Transforming Kinship


The analysis of kinship, a core concept in the social sciences, has continued to evolve in the context of new technologies, alternative parenting strategies and globalisation. A widening array of diverse kinship practices encompasses new meanings of ‘shared substance’ as well as ‘being related’ and having ‘genealogical’ or ‘conjugal’ connections. The introduction of ‘achieved’ (non ‘natural’) parenthood in the 1980s has not, as was predicted by some, either undermined or weakened familial ties or obligations – instead, if anything, it has the reverse effect. Similarly, the increased emphasis on molecular genetic information has not been found to have engendered a more essentialist model of parenthood or kinship. Instead, a pattern of flexible adjustment to both traditional kinship norms (however these may be defined) and the creation of alternative kinship possibilities, including new scientific options for parenthood, have characterised the transformation of kinship in the early twenty‐first century.

Key Concepts:

  • New reproductive and genetic technologies have introduced new dimensions to the study of kinship, as well as its practice.

  • In general, western models of kinship have become more diverse and flexible rather than more fixed and determining in the wake of new forms of technological assistance to conception.

  • The increase in biological control of reproduction is inversely related to biological determinism.

  • Kinship has become less defined by ideas of what is natural or biological, at the same time ideas of what is natural or biological have become more diverse and hybrid.

  • New patterns of ‘naturalising’ kin ties, through strategic labour to ‘make’ kin, now comprise a substantial element of both kinship study and practices of ‘kinning’.

  • New practices of ‘achieving’ parenthood have displaced the former reliance upon universal, biogenetic explanations of conception in favour of more deliberately chosen strategies of ‘making’ kindred offspring.

  • The social study of kinship has been revitalised by the emphasis on ‘new kinships’.

Keywords: kinship; substance; marriage; reproductive technology; parenthood


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Further Reading

Carsten J (2000) Cultures of Relatedness: New Approaches to the Study of Kinship. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dolgin J (1997) Defining the Family: Law, Technology and Reproduction in an Uneasy Age. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Franklin S and Ragoné H (eds) (1998) Reproducing Reproduction: Kinship, Power and Technological Innovation. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Schneider D (1968) American Kinship: A Cultural Account. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice‐Hall.

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How to Cite close
Franklin, Sarah(Nov 2013) Transforming Kinship. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005222.pub2]