Reimagining Parenthood: Exploring Diverse Configurations, Rights, and Duties in Contemporary Family Structures

September 5, 2024 - September 6, 2024
University of Manchester

United Kingdom

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We invite proposals suitable for a presentation of approximately 25 minutes (followed by 35 minutes Q&A). We welcome in-progress work and seek to foster a friendly environment. 

Please, send to [email protected] your anonymized abstract (250-500 words) and, in a separate sheet, your name, affiliation (if any), email address and a short bio. 

The deadline for submissions is May 19th, and we aim to notify successful applicants by May 30th. If eligible, you will be able to apply for a bursary by June 27th. 

For further inquiries, please write to [email protected].

Workshop description:

The prevailing two-parent model, deeply entrenched within legal frameworks and societal norms, continues to dominate despite the evolving landscape of family structures, and it even persists within “unconventional” or “queer” families, inadvertently reinforcing traditional norms. This is exemplified by the legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Western countries, embracing the two-parent model. This conventional model, however, faces scrutiny due to potential flaws. Among others, gendered dynamics impose disproportionate caregiving burdens on women. Additionally, economic, psychological, emotional, and cultural resources available to two parents are inherently limited compared to what a greater number of parents could provide. Simultaneously, new parenting paradigms are emerging, challenging the status quo. Deliberate solo parenting, configurations with more than two parents, and inventive approaches to co-parent relationships after separation mark a departure from the traditional model. These alternative structures are evident in queer families, African-American communities, extended families, and stepfamilies, where roles extend beyond biological or adoptive parents, showcasing what bell hooks terms “revolutionary parenting”.

This panel proposal aims to explore the underinvestigated aspects of parenting structures beyond the conventional two-parent model. The inquiry encompasses the very meaning of parenthood and potential parental configurations based on the number of individuals involved and their relational dynamics. One possible avenue of exploration involves multi-parenting. While unfamiliar, the potential advantages include increased resources and a smaller degree of domination of children. However, challenges in coordination and the potential for conflicts within these configurations need a thorough examination. A second topic of interest concerns the moral duties of co-parents within both traditional and non-traditional contexts. Co-parenting, being a risky long-term endeavour, demands an analysis of the extent to which a co-parent can exit the co-parenting relationship. Additionally, questions about financial support, fair distribution of burdens, and the gendered nature of parenting in the current societal context should be addressed. Solo parenting, primarily pursued by women, represents another aspect of exploration. Resource limitations and the risk of domination by a single parent should not be underestimated. Both as an unchosen burden and a deliberate choice facilitated by improved access to sperm donation, solo parenting for instance gives rise to questions about its moral acceptability and the societal and legal duties we owe to solo parents. 

Eventually, the panel aims to investigate any possible form of “revolutionary parenting”, challenging the very definition of parenthood. Here, caregivers other than parents take on significant roles without necessarily claiming the title of ‘parent’. A common exemplification of this kind of parental relationship is grandparents, or members of the extended family, taking on significant responsibilities and duties alongside (or instead of) legal parents. The lack of legal protection for these non-parental childrearers raises questions about their rights and duties, ultimately challenging the existing definition of parenthood.

Key questions involve (but are not limited to):

·         What are the most effective and equitable parenting configurations, considering both the child’s and co-parents’ interests? Is multiparenting superior to the two-parent model? Should solo parenting be encouraged?

·         What rights and duties are inherent in alternative parenting, and should distinctions be made based on specific roles (e.g. primary caregivers, members of the extended care networks, non-biological parents)? 

·         What rights and duties should be assigned to childrearers beyond parents?

·         In cases involving more than two parents or separation, what obligations exist among co-parents?

·         How do we define a parent, and should the term ‘parenting’ itself be reassessed?

·         On which basis (e.g. biology, intention) should parenthood rights be allocated? Who should have the “right to parent”?

·         Is the institution of ‘parenthood’ functional to children’s well-being, or should we re-imagine a whole different system of childrearing? 

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