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Seminar 1 - Beyond the nuclear family: Conceiving of a non-nuclear family

Friday, 18 March 2016, 09:30 - 16:30

Cambridge, Open University office. Maps and Directions:

New frontiers of family - seminar series

* Update - Presentation slides avaliable through this webpage - Blake's slides - Pearson's Slides - Pralat's Slides *

This event is part of the series New frontiers of Family and will explore the following theme: Beyond the nuclear family: Conceiving of a non-nuclear family. It is is sponsored by the British Psychological Society and supported by The Open University, Birkbeck, University of London and the University of the West of England, Bristol.

Further details here:

This seminar series is approved by the British Psychological Society (BPS).


9:30-9:50: Registration

9.50-10.00: Welcome from the New Family Frontiers seminar team

10:00-11:00: Keynote –   Modern Families: Parents and children in new family forms (Professor Susan Golombok, Cambridge University)

11.00-11.30: Morning break

11:30-12:30: The disclosure debate in donor conception families: To tell or not to tell? (Dr Lucy Blake, Cambridge University)

12.30-1.30: Lunch break

1:30-2:30: Family planning among younger same-sex couples (Dr Danielle Pearson, The Open University)

2.30-3.00: Afternoon break

3:00-4:00: Thinking and talking about parenthood: Lesbian, gay and bisexual perspectives (Robert Pralat, University of Cambridge)

4.00-4.30: Questions from the floor and closing remarks from  from the New Family Frontiers seminar team


Talk outlines

Keynote: Modern Families: Parents and children in new family forms, Susan Golombok

The seminar will summarise research on parenting and child development in new family forms including lesbian mother families, gay father families, families headed by single mothers by choice and families created by assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), egg donation, sperm donation, embryo donation, and surrogacy. The research will be examined in the context of the issues and concerns that have been raised regarding these families. The findings not only contest popular myths and assumptions about the social and psychological consequences for children of being raised in new family forms but also challenge well-established theories of child development that are founded upon the supremacy of the traditional family. It will be argued that the quality of family relationships and the wider social environment are more influential in children’s psychological development than are the number, gender, sexual orientation or biological relatedness of their parents or the method of their conception. The seminar will be based on Susan Golombok’s recently published book with the same title.

Professor Golombok was presenting from her new award-winning book Modern Families

The disclosure debate in donor conception families: To tell or not to tell?, Lucy Blake

In families in which parents conceived using donated sperm or donated eggs, only one parent will be the genetic parent of the child: the mother in the case of sperm donation and the father in the case of egg donation. Parents in these families have a choice: to tell their child about their donor conception, or not to share this information with them. In families in which parents choose not to tell, children will grow up unaware that the person that they think of as their mother or father is not, in fact, their genetic parent. Furthermore, families in which children were conceived using an anonymous donor will likely never be able to know detailed or identifying information about their donor. This lecture will review the empirical research that has been conducted in this area and explore whether disclosure of donor origins is in a child’s best interests. 

Family Planning Among Younger Same-Sex Couples, Danielle Pearson

This paper discusses findings from my PhD research exploring the experiences of younger (20-35) same-sex couples in long-term relationships. The study was informed by sociological and social psychology approaches to researching long-term relationships. It utilised in-depth qualitative mixed methods consisting of visual scrapbook/diaries, emotion maps, individual interviews, and couple photo collage interviews with 14 younger same-sex couples. My analysis is focused on how these couples experienced and understood their relationships, paying particular attention to the interesting and varying ways couples talked about being, becoming and desiring a family. This includes introducing and examining their narratives on the presence and/or absence of children and animals in their ideas around ‘family’. I explore the ways participants envisioned and planned for children, and likened pets and/or animals with children and family. I present the unique and diverse ways in which the methods and analysis employed enabled access to couples’ ideas around family planning which were central to these narratives.

Thinking and talking about parenthood: Lesbian, gay and bisexual perspectives, Robert Pralat

This talk will present some of the findings from the research project Future Intimacies, which explores views about parenthood in a young generation of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Great Britain. Drawing on in-depth semi-structured interviews with men and women in their twenties and early thirties, conducted in multiple locations across England and Wales, this project examines early stages of non-heterosexual reproductive decision making and family planning. The talk will specifically focus on how young people who form same-sex relationships communicate about potentially becoming parents (or remaining childfree) - we will look at the interviewees' recollections of their conversations with various others, including partners, relatives and friends.

Existing scholarship on lesbian motherhood and gay fatherhood tends to focus on people who have already become parents; the focus of this study is on those who have not experienced parenthood, but may still have children in the future. Based on the interviews, talking about various ways of creating families often relies on vocabulary that is not easily accessible in everyday conversations. Communication is further complicated by the technical and ethical complexities of the different pathways to parenthood. We will consider how our understanding of both parenting and sexuality can be advanced by paying closer attention not only to people's experiences and parenting practices but also to people's imagination (and the articulation of what they imagine).

Speaker biographies

Susan Golombok is Professor of Family Research and Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, and a Professorial Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge. Her research has not only contributed to theoretical understanding of family influences on child development but also has addressed social and ethical issues that are of relevance to family life. She has pioneered research on lesbian mother families, gay father families, single mothers by choice and families created by assisted reproductive technologies including in vitro fertilisation (IVF), donor insemination, egg donation and surrogacy. Her research has challenged commonly held assumptions about these families as well as widely held theories of child development. The desire to obtain high-quality empirical data in order to examine the consequences for children of growing up in different family environments has been a major driving force behind her research, i.e. to shed empirical light on areas where people hold strong opinions, often without full knowledge of the facts. In addition to academic papers she is the author of Parenting: What really counts? and co-author of Bottling it Up, Gender Development, Modern Psychometrics and Growing up in a Lesbian Family. Her latest book is Modern Families: Parents and Children in New Family Forms published in 2015 by Cambridge University Press.

Lucy Blake is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge.  Her research focuses on the family, the quality of family relationships and psychological well-being.  Her PhD examined family functioning in donor insemination and egg donation families in the UK, with particular reference to the issue of disclosure (i.e. whether parents should tell their children about their donor origins and if so, how). She has also examined how children think and feel about their families, and what they understand and feel about how their family came to be. Lucy is currently investigating family functioning in families in which gay fathers have had a child using a surrogate and an egg donor. Lucy is particularly interested in research that explores family relationships from the perspectives of the different members of the family, especially those voices that are not typically heard.  Her most recent publications have explored family relationships and donor conception from the perspective of the child. 

Danni Pearson has just completed her PhD with the Open University. Her doctoral project explored how younger (20-35) same-sex couples experienced, constructed, and maintained their long-term relationships. This included how they defined their relationships as long-term and happy, a focus on their everyday relationship practices of intimacy, relationship rules, and relationship dynamics, and the wider resources of relationship support available such as family, friends, and counselling. Her research interests include lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals and relationships, sexuality, infidelity and relationship support.

Robert Pralat is a Research Associate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge. He is a member of the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc) and Queens' College. Robert's research combines his interests in parenting and sexuality. Through in-depth interviews, he studies how people who, historically, have not been expected to have children respond to cultural changes related to sex and the family. Specifically, Robert's work examines non-heterosexual parenthood in contemporary Britain, with a particular focus on assisted reproductive technologies and sexually transmitted infections. Robert is currently writing up the findings of his doctoral research, Future Intimacies, which explores views about becoming parents and remaining childfree in a young generation of lesbians, gay men and bisexual people. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, this study sheds light on what men and women who form same-sex relationships think - and how they talk - about different ways of creating families. Concurrently, Robert is starting a new research project, Men's Attitudes to Intimate Life, on the reproductive health of HIV-positive gay and bisexual men. In this study, supported by the Wellcome Trust and the British HIV Association, he will interview patients, doctors and nurses in sexual health clinics to find out whether there is a need to discuss issues related to fertility and family planning with non-heterosexual men living with HIV.



The seminar is free to attendees however there are limited places (40), so booking is required. To register for this event, please click on Register Link below, if you have any queries please contact Jennifer Scarna, E-mail: Snacks, tea and coffee will be provided for this event; please let us know if you have any dietary requirements at least one month before.