boundaries seem self-evident, can stand as a
symbol of the integrated person. Connections between persons are generally
thought of as lying outside the body, through all kinds of communication
and forms of association. Kinship, though, is where Westerners think about
connections between bodies themselves.31 Indeed, if they use the body to
think about the uniqueness of the individual, they also use it to talk about the
way persons are connected to one another, not through what they share in a
general way, as we might speak of all humankind as kin, but through what
has been transmitted in particular ways. So they trace speci¬c connections
(genealogies) and the network tells them how closely they are related (degrees
of relatedness). Modern knowledge of genetics endorses this way of thinking:
genes make each individual unique and connects it to many immediate “ as
well as countless more distant “ others.
Recombinant DNA, that is, DNA in its characteristic of separable and re-
arrangeable segments, invites human intervention. There is a tendency when
thinking about genes to stress connection, whether narrowly (the unique in-
dividual as the product of the nuclear family) or widely (all of humankind).
Recombinant DNA further invites us to ponder the disconnections, the ability
to take things apart and thus make them potentially parts of fresh constella-
tions. ˜Genes aren™t us™, the ethicist Julian Savulescu was reported as stating in
The Age (19 June 2002). He went on to say that we are not the sum of our genes
and genes do not determine who we are. I suggest that this is true in quite a
profound sense that would mimic the possibilities that biotechnology affords
them if they did not already antedate it. Ordinary knowledge about genetic
connection gives a choice; there might be no choice about recognising the
kinship constituted in the genetic connection itself (cf Strathern 1999b), but
people may or may not make active relationships out of these connections.
They may decide to ignore potential links. So fresh connections may or may not
ensue: persons can disappear completely from one™s life, or never seem to leave
it. In valuing or devaluing their relationships, relatives thus become aware of
the way they are connected and disconnected (cf. Edwards and Strathern 2000;
Franklin 2003). Recombinant families just make this very visible, showing how
cutting off ties leads to making others, or how household arrangements offer
innumerable permutations on degrees of disconnection.
So people already act out diverse ways of thinking about themselves: not
just as isolates set apart or as members of collectivities or groups but also as

beings who value their connections to others, who “ when things are going
well, that is “ manage being at once autonomous and relational.32 The social
relations of kinship, we might say, set that process of management in train.
How to deal with one™s attachment to kin while also detaching oneself from
them is central to kinship in Western (Euro-American) society. Western kin-
ship regimes take to extremes the idea of bringing up a child to be independent,
not only as an independent ˜member of society™ but also as independent from
family and relatives. It does not take an expert to say this; Euro-Americans
already know it in the way they act. But in contrast to the huge investment
they make in the language and imagery of individuals or groups, they need
fresh ways of telling themselves about the complexities and ambiguities of
There are two outcomes from all this for the way Euro-Americans imple-
ment their values. The ¬rst is evident in recombinant families and the oppor-
tunities for new connections. Divorce reorders kinship. If they take their eyes
off the units that are reformed and look instead at the trail of relationships,
they ¬nd families interconnected in new ways. Divorces link children, that
is, children now living in different families are linked through the dissolved
marriages of their parents33 :

If we talk of family in an uncritical way, the creative possibilities inherent in
kinship for the structuring of interpersonal relations are obscured. . . . The study
of divorce as a cultural expression of kinship, rather than as a social problem
with family, demonstrates the distinctiveness of western patterns of relational or-
ganisation . . . [and] it offers the prospect of locating distinctively Euro-American
patterns of kinship and putting them into comparative perspective.
Simpson 1994: 832

Simpson thus makes the positive suggestion that we should treat these linkages
as phenomena in their own right. It is clear that in valuing their relationships,
people already do.
The second outcome for the way Euro-Americans implement their values
concerns disconnections. In addition to dislocating kinship from families,
what about the way in which relationships, as the ongoing activation of social
ties, may be dislocated from kinship in the sense of genetic connection? Do not
the new ˜genetic families™, based as they often are on medical data kinspersons
share, give new dimensions to individualism (the self-reference of the medical
patient)? Dislocating relationships from kinship is of course inherent in donor
anonymity and is always the alternative after divorce or separation. Thus
Segalen™s (2001 : 260) recomposition may indeed add to pre-existing family
networks, so that, say, biological father and stepfather co-exist and work out a

modus vivendi, but in France at least this tends to be especially true of relatively
af¬‚uent, middle class families. In other sectors of society, recombination can
also erase previous unions, usually cutting off ties with the old father where
the new father adopts the children and gives them his name. And it can lead to
diverse ways in which the new units are viewed. One British instance (Simpson
1994: 834“5)34 invites us to consider the perspective of the grandparents: the
husband™s parents speak of having six grandchildren where the wife™s parents
speak of three; husband and wife would like to see all six of their children, the
offspring of four different marriages, treated equally, but the wife™s parents
only give treats to their own child™s children (by two marriages).
We have seen that both the generalised universal ˜family of man™ and the
close domestic family “ which probably calls itself ˜nuclear™, recomposed or
otherwise “ alike embody notions of exclusion. Those values of exclusion
make all the difference between families that defend boundaries and families
that emphasise recombinant relationships (so to speak) and thus live out their
idea of themselves as overlapping with others. In the former, when kin are cut
from one another, it is to extrude one set from outside the circle of the other
set, like the hapless Washington grandparents. Cutting thus externalises (the
grandparents then have to negotiate access). In the latter case, however, cutting
de¬nes the conditions under which families overlap, is internal to the ensuing
network. If there were no separation, no severance of couples at divorce, there
would be no recombination.35
Euro-Americans36 have no dif¬culty in imagining persons as different com-
binations of elements “ from genes and their environment, to the baby and
its nurturers,37 to someone™s relatives and circle of friends “ and each such
combination bestows an identity made distinct through the person™s relations
with the world. What biotechnology adds “ especially through the ARTs “
is the prospect of reading distinct social identities back into the very pro-
cess of conception (for instance, via gamete donation and its proliferation
of social sources).38 Yet in one sense indigenous (Euro-American) notions
of kinship already make persons combinations of other persons. This is not
a question of losing one™s identity but of specifying it: the fact that every-
one is a part of someone else is held to conserve the individuality of each

this is less a conclusion than a shift in register. being parts of
others carries its own responsibility; how we (users of biotechnology) take
decisions entails how we de¬ne those responsibilities. Two debates from

Australia are the impetus here. The ¬rst is an academic one, largely in re-
sponse to the way legal thinking has been in¬‚uenced by the technology, and is
inevitably inconclusive. The second concerns changes in clinical practice that
conclusively implement a response to public questions.
In their book, Are Persons Property?, the Australian feminist and legal theo-
rists, Davies and Naf¬ne, write about autonomy with reference to notions of
self-ownership and about the particular problem that a thoroughly ordinary
and everyday phenomenon, the pregnant woman, presents for the law. ˜The
pregnant woman and foetus are one legal person and that is the woman™ (2001 :
84). The counter-action, as we well know, is to claim the uniqueness of the
fetus, even to the point of claiming that it is a person in its right (Savill 2002:
50). But the law must continue to be equivocal. In their words, the facts of
reproduction render incoherent the notions of individualism on which these
views are based. The complexities of this situation are compounded by tech-
nological interventions that produce embryos outside the body. We return to
the issue of ownership, indeed persons as property, in Chapters Five and Six.
Here I pursue the observation that biotechnology has provided new ways of
conceptualising the individuality of the fetus.39 If ever we needed new ways of
thinking about persons as parts of persons, by contrast, the pregnant woman
is a paradigmatic case.
The remark is hardly new. Reassessing ˜The mother of the legal person™,
Savill (2002)40 notes how close the law can get. When the (British) Law Lords
had to take a decision on culpability in an appeal over a fetus killed through
injury done to the mother, speakers referred openly to the modern science of
human fertilisation and the light it had thrown on the reality of embryological
and fetal separateness. This in turn elicited a strong statement that there was
nonetheless ˜an intimate bond™ between a mother and the fetus dependent on
her body for its support. Lord Mustill is quoted as saying:

But the relationship was one of bond not identity. The mother and the foetus
were two distinct organisms living symbiotically, not a single organism with two

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