Abolish the Family! Long Live Families! Mapping Kinship and Care Beyond the (Capitalist, Propertarian, White Supremacist, Cis-Hetero-Bio-Nuclear) Family

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Organizers: Sarah Stinard-Kiel
Chairs: Sarah Stinard-Kiel


What are families good for? Capitalist economies and states rely upon the family - both an ideology and socio-economic institution - to facilitate social discipline, capital accumulation, austerity, and unpaid reproductive labor. In the US context at least, one family model in particular - the capitalist, propertarian, White supremacist, cis-hetero-bio-nuclear family - facilitates the dominant social order. This regulatory fantasy, however, has especially lethal consequences for Black and Brown, (im)migrant, Indigenous, poor and working class, women, queer, trans and gender non-conforming people and their devalued modes of care and kinship (Davis, 1998; Enloe, 1989; Oswin, 2010; Pratt, 2012). And yet, many families provide their members material support and emotional refuge from market rationalities and state violence.

Marxist feminists highlight this contradiction for the ways it makes family both a “slippery phenomenon” to study and a particularly vexed topic of debate. This duality emerges, for instance, in debates on social reproduction. “Should feminists...press for proper appreciation of women’s work and responsibilities in the family...or should they reject this artificial, socially constructed separation” (Barrett and McIntosh, 2015 [1985]: 20)? Put differently, we might think about this as a tension between Marxist-feminism and queer and trans theory. For example, “wages for housework” campaigns demand the recognition and compensation of reproductive labor by the State while reinscribing the Family as the center of the community and requiring Families to be legible within the dominant social order (James 1972). Is it enough, however, to de-privatize social reproduction and collectivize care? What is the relation between changing labor relations changing social orders of gender, sexuality, and intimacy? In a post-capitalist society, would families cease to exist altogether or just as sites for racialized class (re)formation and gendered expropriation? And what might be the geography of either? For instance, would Hayden’s non-sexist city (1980) be also a non-familial city? What is the difference between family reform and family abolition? And how might either account for the myriad kinship structures and affective arrangements that many (though not all) actually existing families offer?

This session seeks to answer these questions through a critical, polyvocal engagement with the theory and politics of family abolition.


Type Details Minutes
Presenter Mike Dimpfl*, Duke University, “Home” Is Where the Bleach Is: University Housekeeping, Student Life, and Institutional Violence 15
Presenter Carlos Serrano*, , Sara H. Smith*, University of North Carolina, My child’s success or our children’s well-being?: The making and unmaking of kin in public education 15

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