28 Nov 2011 5:00pm - 6:00pm Centre for Family Research, Room 606


Professor Linda Layne (Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY)




'Angel Babies' and 'Phantom Fathers': Some 'Uncanny' Resemblances between these Absent Presences in Pregnancy Loss and Intentionally Father-Absent Families



The minimum requirements for a normative American family are a mother, a father, and a child. In intentionally father-absent families and families that have suffered a pregnancy loss, the families' identity is contested because of the absent presence of one member of this triad. I have found “uncanny” resemblances between the ways that bereaved parents, and women in intentionally father-absent families conjure and domesticate these present/absent members of the family system by sexing, naming, clothing, picturing, treating as imaginary correspondents, conversation partners, and/or companions, and purchasing symbolically-related consumer goods. I argue that the concepts of “normalization” and/or “naturalization,” while useful, do not fully account for these practices. The related concepts of the “canny” and “uncanny,” “confabulation,” and “poetic license” provide a valuable new theoretical tool for understanding and appreciating the experience of those who are creating innovative family forms in the U.S. I also suggest that comparative study of new family forms is a fruitful direction for future research.

Linda L Layne is the Hale Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. She is on sabbatical 2011/2012 as a Visiting Fellow at the Cambridge's Centre for Family Research and Clare Hall, undertaking a comparative study of Single Mothers by Choice in the US and UK.

Educated at University of Southern California, Cambridge University, and Princeton, her first book was on tribal and national identities in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (Princeton University Press 1994).

In her second book, Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America (Routledge 2003), she used the lens of anthropology to explain why American women are so ill-prepared for miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death and why the feminist movement has not fully embraced this important women's health issue. She further developed a women's health approach to child-bearing loss through an 11-part, award-winning television series, “Motherhood Lost: Conversations” at George Mason Television. Layne is the author of the childbearing loss chapter of Our Bodies, Ourselves (2005) and co-author of an amicus brief which argues against criminalizing stillbirth.

She is editor of Consuming Motherhood with Taylor and Wozniak, Rutgers UP 2004 (Winner of the Council on Anthropology of Reproduction's New Volume Book Prize); Transformative Motherhood: On Giving and Getting in a Consumer Culture New York UP 1999 (Winner of the Council on Anthropology of Reproduction's Enduring Influence Book Prize); Feminist Technology with Sharra Vostral and Kate Boyer, U Illinois Press 2010 (blog), and Understanding Reproductive Loss with Sarah Earle and Carol Komaromy (Open University) Ashgate Press, fall 2012.


Open to all.  No registration required.

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