Alternative Kinship


Alternative Kinship word cloudAlternative Kinship is a research project led by Dr. Jenny Heijun Wills, CSRG member, associate professor in the Department of English, and director of the Critical Race Network@UW, alongside Dr. Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, associate professor of English and program director of Race and Ethnic Studies at St. Olaf College, and Joshua Whitehead, a Ph.D. Candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Calgary and alumnus of UW’s cultural studies M.A. program.

Critical adoption studies has opened significant conversations in the past number of decades. However, with the rise of adoptee-centred scholarship and cultural production, a notable tenor of adoptee exceptionalism has emerged. While on the one hand this shift importantly insists upon adoptees' subjectivities, agencies, and rights, on the other this move runs the risk of overpowering (and co-opting) other experiences of alternative kinship and, at times, reiterates conservative understandings of class, nationality, culture, and race.

Intervening in this field and with this dilemma in mind, Alternative Kinship examines the role(s) of cultural production in the service of representing other subjects’ experiences of often post-biological family-building in concert with discourses on adoption. The project ponders the popularity of autocritical methods when used in literature and film as well as visual and performing arts to narrate experiences of adoption, fostering, surrogacy, and reproductive donorship in light of three broad categories: alternative kinship, assisted kinship, and imagined kinship. The autocritical, in many ways, acts as a bridge between the creative and the critical, the affective and the theoretical. We wonder what is gained and what is compromised by the ongoing link between post-biological kinships and autocritical modes of representation.

One goal for this project is the production of an autocritical gallery featuring original essays and creative works analyzing and staging the post-biological. This print collection will be complemented by an online component consisting of additional contributions that focus on pedagogy and non-textual modes of expression. Some members of the Cultural Studies Research Group have already accepted invitations to participate and we hope to create more opportunities for collaboration.