Identity Matters: donor offspring's narratives of self and their implications for epigenetic debates

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Narratives of origin are critical to one’s sense of identity as stories ranging
from Greek myths such as that of Oedipus to donor offspring’s desire to
trace their biological families testify. Different cultures require diverse
degrees of particularity and frequency when it comes to accounting
for one’s origin, and as Cavarero [Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood
(London: Routledge, 2000)] and Butler [Giving an Account
of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005)] indicate,
certain normativities apply to the kinds of accounts one is expected to
provide. Against these normativities, changes in family formations and
kinship relations have required new ways of articulating the self, particularly
from those whose narratives do not fit with conventional stories of
origin. Thus over the past thirty years or so, we have seen increasing
numbers of what are known as ‘donor offspring’ come of age and articulate
their sense of self in relation to the specificities of their stories of origin.
This article examines auto/biographical accounts of self by ‘donor offspring’,
published online on blogs and websites of donor offspring associations,
in order to analyse the intersection of origin, identity, and narrative
convention in relation to notions of genetic inheritance. It argues that
donor offspring face particular challenges when asked to tell their story
of origin as there is as yet little by way of convention to support that
telling. The conventions that do exist and are reproduced, all point to particular
ways of understanding the possibilities of one’s genetic ‘inheritance’
that are radically at odds with the insights that developments in epigenetics
provide regarding the relationship between nature and nurture (See Evelyn
Fox Keller, The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture (Durham,
NC: Duke University Press, 2010) and Mark F. Mehler and Dolores Malaspina
(eds), Epigenetics and Neuropsychiatric Diseases: Mechanisms Mediating
Nature and Nurture (New York: New York Academy of Sciences,
2010)). These conventions are underpinned by agendas, of those who on
the relevant websites for instance, that seek to influence debates on
reproductive technologies based on particular views of genetic inheritance.
The article will argue that a detailed understanding of the meaning of
genetic inheritance as it emerges in donor offspring narratives is necessary
in order to produce meaningful and productive interventions in epigenetic
debates which need to mediate the gap between epigenetic knowledge and
donor offspring’s articulated perceptions of genetic inheritance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-477
Number of pages25
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number3
Early online date27 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Identity; donor offspring; epigenetics; narratives of self; inheritance

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