Gamson, Joshua. “Modern Families: Stories of Extraordinary Journeys to Kinship”, NYU Press, 2015.
The Changing Family
The American family has been going through constant change and we are certainly aware that today they are much different than they were, say, ten years ago. Parenthood has taken new directions with the advent of technology, activism, and law. Joshua Gamson in “Modern Families” brings us some new ands extraordinary family stories of families that have been created (including his own) and in them we see that indeed the world has changed. The stories we have here come from a child with two mothers, made with one mother’s egg and the sperm of a man none of them has ever met and carried by the other mother; another child who was born to a man and a woman in Ethiopia and delivered by his natural grandmother to an orphanage after both his parents died in close succession one after the other. He was then taken to another woman to be his mother and she is raising him alone. We have the story of a girl with two dads, conceived with one father’s sperm and eggs donated by a friend and carried to term in the womb of another close friend who becomes their surrogate. Then there are two girls, one born in Nepal and the other in India, legally adopted by a woman who is co-parenting them with her girlfriend and a gay male couple. These are certainly not the stories we heard as children but they are the stories that today’s will likely hear.
While these stories are personal, they are most certainly political. In “Modern Families” we have stories that include the personal the ethnographic. These are what we call unconventional families and their stories include adoption and assisted reproduction, gay and straight parents, coupled and single, and multi-parent families and this is all seen against a background of true multiculturalism and the social, legal, and economic contexts in which they were made. We see the difficulties encountered in creating a family and that many times parts of biological reproduction took place in a different body than that of the parents raising the child. We see that sometimes the model of kinship was made up virtually from scratch and many times with tension. We see also that becoming parents is not biological and that it can involve dealing with many issues including social conventions, legal and medical institutions and have been dealt with by heightened intention and inventiveness, within and across multiple inequities and privileges. We must remember that institutional change often comes after the creativity of everyday living. Each of the families in this book shares the joy of being part of a family.
“Modern Families” looks at change from the inside out instead of the usual opposite way. The new relationships that we have here are complicated in many ways but they are balanced by love and hope. We now live in a society where we are now free to marry who we want and our families now come from how we choose to make them. There is beauty in creating a child extraordinarily. Our vocabularies are changing and we now have words and phrases such as assisted reproduction and we now face new forms of co-parenting and global adoption. In effect, we are challenging what was once considered to be traditional kinship and even intimacy has taken new forms and directions. It is all happening very fast. We now have new questions to which we do not have answers and choice has now entered the equations dealing with family. It is a wonderful time to be alive.