Who’s Your Daddy?: The Paternity Test and the Logic of Paternity

Kathalene Razzano

Advisor: Tim Gibson, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Nancy Hanrahan, Debra Bergoffen

Johnson Center, #240A
April 23, 2012, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM


This dissertation takes the paternity test as its object in order to explore how the question of paternity functions in the contemporary United States. What does paternity really mean? Why do we ask the question? Who asks the question? And what are the material and nonmaterial gains when we ask the question? These questions require us to reconsider the very logic behind the “search for paternal truth.” Using an analysis informed by theories of governmentality, feminist social theory and political economy, I interrogate this logic of paternity through the use, implementation and consequences of the paternity test. In doing so, I find possibilities for rethinking social, legal and economic institutions and apparatuses which determine and define the needs and responsibilities of families as well as the roles that individual people play in them. The paternity test is an object that offers a gateway to larger questions of motherhood/ fatherhood/parenting as well as government, legal and scientific understandings of families, children, men and women. By denaturalizing the question of paternity, this dissertation reveals the ruptures in hegemonic definitions of family/father/mother. In popular culture, welfare legislation and in hunt for Deadbeat Dads, paternity testing has become the tool of resurrection and reintroduction. It resurrects the father through science and reintroduces him through the justice/welfare system. I explore why there is an insistence on naming the father, especially in regards to welfare, and on maintaining a place for him within the family (his resurrection and reintroduction) as well as what kinds of families might be possible if we do not assume the patriarch’s privileged position. I conclude that the paternity test, and the corresponding logic of paternity, functions as a device that works to regulate, direct and define the ways in which people relate to each other and to social, economic and legal institutions.