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Seminar 2 - Beyond the non-nuclear family: Non-nuclear family planning

Wednesday, 20 April 2016, 10:30 - 17:00

Birkbeck, University of London (Room: Clore Management Centre basement lecture theatre - CLO B01).

New frontiers of family - seminar series

*Update - Slides from the presentations are avaliable at the bottom of this page*


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).


10:30 – 10:50: Registration

10:50 – 11:00: Welcome: from the New Family Frontiers seminar team

11:00 – 12:00: Keynote Speaker: Professor Olga van den Akker (Middlesex University): Third party reproduction and the family

12:00 - 12:50: Lunch and networking

12:50 – 13:00: Afternoon Welcome: from the New Family Frontiers seminar team

13:00 – 14:00: Professor Darren Langdridge (The Open University): New stories of sexual citizenship: polyamory and ‘families of choice’

14:00 – 14:30: Refreshments and networking (Please see below for where attendees can purchase lunch)

14:30 – 15:30: Dr Pedro Costa (Birkbeck, University of London/ ISPA Lisbon, Portugal): Risk and resilience in planned lesbian and gay families

15:30 – 16:30: Elizabeth Reed (University of Sussex): The heterogeneity of family: Responses to representational invisibility by LGBTQ parents

16:30 – 17:00: Closing remarks


Talk outlines

Third party reproduction and the family  - Keynote speaker: Professor Olga van den Akker

Assisted conception using third party gametes or surrogates is increasingly common, and fulfils a population need of massive proportions, way beyond the needs of the medically infertile. Social or lifestyle uses of assisted reproduction for involuntary childlessness, now represents a substantial proportion of treatments where this is offered. Many national statistics which help to predict future expenditure reflect behavioural and lifestyle changes of individuals within populations. The decreasing fertility prospects as a result of lifestyle choices such as delayed childbearing, solo or homosexual parenting, means that many of those not in a medical or social position to conceive without a third party, will be requiring assistance to build their families. In the UK at least, health care resources may fund these needs. In areas where this is not the case, health inequalities determine who has and who does not have treatment to overcome involuntary childlessness. With the increasing international commercialisation of gamete, embryo and surrogate services, further amplification of inequalities of family building possibilities develop.

This presentation will argue that universally normative beliefs about reproduction remain conservative and that many traditional and non- traditional families using third party reproduction emphasize the importance of genetic or biological kinship. Evidence will be presented that some users, donors/ surrogates and offspring of third party assisted reproduction demonstrate cognitive conflict or dissonance about their use of third party conception to build families. These conflicts are not sufficiently addressed in research, policy and practice. Psychological research contextualizing third party assisted reproduction generally fails to predict how people cope with both, the lifestyle changes bringing about the need for some third party conception and third party assisted reproduction itself. Policy and legal frameworks conflict with the reality of some current practices. What they all have in common is that they are lagging behind the social and lifestyle changes, and technological and economic developments in family building through third party reproduction.

This presentation will pose the question: should reproductive healthcare services reflect the specific, lifetime and shifting needs of the populations it serves, including future generations resulting from these innovations? The audience is invited to discuss if and how research, policy, practice and the media should reflect the changing needs of the populations they represent.

New stories of sexual citizenship: polyamory and ‘families of choice’: Professor Darren Langdridge

There has been enormous change in social and state acceptance regarding sex, sexualities and relationships over the last forty years in the West, much of which is positive, with an apparent new acceptance and openness towards diverse sexual practices, sexualities and other aspects of our intimate lives (Weeks, 2007). There has been a proliferation of new sexual stories competing to be heard with different and conflicting claims for citizenship, acknowledgement and acceptance (Plummer, 1995). That is, many of these new sexual stories are narrated in the language of citizenship, invoking claims for rights. Whilst there are some who view an opening up of (sexual/intimate) citizenship as a welcome progressive move (Weeks, 2007), offering new opportunities for rights and responsibilities, others see dangers of increasing assimilation/accommodation to hegemonic notions of sex, sexualities, and relationships, with a failure to provide the necessary critique to an inherently hetero- and mono- normative concept of citizenship (Bell & Binnie, 2000; Brandzel, 2005). In this talk I explore these tensions in the context of extant and emergent stories of sexual citizenship, notably around polyamory and ‘families of choice’. Whilst new claims appear inherently progressive, I will argue that many of these new claims for rights actually serve to close down possibilities for others and thus further reinforce present inequalities. In the process, I consider the challenge of holding positions in which tradition and critique are accommodated in sexual politics and ask whether this is a sustainable practice in the long term for effecting socio-political change. 

Risk and resilience in planned lesbian and gay families - Dr Pedro Alexandre Costa

Research on children’s development in gay and lesbian parented families began in the 1980’s, brought about by custodial disputes between parents of which one of them has disclosed being gay or lesbian. Since then, studies comparing matched groups of children brought up in same-sex and different-sex parented families have shown little or no evidence that children who grow up in same-sex parented families do not fare as well as their peers. In fact, studies have found that it is family processes, and not parental sexual orientation, that link into children’s psychological adjustment. Nevertheless, same-sex parented families are faced with unique challenges brought about by social stigma that may have repercussions for the stability of the family. Literature has identified a number of risk factors that may act against children’s well-being in planned gay and lesbian parented families. The parents may have internalized societal stigma or adopted negative coping skills to deal with social discrimination, which may negatively affect their parenting practices. Furthermore, the children may have to cope with societal stigma and heterosexism in it various forms, and if they were adopted from care, there are additional biological, environmental and psychoemotional risk factors related to their pre-adoption histories. In fact, children who were adopted by same-sex couples are more likely to start out with more risk factors than their peers who were adopted by different-sex couples. However, considering that both parents and children in gay and lesbian parented families are generally happy and well adjusted, some studies have started to look at how these families manage to be resilient and counteract the effects of the risk factors. This talk will present the results of an online cross-cultural survey conducted in Portugal and in the United Kingdom about risk and resilience in gay and lesbian parented families formed through adoption, and uncover intrafamilial and extrafamilial protective factors against the effects of social stigma on family well-being.

The heterogeneity of family: Responses to representational invisibility by LGBTQ parents - Elizabeth Reed

The research project this paper emerges from explores how LGBTQ parents interact with media representations of families like theirs, in order to propose what conditions are needed to produce and sustain new family narratives.  This paper draws on qualitative research data collected over 2 years in semi-structured interviews with lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) parents living in England and Scotland.

Media, in this project, encompasses mainstream entertainment and news media, as well as subcultural and academic media, all of which produce specific knowledges and representations of LGBTQ families.  Implicit assumptions about what non-heterosexual relationships look like drive the work of Weeks et al (2004) and Warner (1999), resulting in conclusions which suggest that the language, and institution, of family can only be queered [radically resisted and transformed] by parents in visibly homogendered [same sex] or queer relationships.  Simultaneously, entertainment media (such as Modern Family) offers a limited range of representations of LGBTQ parents which function to concretize knowledge of these families as dysfunctional, exceptional, and committed to normative gender roles; an iteration of LGBTQ identity categorised as ‘homonormative’ (Duggan, 2002). 

I argue that existing representations fail to acknowledge the diversity of non-heterosexual family forms in the UK and that this representational gap (resulting in socio-cultural invisibility) has specific consequences for the contours of everyday life for the parents I spoke with.  With reference to participants’ experiences of medical care, responses to parenting and pregnancy guides, their sometimes challenging interactions with extended families, and the day-to-day defence of the legitimacy of their family form, I argue LGBTQ parents continually seek to articulate their stable and coherent identity as non-heterosexual people.  I demonstrate how LGBTQ parents reinscribe the heterogeneity of ‘family’ through their use of media to craft new family identities; responding to, and rejecting, heteronormative and homonormative assumptions of what ‘family’ means. These actions to validate and stabilise family identities reveal that family is the catalyst which prompts individuals to seek new articulations of queerness, push for socio-cultural change, and trouble the categorisation of families as inherently normative. The experiences and challenges participants related to me indicate that representation of the diversity of families in the UK is urgently needed given the significant and wide-reaching effects representational invisibility has on everyday life. 

Works cited:

Dugan, L. (2002) ‘The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism’. In R. Castronovo and D. D. Nelson (eds) Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalised Cultural Politics (Durham: Duke University Press) 175-194

Warner, M (1999) The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Weeks, J, B. Heaphy and C. Donovan (2004) ‘The Lesbian and Gay Family’ in J. Scott, J. Treas and M. Richards (eds) The Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Families. Oxford: Blackwell. 340-355

Speaker biographies

Keynote Speaker: Professor Olga B.A. van den Akker BSc PhD is Professor of Health Psychology at Middlesex University in London. She is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, a Chartered Psychologist, and member of the Health & Care Professions Council.

Since completing her BSc in Psychology at the University of East London, she was awarded an MRC studentship at St George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London to carry out a PhD investigating the Psychophysiology of the menstrual cycle. This was followed by post doctoral research at the Institute of Psychiatry and St. Mary’s hospitals London, and senior academic posts at the University of East London, University of Birmingham and Aston University. In 2007-2013 she became Head of Department of Psychology at Middlesex University, London, and Professor of Health Psychology.

Her advisory and editorial activities have been substantial, ranging from being a Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority advisor to the ‘One at a Time’ taskforce aiming to reduce the numbers of multiple pregnancies in the UK; Editor in Chief of the Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology and she has been a member of the executive committees of the British Infertility Counseling Association, the British Fertility Society and the Society for Reproductive & Infant Psychology. She is currently on the editorial board of the Journal of Reproductive Psychology, Biomed Central and Expert Reviews of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Professor van den Akker’s research interests cover a variety of Health Psychology areas with a focus on reproductive health psychology. She has secured funding on a number of research grants and was awarded a prestigious 5 year Senior Research Fellowship by the NHS R&D, specifically to explore the psycho-social issues surrounding surrogate motherhood in the United Kingdom. Olga has authored two books (currently writing a third book), edited another and has written numerous book chapters, Government commissioned reports and well over a 100 publications in scientific journals, presented over 70 conference presentations and appears regularly in the national and international media providing expert information and advice on a range of reproductive health matters.


Professor Darren Langdridge (The Open University)

Darren Langdridge is Professor of Psychology and Sexuality at the Open University (UK), Honorary Professor of Psychology at Aalborg University (Denmark), and a UKCP accredited existential psychotherapist working in private practice. For many years Darren has researched and written on sexualities, critical theory and psychotherapy, publishing numerous papers and book chapters. He is the author/co-editor of a number of books including Existential Counselling and Psychotherapy (published by Sage), Phenomenological Psychology: Theory, Research and Method (published by Pearson), Safe, Sane and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism (with M.J. Barker, published by Palgrave Macmillan) and Understanding Non-monogamies (with M.J. Barker, published by Routledge). Darren also founded and remains editor-in-chief of Psychology & Sexuality, a journal published by Taylor & Francis designed to advance the boundaries of work in the psychology of sexualities. He is currently working on his next book for Oxford University Press, provisionally titled Sex-Sexuality-Citizenship: A Hermeneutic Journey to the Boundaries of Belonging.

Dr Pedro Alexandre Costa (Birkbeck, University of London and ISPA Lisbon, Portugal)

Pedro Alexandre Costa is a clinical psychologist and researcher specialized in developmental and family psychology. He has a master degree in Psychology of Child Development from the University of Central Lancashire, UK, and doctoral degree in Psychology from the University of Beira Interior and Psychology & Health Research Unit (ISPA-IU), Portugal, in the field of psychosocial adjustment of gay, lesbian, and bisexual parented families, and attitudes toward these families. He currently holds a post-doctoral research grant from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology at the William James Center for Research in Portugal and at Birkbeck University of London, with a project titled “Mapping family relationships: A cross cultural comparison of children well-being in adoptive families in Portugal and in the United Kingdom". He is also a research team member of the longitudinal European survey on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and families. His research interests span developmental psychology, family psychology, and social and community psychology. He has published several international papers on same-sex families, sexual prejudice, sexism, social oppression, and its impact for the LGBT+ community. He organized and hosted the 1st International Conference on LGBT Psychology and related fields in Lisbon in 2013, and he is a founding member of the International Academy of LGBT Psychology. Online CV:

Elizabeth Reed (University of Sussex)

Elizabeth Reed is currently writing up her PhD in Gender Studies within the School of Media Film and Music at the University of Sussex. Her thesis, which is based on interviews with more than 30 LGBTQ parents living in the UK, explores how LGBTQ parents interact with media representations of families like theirs.  She teaches in media, cultural and gender studies.

Lunch & Refreshments

Afternoon refreshments will be provided for this event; please let us know if you have any dietary requirements. In order to offer free attendance, lunch is not catered for. However, there are a number of options near to Birkbeck where you can find some food.

  • The main Birkbeck cafeteria is in the main building, opposite the Clore Management Centre. It is located in the fifth floor extension building - take lift B. There is also a Costa cafe at Birkbeck.
  • Birkbeck is also next door to Student Central (University of London's Student Union) where there is a cafe that sells sandwiches immediately inside the entrance. Additionally, there are a variety of hot food dining areas on the first floor.
  • Nearby, there is a cafe in Russell Square, a coffee & sandwich stand in Gordon Square, and a variety of cafe outlets at Waterstone's book shop and further along Torrington Place towards Tottenham Court Road. 

Afternoon refreshments will be served between 14:00 – 14:30 with tea and coffee in the Clore Management Centre Basement Foyer.

NB: The seminar is free to attendees however there are limited places (100), so booking is required.


To register and reserve your place at the conference please click this button [REGISTER]

If you have any specific queries please contact Jennifer Scarna, E-mail: