Everyday belongings: Exploring Australian donor-conceived adults’ social, linguistic and digital practices across private and public domains

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Copyright: Newton, Giselle
From the turn of the century, social attitudes have shifted away from secrecy and anonymity in donor conception in line with broader recognition that children have a right to accurate information about their identity and family. As such, some donor-conceived people are now growing up in families who disclose and discuss donor conception openly while others are unexpectedly learning of their donor-conceived status later in life. Yet, little empirical research has explored the array of actors, processes and technologies that shape experiences of belonging for donor-conceived people. This thesis reports on exploratory research of Australian donor-conceived adults’ experiences. The project adopted an innovative interdisciplinary approach, combining methods and analytic techniques from sociology, social semiotics and media studies to explore everyday social, linguistic and digital practices. Data comprise Hansard from a public hearing of a Senate Committee Inquiry into donor conception; a national online survey with sperm donor-conceived (n=90) and egg donor-conceived (n=1) respondents over 16 years of age; and semi-structured interviews with sperm donor-conceived adults (N=28). The research is also underpinned by vignettes of personal experience to reflexively foreground my own positionality as a donor-conceived person. Findings reveal the significant role that digital technologies play in donor-conceived people’s everyday lives. Donor-conceived peers used digital platforms to exchange experiential knowledge and negotiate meanings ascribed to their collective identity, to educate (prospective) recipient parents and the general public about their perspectives, to trace family members through direct-to-consumer DNA testing, and to strategise for increased recognition in legislation. In terms of family, participants navigated complex and dynamic familial (non) relationships and the lingering consequences of anonymity. However, donor-conceived people also found strategies to help them reckon with secrecy and silence, actively responding to social conditions and challenging the institutions of medicine and the law. Indeed, donor-conceived people drew on experiential and institutional knowledges to position themselves as an authority on donor conception as people with lived expertise. I argue that belonging, for donor-conceived people, is experienced across three planes: in relation to peers, family and the State. In doing so, this thesis underscores how everyday belonging is relational and processual, and achieved through a range of momentous events, everyday encounters and humorous artefacts.
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PhD Doctorate
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