Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships Vol. 27:3 (2010), pp 388–407.


Copyright © 2010 Dawn O. Braithwaite, Betsy Wackernagel Bach, Leslie A. Baxter, Rebecca DiVerniero, Joshua R. Hammonds, Angela M. Hosek, Erin K. Willer, and Bianca M. Wolf. Published by SAGE Publications. Used by permission.


This study explored how participants discursively rendered voluntary kin relationships sensical and legitimate. Interpretive analyses of 110 interviews revealed four main types of voluntary kin: (i) substitute family, (ii) supplemental family, (iii) convenience family, and (iv) extended family. These types were rendered sensical and legitimated by drawing on the discourse of the traditional family. Except for the extended family, three of four voluntary kin family types were justified by an attributed deficit in the blood and legal family. Because voluntary kin relationships are not based on the traditional criteria of association by blood or law, members experience them as potentially challenging, requiring discursive work to render them sensical and legitimate to others.