Bionormativity and the Construction of Parenthood

48 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2007 Last revised: 22 Apr 2017

See all articles by Katharine K. Baker

Katharine K. Baker

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology

Date Written: 2008


This piece explores the relationship between legal and biological parenthood. It examines how neither history, nor evolutionary biology nor moral philosophy dictate a legal regime in which parenthood must be based on biological connection, but that attraction to a biological (or "bionormative") regime remains strong. In explaining why, it suggests that much of what attracts people to bionormativity is not biology itself, but the way in which a biological regime constructs parenthood as a private, exclusive and binary enterprise. It is these ancillary qualities of bionormativity that people may care the most about. Today, a variety of forces put pressure on these ancillary qualities of bionormativity. The extent of child poverty, the rejection of (even the appearance of) monogamy and the use of donated gametes all, in different ways, bring into question the extent to which we may want parenthood to stay private, exclusive, binary and biological. The analysis presented here suggests that what is most destabilizing to a bionormative regime is not direct manipulation of biological material, but the fluid living patterns of contemporary adults. Because contemporary adult relationships are less likely to be permanently binary and exclusive, so is parenthood. When parenthood becomes less binary and exclusive, it becomes less private and less biological as well. The analysis presented also reveals that a construction of parenthood that is more public, more inclusive, less binary and less biological is a construction of hierarchical parenthood, or a parental regime in which some parents have substantially more parental rights and responsibilities than others. Recognizing degrees of parenthood may be an inevitable byproduct of a system that rejects bionormativity.

Keywords: parenthood, family

Suggested Citation

Baker, Katharine K., Bionormativity and the Construction of Parenthood (2008). 42 Georgia Law Review 649 (2008), Available at SSRN:

Katharine K. Baker (Contact Author)

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology ( email )

565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States
312-906-5391 (Phone)
312-906-5280 (Fax)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics