The family is barely working. It is the primary source of violence and sexual abuse for queer youths, women, and children. And in simple labour terms, it asks too much of too few. People who take on the brunt of the care labour within families feel overwhelmed, exploited lonely and burned-out.
Yet the private nuclear household seems to many of us in the west like a law of nature. Inescapable. But, is it? In fact, care responsibilities, that are now seen as self-evidently within the domain of the familiy, have previously lived in large part in the commons. Over several centuries, capitalist societies gradually engineered the privatization of care into individual self-responsible kinship units. This has led to a care scarcity. According to sociologist Melinda Cooper, this ‘familization’ process has been crucial in the rise of both neoconservative and neoliberal forms of economic governance. Familist capitalism exploits the fact that ‘the family’ feels non-negotiable for most people, not to mention indispensable to many marginalized and state-criminalized people’s survival.
Utopian thinkers, including Marx and Engels but also black anti-imperialist feminists in the US, have raised the possibility of ‘abolishing the family’ for over two centuries. Now, after Covid lockdowns showed us how untenable families are under pressure, there is resurgent curiosity around the world about non-capitalist ways of organizing care. What does familism prevent us from doing and desiring? How might we think about bringing an end to organized care scarcity?
After her lecture, Sophie Lewis will talk to writer and gender studies researcher Siggie Vertommen. Both the talk and the discussion afterward will take place in English.