Abolish the Family! Long Live Families! A Reading Discussion on Kinship and Care Within and Beyond the (Capitalist, White Supremacist, Cis-Hetero-Bio-Nuclear) Family

Type: Virtual Panel
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Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM (PDT)
Room: Virtual 16
Organizers: William McKeithen
Chairs: William McKeithen


“They will not belong to the patriarchy. They will not belong to us either. They will belong only to themselves.” - The Sisterhood of Black Single Mothers, founded 1975

What are families good for? Capitalist economies and states rely upon the family - both as ideology and socioeconomic institution - to facilitate social discipline, capital accumulation, austerity, and unpaid reproductive labor. The regulatory fantasy of the (capitalist, White supremacist, cis-hetero-bio-nuclear) family 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). Yet, many families nonetheless 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 over 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)? More recently, the contemporary contradictions of family have (re)animated interest in the concept of family abolition (Griffiths and Gleeson, 2015; Hester, 2018; O’Brien, 2019). In her book Full Surrogacy Now, Sophie Lewis defines family abolition as “the (necessarily postcapitalist) end of the double-edged coercion whereby the babies we gestate are ours and ours alone, to guard, invest in, and prioritize” (2019: 119). Family abolition offers rich opportunities for geographic thought, yet current debate remains largely aspatial in its analysis. What might geographies of family abolition, both future and already existing, look like? For instance, would Hayden’s non-sexist city (1980) also be a non-familial city?

This session seeks to explore such questions through critical reading and collective conversation based in key feminist texts on family and family abolition. These include:

- Hayden, D. (1980). What would a non-sexist city be like? Speculations on housing, urban design, and human work. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 5(S3), S170–S187.
- Lewis, S. (2019). “Another Surrogacy Is Possible” in Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family. Verso. (pp. 141-159).
- King, T. L. (2018). Black ‘Feminisms’ and Pessimism: Abolishing Moynihan’s Negro Family. Theory & Event, 21(1), 68–87.
- TallBear, K. (2018). Making Love and Relations Beyond Settler Sex and Family. In: A. Clarke, & D. Haraway (Eds.), Making Kin not Population: Reconceiving Generations. Prickly Paradigm Press. (pp. 145-164).

Participants will be asked to read the texts prior to our virtual meeting. These texts will provide the launching pad from which participants will explore their own questions and discuss points of connection or debate. For those interested but unfamiliar about the topic, possible points of discussion might include:

- the Family (or multiple time- and place-specific Families) as regulatory institution(s);
- unpaid, paid, low-paid, and/or coerced reproductive labor;
- the state, markets, civil society, and hierarchical (bio)social reproduction;
- (neo)liberalism, property, and propertarian kinship;
- Is family abolition the same as de-privatizatizing social reproduction? For example, are teachers’ strike or student debt strikes family abolitionist?
- Is the Family already dead? Where, when, for whom, and to whose benefit?
- “make kin, not babies” (Haraway, 2016);
- family abolition and anti-work politics (Weeks, 2011);
- Does family abolition require gender abolition?
- family abolition, more-than-human life and land, and abolition ecology (Heynen, 2018);
- solidarity between ‘parent’ and ‘non-parent’, paid and unpaid care workers, the reproductively privileged and the reproductively oppressed (Stinard-Kiel 2017)
- integrating reproductive care into radical movements of political prefiguration (e.g., the Young Lords childcare, the Black Panthers free breakfast program) (Federici 2010; Hillard 2010; Nelson 2001)
- What role does the regulatory state play in family abolition? Can social workers, family/marriage counselors, foster carers engage in abolitionist practices?
- reformist reforms cf abolitionist reforms (Ben-Moshe, 2013)
- historical or already existing alternative models of family abolition (e.g., collectivized or cooperative caregiving strategies; Black mamahoods [Nash, 2018]; comadres/compadres [Lopez, 1999]; queer ‘chosen families’ [Weston, 1997]);
- (anti)futurity and utopianism (Ben-Moshe, 2018; Lewis, 2019; Muñoz, 2009);

If you are interested in joining, please contact Will McKeithen at will.mckeithen@gmail.com and let them know if you need support accessing the readings.

Will McKeithen
Pronouns: “Will” or they/them
University of Washington

Works Cited:

Ben-Moshe, L. (2013). The tension between abolition and reform. In M. E. Nagel & A. J. Nocella II (Eds.), The end of prisons: Reflections from the decarceration movement (pp. 83–92). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Rodopi B.V.
Ben-Moshe, L. (2018). Dis-orientation, dis-epistemology and abolition. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, 4(2).
Davis, A.Y. (1998) “Surrogates and Outcast Mothers: Racism and Repro- ductive Politics in the Nineties,” in Joy James, ed., The Angela Y. Davis Reader, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 210–21.
Federici, S. (2010) "Feminism And the Politics of the Commons." In C. Hughes, S. Peace, and K. Van Meter for the Team Colors Collective (Eds.), Uses of a Whirlwind: Movement, and Contemporary Radical Currents in the United States (pp 283 294). PM Press.
Griffiths, K. and J. Gleeson. (2015). Kinderkommunismus: A Feminist Analysis of the 21st Century Family and a Communist Proposal for its Abolition. Ritual.
Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press Books.
Hayden, D. (1980). What would a non-sexist city be like? Speculations on housing, urban design, and human work. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 5(S3), S170–S187.
Hester, H. (2018). Xenofeminism. John Wiley & Sons.
Heynen, N. (2018). Toward an abolition ecology. Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics, (1), 240–247.
Lewis, S. A. (2019). Full Surrogacy Now. Verso.
López, R. A. (1999). Las Comadres as a Social Support System. Affilia, 14(1), 24–41.
Muñoz, J. E. (2009). Cruising utopia: The then and there of queer futurity. New York: New York University Press.
Nash, J. C. (2018). The Political Life of Black Motherhood. Feminist Studies, 44(3), 699–712.
Oswin, N. (2010). The modern model family at home in Singapore: A queer geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(2), 256–268.
Stinard-Kiel, S. “Charity? Allyship? Solidarity? Exploring racial tensions in collectivized caregiving”, Society and Space. (2017)
Weston, K. (1997). Families we choose: Lesbians, gays, kinship.


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