CFA: The unbearable heaviness of the family

Submission deadline: June 14, 2023

Conference date(s):
September 11, 2023 - September 13, 2023

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Conference Venue:

University of Manchester
Manchester, United Kingdom

Topic areas


The family has been described as ‘the microcosm’ or the ´basic unit´ of society. It is widely thought of as having special moral and political status. The family can function as an interface between the individual and the state. As such, it mediates, amplifies or deflects external demands on its members. The family as an entity in its own right also generates demands on its members; in turn these are mediated by the broader society and, where relevant, medical and legal authorities.

Among the demands generated within families are those associated with family-building itself: reproduction. Paradigmatically, reproduction takes place within the family’s boundaries, with minimal state mediation. But increasingly, medical technologies facilitate new reproductive possibilities between family members that call into question the nature and structure of the family, and the obligations and entitlements associated with reproduction within families. Some examples of these interventions include collection of gametes from a dead spouse; collection of reproductive tissue from young children; donation of wombs from mother to daughter; posthumous use of reproductive tissue to create grandchildren on behalf of parents whose adult children have died.

In many of these cases where the patient is too young, or has lost capacity, or is deceased, consent cannot be obtained. Despite this, there is an implicit expectation that the intra-familial nature of such interventions provides a justification for often highly invasive medical procedures. Accordingly, new pressures are brought to bear on the political and medical systems that regulate these interventions. However, the understanding of family in this context is problematic. Some family relationships appear to be specially privileged in terms of conferring a right to the reproductive tissues/functions of others. Conversely, other family ties appear to create expectations to provide reproductive services or tissues. These implied rights and obligations are not always consistently enforced, largely because they remain implicit.

The ways in which the family is defined and treated legally, medically and socially all have an important bearing on these issues. This requires a close analysis of the political and philosophical nature of family ties.

The family is a complex entity, engaging biological, legal and social links. Typically, family members are regarded as having special duties towards one another; and the family as an entity is regarded as having special protection by the state. However, the nature and scope of these duties, and the degree to which the state should protect the family qua family, in addition to or as opposed to its individual members, remains undertheorised, both in the context of reproduction, and in many other areas. Our workshop will address this gap, inviting abstracts that discuss:

·     the nature and scope of intra-familial obligations and entitlements (including, but not limited to reproduction)

·     whether the family can be said to have reproductive interests or needs

·     the moral status of the family

·     the family as a moral agent, a patient or a recipient of services

·     tensions or conflicts between individual and familial rights or interests

·     intra-familial caring obligations and entitlements

·     intra-familial exchange of non-reproductive tissue

We welcome abstracts addressing these and related topics by Wednesday, June 14th. The abstracts should be no longer than 500 words, be accompanied by a short bio, and sent to [email protected]. We particularly encourage early career researchers to submit an abstract. Speakers who are graduate students are eligible for a bursary covering the registration costs. The deadline for bursary applications is June 27.

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