Kinship Vision

[This essay is part of the ZNet Classics series. Three times a week we will re-post an article that we think is of timeless importance. This one was first published May 19, 2006.]


{ This paper is being prepared for the June 1 – 7 2006 first Z Sessions on Vision and Strategy, held in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. These sessions gather activists from around the world to share ideas and experiences regarding social vision and strategy. This version is a draft, only…}



What is the kinship sphere? What happens in it?


In the kinship sphere:

§         People create family and all the lifelong attachments and commitments that are implied with that. People create intimacy that is somehow separate from the public sphere of work, politics, culture, etc. even though there is also continuity with those spheres.


§         People raise children and give them their first experiences with gender identity, language, race/ethnic identity, geographic identity, religious identity.


§         People have sex and learn to express sexuality (though these activities are not limited to the family; they also happen in the community/culture/society; also in the economic sphere? — as in, the production of erotic literature, movies, sex toys, sex work, etc. Also, I don’t mean to imply that sex and sexuality are 100% "learned" behaviors. They have roots in biology as well.)


§         People care for children, elders, each other, tuning in to specific needs and being intimately able to respond to those needs.


Judging by the names "participatory economics" and "participatory politics," participation is a cornerstone quality of those spheres. Perhaps the same is true of the kinship sphere. Reading over this draft about kinship vision, I notice that although the family is a more private sphere than economics or politics, society-wide participation is still essential to creating safe, healthy, thriving families. Although not everyone will be in families in the same way and not everyone will choose to be a parent, all of society has an interest in working together to make sure the kinship sphere is rooted in and helps reproduce the values that we hope would guide our new society — liberty, justice, solidarity, participation, diversity/tolerance.



Family — What is it? Who needs it?


What is a family? A family is a collection of people committed to each other’s growth, development, safety, nurturance, happiness, etc. in a way that is fair, affirming of the individual as well as the family unit, supportive, and tolerant.


Perhaps in a better world, with things like solidarity, justice, tolerance, participation, and liberty running rampant, the family as we know it will simply wither away. Who needs a "haven in a heartless world" if the world is not heartless at all? Who needs the protective bonds of family intimacy if the workplace, the culture, the political sphere are not constantly assaulting your humanity? Who says there is even anything necessarily positive about family intimacy when it seems so often to be a cloak for family dysfunction. At best, some might argue, parents create families in desperate attempts to somehow meet their own unmet needs for love and connection. At worst, parents’ approach to children as pawns in their emotional game leads to wholesale oppression of young people, including physical and emotional abuse. Today’s political and social structures give few rights to children, protecting them only from the most egregious forms of abuse, and doing that poorly.


Why have families at all if there is so much danger of them acting as sealed breeding grounds for unhealthy relationships and possibly even extreme oppression?


Writing about kinship vision is challenging because, like the other spheres, getting it right will be a process. Furthermore, it may never be exactly right for everyone, but it could be always evolving toward what is more right for most people. There’s no way to give, from this vantage point, exact prescriptions of what should be. As people function in a better society, and continue to do so for generations, surely the family will evolve accordingly. Minds freed from oppressive work and oppressive culture will make much better choices about how to organize family. And perhaps the family will indeed whither away. People will be part of chosen communities and will get their needs met in safe, transparent, intimate, loving community units of some sort or another that may or may not have anything to do with biological relationships. Or maybe biology will play some role.



Lifelong attachments, commitment, and intimacy


Assuming family will be an always evolving sphere, which it certainly has up until this point in human history (see The Myths of Motherhood: How Culture Reinvents the Good Mother by Shari L. Thurer), we can still identify what we think are important component pieces of family life. One of these, I would argue, is lifelong attachment and intimacy.


In families, people have the potential to experience and to feel unconditional love. That seems to me to be an inherent good that we should protect and nurture in a better society. You don’t have to earn love; simply being born should put you in direct touch with it. And that first love you feel in your family should give rise to lifelong attachments that meet many emotional needs but also make you a responsible actor in the equation.


In other words, say we are talking about the love and attachment between a parent and child. Parents might feel overwhelming love for children, but that doesn’t mean they simply bask in the connection t

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Francis Yellow April 4, 2014 2:00 pm 

    Hau MItakuyepi, Greetings my Relatives, Lamakota ca napeciyza pelo, I am Friendly (Lakota) so I shake your hand!
    My written words express an age-old, ageless, way of kinship which is carried by the Original Peoples of Turtle Island. These ways, until recently have been kept and passed on through storytelling/”oral tradition”.
    These Peoples are undergoing the greatest genocidal oppression ever; yet this destruction is normalized by way of societal denial. We understand that this ongoing genocide is a way of Greed.
    The kinship that we know is expressed in an age-old phrase, Mitakuye Owasin, All my Relations!, meaning that our kinship extends to all of Life, seen&unseen.
    American/Western History says the Indian wars were wars over ownership of the land. From our kinship perspective we would say, Land? Ownership? Who in their right mind would “own” their mother? or land/property? “Land” is a modern economic hack that denies our (humanity’s) mother-child kinship with the earth –whom we know as Mother Earth.
    Can you see that my ancestors fought yours out of the responsibility that kinship engenders? Kinship must naturally extend to All Life -Human Beings are the babies of the Family of Life. We wouldn’t exist without the unconditional love and compassion that Life gives freely! Despite “modern civilizations” ingratitude, Life gives and gives and… –even to the Greedy! Wisdom beyond comprehension!
    Pilamayayapelo, I thank all of you who are working to undo/unlearn/disabuse yourselves of the dehumanization and disrelation that Greed (through its omnicidal ways) engenders.

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