Promiscuous KinshipKeywords: Kinship, Family, Fertility, Toxicity,
Promiscuity, Desire, Colonial Apparatus, Transparency
<Thesis written under the counsel of Patricia Reed;
this long abstract was edited by Jack Segbars>
full thesis here
In my thesis I contextualize how reduced notions of kinship are keeping alive an apparatus of socio-ecological injustice that itself emerged in the era of settler coloniality in the Americas. What does it mean that we are acquainted with racial and gender norms through the nuclear family, the same unit toxicity-producing nations and economic systems depend on? The way I understand this means that kinship itself, the way in which we tell the universe how we are tied to each other (the way we love and fuck!) can become a form of resistance and a means to deeply alter the systems that work us, and why not start there?
The nuclear family is defined by its overattachment to and dependency on "blood relatives". It distances itself from other social organizational forms, especially those involving reproductive labor: child-rearing and bearing, housework, elderly care, etc. This model perpetuates a culture of self-reliance, the foundation of neoliberalist economic systems. That is the reason why for so long the model of the nuclear family has been enforced (mostly through religious and biological institutionalization) by colonial states, apparatuses for endless growth.
Within the nuclear family, hierarchies applied onto women and children are biologically reasoned. Gender therefore is constructed as a biological reality rather than as social performativity. The acceptance of biology as a socially anchored truth, means that you must embrace your reproductivity and accept the intrinsic heteronormativity of the nuclear arrangement: boys must become fathers and girls must become mothers. The heteronormative nature of the nuclear model itself ensures the continuation of the family-regime over the generations. It can be understood as a gift, even as the gift of life itself. To compensate for this gift, one must give back to the family: turn parents into grandparents by following the other sex as a love object.
Therefore, marriage has been institutionalized (by church and state) to become more than merely a union of two. It is now a statute to numerous moral and legal benefits, economically incentivizing the "right kind of people" to reproduce. From the beginning of the colonization of modern-day US and Canada, Indigenous peoples were assimilated into the national body by enforcing them to adopt the nuclear family model. Institutions such as residential schools, churches and missions were designed to “save the man and kill the Indian.” Forced conversions to whiteness rampaged Indigenous territories.
Large areas of indigenous land were dispossessed through atomization of the collective and individualization. Indigenous kinship was abolished, the extended family became legally non-existent. Moreover, kinship with the land was now a void concept within the colonial nation. By introducing the language needed to buy, sell and profit, settler coloniality imposed a new economic regime where more-than-human bonds (kin with the land and its ecological rhythms) became an impossibility for survival. The curtailing of kinship multiplicities and the separation of humans from nature enabled an epoch of enslaved human, animal and plant life for extractivist purposes.
Here we can begin to identify the nuclear model as a set of values, but more so I begin to recognize it for its transparency. The political making of the nation can be theorized as colonial authorship: the body is the material, whiteness is the author, and transparency is its means. The outcomes being "the depletion of grasslands, forests and soils, intensified mono-cropping and mining, rising carbon emissions, displacement of people and other critters from homelands [...] in the way of profit."
Within this colonial apparatus, the medium of transparency makes the nation-state plausible. It helps formal and informal authorities recognize those who have been incorporated into the national body and to marginalize those who resist. When whiteness stands in for the colonial political project that historically emerged notoriously at the same time the nuclear family did, then transparency now succeeds it as a form of post-racial or multiracial whiteness. It stands in for an accord between subjectivity and ruling power, and is not limited to white bodies.
I also question the role design holds in all of this. Infrastructure, transportation, four-door cars, highways, suburbanization, houses, kitchens, schools and education, health insurance, even health itself are all designed to fit the nuclear family. The overdesigned image of the family is part of an economizing network geared to picture all other settings in which people mix and live as aberrations. "Nurseries, children’s homes, student residences, nursing homes, old people’s homes, all in their different ways conjure up pictures of bleakness, deprivation, acceptable perhaps for daycare or for part of the year or a brief stage in life, but very much a pis aller to be resorted to only if normal family life cannot be provided."
Countries like Denmark, Turkey, Japan, Taiwan, Hungary and the US cling to a low fertility narrative to counter dwindling populations of a particular ethnic/racial composition that are proclaimed as “demographic emergencies” of “not enough of the right kind of people.” Their efforts range from financial incentives such as interest-free loans, tax cuts and credit for couples, to setting up cabinet and ministerial positions to respond to the "fertility crisis". This is a commodification, but more so an economization of morals and aesthetics, a fine-tune of capitalist desires and a policing of subjectivities that don't pursue the American Dream.
When you consider fertility as something that goes beyond the mere biological component and to involve the wellbeing and happiness of uncategorizable progeny, you start to acknowledge all oppressions as toxicities. Medical and judicial operations against reproductive, social and environmental justice, institutionalized police brutality, family exclusive fertility clinics, systemic racism, coerced IUDs, oil spills and air pollution, the enforcement of contraception as a legal measure against poverty.
That’s the real fertility crisis.
These, and many other forms of mutilating body and land, make me wonder what it means to be fertile in an infertile environment? What does it mean – for human and non-human life – to be fertile while swimming in a toxic spill?
"The political world is hopelessly (and hopefully) intertwined with the natural world." To that I would add: the personal is political and the political personal. Since the nuclear family is the ultimate goal of the transparent body (in the political regime as it is), I like to think of a form of making kin without predefined aspirations. "People living together for an unspecified time, with no specified set of interpersonal relations." What's a designed-domestic that can host that? Family not as the end goal, but only as our means for survival, where the sole practice of theorizing, making and sustaining family (call it what you want) becomes a reciprocal process between promiscuous kinships and politics.