The family is barely working. It is the primary source of violence and sexual abuse for queer youth, 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 family, 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?
• Sophie Lewis is a feminist writer and independent scholar living in Philadelphia. She is currently at work on a third book manuscript entitled ‘Enemy Feminisms’. Her first two books, both published by Verso Books, are ‘Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family (2019)’ and ‘Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation’. Sophie’s essays and articles appear in academic journals like ‘Feminist Theory’ as well as literary ones like the London Review of Books. Dr. Lewis has a visiting affiliation with the Center for Research on Feminist, Queer and Transgender Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. You can find her lectures and writings at lasophielle.org, and become a subscriber at patreon.com/reproutopia.
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. There will be live translation to Flemish Sign Language.
• Siggie Vertommen works as an assistant professor of gender studies at the University of Amsterdam and as a postdoctoral researcher at Ghent University. She conducts feminist research into the global politics surrounding (medically assisted) reproduction from Israel/Palestine to Georgia to Belgium. She dreams of feminist revolutions and is a member of all kinds of collectives such as the Ghent University Women’s Strike, Furia, Slow Science and Sophia. She also has a dog, Eddie, the most lovable dachshund in the world.
On accessibility: The entrance from the street has an entrance shaft with a push button. There is a lift to the 2nd floor. The Balzaal hall is accessible to persons in wheelchairs, accompanied by a staff member.