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"Abolish the Family!"? Feminist and Queer Critiques (Seminar)

Dozent/in: Ben Trott

wöchentlich | Montag | 14:15 - 15:45 | 04.04.2022 - 08.07.2022 | C 40.501

Inhalt: "Abolition of the family!", wrote Marx and Engels in their 1848 Communist Manifesto: "Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists." In recent years, the family has received increasing critical attention; primarily from feminist and queer theorists, scholars, and activists. Critiques of the family as a legal and political institution that grants certain rights and privileges through a constitutive exclusion are fairly familiar, as are the critiques of efforts to remedy such injustices through “differential inclusion” – where the boundaries of what counts as family are simply redrawn, albeit more generously. What is also fairly familiar are the efforts to posit *chosen* family as a viable and often desirable alternative to *biological* family. But this sort of “reverse discourse” continues to circulate “the family” as what Sara Ahmed calls “a happy object.” Here, “[t]he family would be happy not because it causes happiness, and not even because it affects us in a good way, but because we share an orientation toward the family as being good, as being what promises happiness in return for loyalty" (Ahmed 2010). Contemporary feminist and queer calls to “abolish the family” go well beyond attempts to redraw the boundaries of the family or to fill the term with new or more meanings. Often drawing from earlier critical traditions, contemporary contributions theorise family abolition as a means of rethinking kinship, care and mutual obligation. And they seek to do so in ways that might facilitate greater human flourishing, allow for the proliferation of modes of relating through new and heterogenous bonds of affection, while fostering non-identitarian forms of “love-solidarity”. In this sense, the slogan “abolish the family!” is certainly not a call for anything like a ban or prohibition. Instead, it proposes attempting to render the family obsolete through the invention of new social forms and ways of relating. __OUTLINE__ In this seminar, students will explore various critiques of the family, including in terms of its historic role in the production of separate spheres (public and private), with their gendered histories and hierarchies; how it has served as a means of institutionalizing what Adrienne Rich famously termed “compulsory heterosexuality”; and the ways in which it has facilitated the reproduction of class relations through the transference of property, primarily through patrilineal lines of descent. The seminar begins by exploring early critiques of the family by Marx and Engels and by utopian thinkers such as Robert Owen and Charles Fourier in the 19th century. It then turns to those critiques articulated by feminist theorists and others during the 1970s, before tracing the ways in which these two moments of family abolitionism (in the 19th and mid- to late-20th centuries) shape contemporary critiques. Students will engage with feminist critiques of the social role of the “housewife” and with analyses of domestic labour during the 1970s. This will include exploring the work of Silvia Federici within these debates around “social reproduction”, but particular attention will be paid to the (comparatively neglected) Black feminist and lesbian feminist contributions to these debates in the 1970s and 80s: from the archives of the activist groups “Black Women for Wages for Housework” and “Wages Due Lesbians” through to writings by Angela Y. Davis and bell hooks on Black women, the family, and domestic labour. Students will critically interrogate the debates that have surrounded, first, Donna Haraway’s “gently defamiliarizing move” to “make kin mean something other/more than entities tied by ancestry or genealogy” and, second, the critiques of “reproductive futurism” set out by queer theorists like Lee Edelman. Particular attention will be paid to Helen Hester’s “xenofeminist” response to both. Throughout the course of the semester, students will also examine the critiques of the family and of the couple-form advanced by contemporary theorists like Kathi Weeks and Michael Hardt, including their critical appropriations from the work of Shulamith Firestone, Alexandra Kollontai and Michel Foucault. Finally, the seminar will look at concrete alternatives to the family that have been cultivated within queer and trans sub-cultures: from projects like the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) of the 1970s to the house and ballroom scene. Here Jack Halberstam’s work on “trans* generations” and Marlon M. Bailey’s book “Butch Queens Up in Pumps” will receive particular attention.