Understanding the Family: Life – Love – labor



What is the family? What is its function and position in liberalism and more specifically in current late capitalism? Some claim that the family stands in opposition to capitalism, while others emphasize their direct connectedness. The opposition can be described either negatively or positively: In the negative sense, the family is the sphere where individualism and economic thinking are suspended – thereby implying that liberal principles such as freedom, justice and equality are not valid either. In the positive sense, the family is regarded as the sphere where non-economic values and subjectivities become possible – such as love and solidarity. The connectedness of family and capitalism can be described in the sense that the family enables a specific sort of capitalist production – which is the reproduction of manpower – and a specific form of labor – which is not wage labor but care labor. How do these two sides relate to each other? It could be assumed that both sides are necessary in order to fully understand the family: the family is connected to capitalism by being in opposition to it. But how can this paradox be understood? How does the suspension of the economic in its official sense lead to other forms of exploitation and dependence which do not rely on contract but on a reference to “nature”? This also raises questions concerning the normative status of “family values”: Is the description of the family as a form of exploitation a contradiction to the idea of the family as a source of normativity (an ethics of care and solidarity in contrast to the abstract liberal principles of freedom, equality and justice) or should this normativity be understood as a surplus of the exploitation itself? Is the revaluation of care an ideological concealment of this exploitation or a feminist appropriation of the family and its structure?These questions shall be addressed through the workshop by bringing together different traditions of thinking about the family.

Applications referring to the following theoretical fields are welcomed:

a) analyses of social reproduction in traditions of materialist feminism; b) discussions on an ethics of care and vulnerability; c) biopolitical approaches on the relationship of family and “life”; d) perspectives on how the family relates to other forms of unpaid labor in capitalism (e.g. slavery); e) attempts to challenge its heteronormative structure, by asking: can the family be queered?

Related to this general theoretic framing, also discussions of current, empirical questions are welcomed. These could be:

a) How can the situation and role of the family under late capitalist conditions be described? While it is often claimed that neoliberalism colonizes the family and will lead to its destruction, there is also a new (neoconservative) significance of family values within neoliberalism. b) How do new technologies of reproduction shift its biological grounding and may lead to new interpretations of the reproductive function of the family?

Please submit a 500-word abstract for your proposed paper by 15th of May. All abstracts and enquiries about the workshop should be sent to:
Please be aware that to participate you will also need to register for the MANCEPT workshops. This year’s fees are £230.00 for academics and £135.00 for graduate students and retirees. You may be eligible for a bursary to cover registration costs. The details for these will be available on the MANCEPT website.

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