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Plass til Alle: Intimacy, Biological Relation, and Nation in Norway


Origin stories of the Norwegian social democracy tell a story of the modern state’s triumph over biological based kinship as a source of social organization. By these accounts, throughout the twentieth century, bureaucracies intervened in the nuclear household to ensure that the tyranny of patriarchy would not impede women’s and children’s status as equal citizens to their fathers, brothers, and husbands. However, these origin stories do not account for the emergence of Norwegian biotechnology legislation which, in regulating reproductive technologies, actually intensified the role of biological substance in defining family relationships and personhood in the late twentieth century and early twenty first century.

This dissertation examines the apparent ambivalence towards biological based kinship in Norway: at once, antithetical to modern society and yet indispensable in the modern state’s administration of Norwegian citizens. Drawing on sixteen months of ethnographic research in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, Jetha’s research analyzes the kinship practices of users of reproductive technology and gamete donation (“donor mothers”), in particular queer mothers: women who reproduce without men. Analyzing interview data, Norwegian media and literature, and Norwegian legislation, Jetha argues that donor mothers regard biological relation in ways that lawmakers and fertility industry executives do not anticipate. Donor mothers draw subtle distinctions between the significance of “blood” and “genetics,” the former signaling a substance that creates relations between “donor siblings” (children with a sperm donor in common) and the latter a source of knowledge about oneself or one’s child. Although Norwegian lawmakers have, for the last forty years, attempted to legislate sperm donors’ significance to the families conceived with their assistance, Norwegian donor mothers show little interest in relating to their children’s genetic connections to their donors; if anything, donor mothers show more interest in using blood relations to cultivate donor sibling ties. Jetha further argues that race and nation circumscribe how one’s use of biological substance is recognized by the Norwegian state. Analyzing disputes between the Norwegian state and couples of Asian and African descent trying to use donor insemination to conceive, Jetha shows how the Norwegian state’s attempts to effect equality actually result in the production of inequality.

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