Kinship Keyword

Agustin Fuentes and Natalie Porter, the authors of the Kinship keyword, lay out two definitions of kinship that have a scholarly split. The first is the idea of “biological” kinship, relationships we are born into that rely on the ideas of a biological inheritance and lineage. The second is a “logical” kinship, relationships that we choose or construct that have a basis more in the cultural bonds that we create. They posit that these definitions are human-centric and that rather than choose a single definition (either biological, logical, or even that kinship is both) that decentering the human experience and thinking about a multispecies kinship can help expand or transcend those distinctions.

In particular, if considered through the lens of different species interacting, biological and logical kinship can intertwine. Using Donna Harway’s definition they tell us that “making kin entails bioculturally, biotechnically, biopolitically, and historically situated people acting in relation to and combining with other species assemblages as well as biotic and abiotic forces.” (184) And bringing in other species allows the use of a new frame, that “approaching kindship as a multispecies process moves the concept beyond the enactment of inheritance and into the realm of potentialities of exchange and the construction of relations.” (184)

The authors look at examples of our historical and present-day kinship with viruses, canines, chickens, and monkeys to show how human to animal relations can complicate the biological/logical distinction. With viruses, they point out the relational process of virus and host; with canines, the intertwined history between humans and wolves that shaped the trajectory of both species; with chickens the consistent predator prey relationship that has led from kidnaping the red jungle fowl all the way to industrial factory farming; and with monkeys, the sibling like rivalry between our species.

This broad reading of multispecies kinship that focuses on the building of relationships allows us to both better see and more specifically critique the ways that different species act on one another. Although the authors don’t touch on it through this article, there is a lot of space to use the ideas of kinship in examining children’s literature, and particularly stories that explore close bonds between child and animal or the relational narrative between two animal specifies or amongmany animals. Using the concept of kinship and the different ways that nature and culture play on one another could bring a new layer of exploration to stories like Charlotte’s Web, Frog and Toad, Winnie the Pooh, and Cinnamon that are so grounded in the relationships between species.

It also opens up connections between religious studies and animal studies. In particular, this expansive definition of kinship has much in common with many Buddhist teachings, particularly the concept of interbeing most associated with Thich Nhat Hanh. This concept, that nothing exists on its own but that every phenomenon, whether it be person, animal, plant or object, is intricately connected to every other thing in existence. There would be rich inquiry into the ways that multispecies kinship either mirrors interbeing or comes up short, and whether the concept of kinship can be expanded further beyond the animal/human intermingling to include other living and non-living things and if there is a use in doing so.

These ideas also have salience in conversations within political movements, most obviously the animal welfare and climate change movements. The concept of a multispecies kinship and the understanding of the ways that all species build relationships with each other that continue to affect our futures could potentially be powerful for those attempting to showcase the importance of care-taking the world around us. The idea of kinship or ‘making kin’ as the authors defined, often comes up in social movements, particularly those based in mutual aid or relational politics, broadening the term might create space for a new conversation and new connections between activists focused on improving human conditions and those focused on animal or environmental conditions.

One thought on “Kinship Keyword

  1. Carrie Hintz

    Rose, This was a deft and thoughtful engagement with this fascinating keyword, and I loved the way you linked it with some primary texts in children’s literature, but also with new approaches to collective life/ the political. A real pleasure to read this entry! CH

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