What We’re Reading: Dr Chi Chi Huang and Dr Aprajita Sarcar on Clarke and Haraway (eds.), Making Kin Not Population

In March 2022, the Laureate Centre reading group discussed Adele E. Clarke and Donna Haraway’s edited volume, Making Kin Not Population: Reconceiving Generations (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2018). Here, Dr Chi Chi Huang and Dr Aprajita Sarcar reflect on that conversation.

Dr Chi Chi Huang & Dr Aprajita Sarcar, 22 June 2022

Making Kin Not Population falls within a long legacy of writing about population with immediacy. Taking the form of a pamphlet, this co-edited volume echoes the sense of urgency common to the western tradition of writing on population planning. Yet, the approach of the authors in this volume differs to previous generations of advocates of population alarmism working in the tradition of Paul Ehlrich. Taking a step away from providing demographic modelling, these scholars provide their own visions of how “making kin” is the solution the problem of overpopulation. The volume’s biggest contribution is that it is an outcome of an ongoing conversations: the authors are not in consonance in the way they think of kin but united in the way they envision life without the need to register and document procreation.

Yu-Ling Huang and Chia-Ling Wu’s chapter bring an East Asian perspective into this conversation, a geography where it is the problem of underpopulation, not overpopulation, that concerns governments and policy makers. In this context, making kin involves 緣-making (yuan in Chinese) for the authors. “Understanding relationships between interdependent people”, they argue, “thrive[s] both within and outside marriage and family” (142). Fate and serendipity have been integral to the notion of 緣, but they are sidelined in Huang and Wu’s intervention. This is purposeful to emphasise that active engagement is required to reconfigure thinking about population outside of marriage and family. To illustrate this, Huang and Wu select examples of initiatives that have germinated from the local level to develop inclusive kinships. This volume’s call for changes to institutional approaches in documenting population by recognising diverse relationships and familial ties is crystalised in this chapter, which showcases how cultivating community connections from local actions can reverberate into policy. Part of the problem they’ve identified in East Asia is the entanglement of traditional family with ancestral bonds. However, the ancestral component of kinship has historically been the foundation for creating diasporic community welfare, particularly in hostile and unwelcoming societies. Rather than dismantling of “traditional” family and kin-networks, understanding historical conceptions of kin can also provide an alternative model in reconfiguring contemporary population studies.

The relevance of historical modes of social ties in new visions of kin-making is apparent in Kim TallBear’s contribution. The dismantling of the Indigenous family in North America by settler colonialism was a violence perpetuated by population policies seeking to limit and define acceptable relations. TallBear’s advocacy, and indeed the entire volume, raises the limits of (the English) language in defining new visions of kin. The cumbersome nature of describing non-nuclear relations is not only an impediment in social settings but has legal ramifications. Beyond the need to give labels to erased or hidden extended relationships, TallBear talks back to existing population discourse that in its many versions has continued to legitimize settler colonialism by the reproduction of not just family ideals, but consumption and ownership ideals.

The larger arguments of this edited volume still come with caveats, however.  Much of the volume, perhaps unintentionally, focuses on the United States, with scholars’ critique of populationism centered on North American colonial pasts and the present continuities of Trump’s white supremist nation. Such a framework is productive for future scholars to dismantle white-cis-hetero nuclear family models. But this mode of critique erases the small dissenters: those who had been working within the seams of population control lobbies across the globe, trying to work away from a vision of a world that rested on eugenics. In India, for instance, there were feminist demographers like Kumudini Dandekar who worked within the postcolonial framework of looking at population control as a measure to control poverty, to advocate for fertility decline through socioeconomic development, and not knee-jerk solutions. Their recommendations may not have been popular with the government, but they made their resistance known and circulated.[1] The second fallout of this national framing has been the way it could not make space for the existing traditions of critique in academia that have undertaken similar projects of recovering decolonial and anti-caste pasts, such as subaltern studies and South American scholarship.

Nonetheless, what these thinkers bring together provides rich interventions on the possibilities of critique. It is a unique contribution and one that is foundational to future scholarship on population control by recommending dialogue over demography.

Feature image: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

[1] See Ashwini Tambe, Defining Girlhood in India: A Transnational History of Sexual Maturity Laws, University of Illinois Press, 2019, 117-120.