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Kin-making in the Reproductive Penumbram: Surrogacy in Aotearoa New Zealand

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posted on 18.07.2021, 22:16 by Hannah Gibson

As many as one in four New Zealanders experience infertility. Some choose to pursue surrogacy as an option to make a family because traditional surrogacy and gestational surrogacy are legal in Aotearoa New Zealand on an altruistic basis. Straddling the two reproductive worlds – ‘traditional’ and ‘technological’ – surrogacy in Aotearoa New Zealand offers us a ripe site for analysis and rethinking how kinship is made and unmade within what I refer to as the reproductive penumbra. Surrogacy as a reproductive practice exists outside of, or in the shadows of, heteronormative reproduction and mainstream Euro-American kinship. Surrogacy also asks people to enter an unknown reproductive space and navigate myriad processes, institutions, and legislations to realise their plans to make kin non-normatively. Drawing on three years of multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, in this thesis I unpack what kin-practices, narratives, rituals, rules, and relationships are mobilised within and between the various landscapes involved in surrogacy in Aotearoa New Zealand. I outline how people make kin in the multiple shadows they inhabit and move through during their surrogacy journeys. These range from the intimate and inter-personal relationships in the surrogacy community, the fertility clinic, and inside the embryology laboratory, to the institutional and regulatory processes and the state. Through their negotiation of these spaces that are situated in the shadows of the colonial state, everyday legality, and motherhood ideologies, intended parents and surrogates disrupt, to varying degrees, pervasive ideas about kinship with different interpretations and enactments of reproductive participation. Through detailed narratives of people wanting to and helping make kin in the shadows, this research on surrogacy complicates societal understandings of the co-constructed nature of kinship, motherhood, and reproductive medicine. Rather than positioning kin-making in shadows as inherently negative, this thesis celebrates the potentiality and plurality of reproduction that underpins and emerges from surrogacy.


Advisor 1

Trundle, Catherine

Advisor 2

Sheoran Appleton, Nayantara

Copyright Date


Date of Award



Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Cultural Anthropology

Degree Grantor

Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies