Clarke, A. and D. Haraway (eds) (2018) Making Kin Not Population: Reconceiving Generations (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press) ISBN: 9780996635561.
How worried should we be about the world’s growing number of inhabitants? Making Kin Not Population takes up this pressing question, along with a series of entangled issues concerning the use of social engineering and population control as forms of regulation, coercion and violence by nation-states and corporations. The edited collection calls for recognition of, on the one hand, the rapid extraction and consumption of the world’s resources amidst rising population rates, and, on the other, the struggles of groups whose right to reproductive freedom has been systematically and forcefully denied. In five short chapters penned by scholars working at the intersections of critical race studies and feminist technoscience, this book carefully tracks how meaningful relationships of interdependence are forged in the face of destructive social and political regimes. It succeeds in troubling taken-for-granted claims and paradigms within new materialist and transnational studies, bringing together what are often separate debates about kinship and environmental justice.
Adele Clarke’s introduction situates the book’s scholarly debate within a history of feminist research and theorising on reproduction, and nicely outlines the authors’ political stakes. She sharply criticises contemporary feminists, particularly within the North American and Western European contexts, for their framing of reproductive issues such as abortion, in vitro fertilisation and surrogacy as matters of individual choice. Instead, she calls for a broader recognition of the social conditions that frame decision-making, which includes a rethinking of reproductive justice as an investment in ‘making kin’ in non-natalist ways and in ‘attending and attuning to how people and peoples already make and value other-than-biogenetic kin in non-imperialist ways’ (2). This involves addressing numerous long-standing inequalities concerning reproductive freedom in contexts where colonialism remains an everyday reality and where migration policies work to curtail the flourishing of ‘life-sustaining collectivities’ (31).
A central concern in the book is population and whether the concept has any place in feminism. Donna Haraway (chapter 2) identifies a global divide between what she calls the Born ones, the ‘multi-billions of human beings, industrial food animals, and companion pets enterprised-up to bloated consumer status’ and the Disappeared, the human and non-human resisters who bear the burden of the consumption and privileges of the Born (73). She convincingly argues that despite the atrocities carried out in the name of population, there is a pressing need to reckon with growing human numbers as one way to promote multispecies reproductive justice. Citing examples of successful uses of enumeration in feminist activism, she argues: ‘Knowing that “population,” as well as “reproduction,” are the operators of biopolitics does not make them go away. Made is not made up’ (84). In defence of scientific inquiry on population, she calls for an understanding of kin ‘in the contact zones’ rather than staking claims as for or against such matters (87). In sharp contrast, Michelle Murphy (chapter 3) argues that population is so embedded in our legal systems, built environments and continuing attempts to control birth and death rates worldwide that it is unethical and injurious for feminists to draw on any conceptual or scientific notion of population: ‘I am against population. #AgainstPopulation’ (105). She contends that rather than focusing on population and counting, we ought to be concerned with the question of which kinds of kinship relations, social supports and human or non-human lives are granted the opportunity to thrive and which ones are systematically destroyed (110).
Whilst there is a consensus on the problem of population as a tool for social control, certain scholars remain committed to research endeavours that use the concept as a way to assess and remedy urgent problems. For example, Yu-Ling Huang and Chia-Ling Wu (chapter 4) write against the violence of state-sanctioned campaigns to manipulate population levels in East Asia, but they believe in the potential for reform within the field of demography which would integrate environmental concerns (130), re-conceptualise intergenerational relationships (131) and make gender roles central to the creation of policy (133–134). Drawing on a vocabulary somewhat distinct from other contributors, they identify possibilities for making kin in non-natalist ways through the broad cultural notion in East Asia ‘that congenial and understanding relationships’ between individuals can be meaningful and supportive both inside and beyond narrowly defined relations of kinship (142). In their view, the work of sustaining such relations is carried out within the unavoidable and ongoing realities of government-directed population control programmes rather than outside them.
The book’s strong point, however, is not the debate over population itself but rather the authors’ proposed alternatives for attending to relatedness across biologies, environments and temporalities. Ruha Benjamin (chapter 1) provides a nuanced examination of ongoing colonial legacies, which includes the routine killing of Blacks by whites in the United States. Explaining how anti-Black racism ensures that African Americans are murdered whilst whites evade justice and rebound unscathed from brushes with the law, she writes: ‘Second chances are the currency of white supremacy’ (43). Benjamin invokes ‘afterlife’ to describe the racial debt that exists for Black, Latinx and Indigenous people, as well as the co-presence of the living with ancestral presences. For Benjamin, reproductive justice demands that we learn to envision habitable worlds as we work towards unmaking histories of violence, ‘where crafting and dismantling have as much to do with imaginaries as they do social policies’ (61).
Murphy (chapter 3) shares Benjamin’s interest in troubling the horizons of activism – in particular, the notion that we are heading towards global crises. She reminds us that ‘apocalypses of many kinds have already happened, even as livable worlds keep being snatched away’ (117). Joining decolonial feminist scholars who analyse temporalities, Murphy is invested in a notion of afterlife that seeks out ways of surviving in what she calls ‘ongoing aftermaths’ that reconfigure densities of privilege and suffering (121) at the same time that it urges us to explore new kinds of options for ‘being otherwise’ (122).
A similar critique of the entanglement of ongoing colonial projects and feminist action is found in Kim TallBear’s contribution (chapter 5) in which she reflects on settler sexuality and the framework of failure used to judge Indigenous relationships that do not fit white hetero-patriarchal nuclear kinship models. She shows that colonial regimes have consistently punished Indigenous people for forming non-monogamous relationships, effectively disconnecting Indigenous people from the relationship forms of their ancestors. Noting that Indigenous people commonly embrace projects invested in decolonisation, she queries: ‘Why should we not also consider nonmonogamous family forms in our communities?’ (155). Echoing Murphy’s critique of the future-oriented gaze of some ecofeminists, TallBear similarly shows that alternatives to settler sexuality need not be invented anew or discovered but can be revived as cultural practices that already belong to Indigenous groups.
Overall, the collection succeeds in providing novel innovations and timely reflections on present-day issues, urging scholars and activists to take action against ongoing forms of exploitation, environmental destruction and genocide. The book rather appropriately takes the physical form of a pamphlet, and its source notes are found not in the print version but online. Close readers will want to peruse the book with a digital device and Internet access, therein activating their own cybernetic capabilities. Regardless of how the text is accessed, it should be considered essential reading for scholars, students and activists concerned with connections between feminisms, environmental and reproductive justice and decolonisation on a global scale.
Ben Hounet, Y. (ed) (2018), Law and Property in Algeria: Anthropological Perspectives (Brill: Leiden). ISBN: 978-90-04-36211-6.
This collection is the tenth volume of Studies in the History and Society of the Maghrib series published by Brill. Yazid Ben Hounet and Baudouin Dupret promise in the introduction ethnographic descriptions of relations of Algerians to land law. They state that the chapters present a realistic view of practices related to law and property in Algeria by conducting fieldwork. Legal practices are considered in the introduction in terms of the switch from a socialist system to a market economy, the administrative constraints and difficulties encountered by a state in the making, dominated by the annuity economy, and the experience of exile. The intention in the introduction is clearly seeking to ‘de-exoticise’ the study of Algeria away from the rubric of Islamic law. I suggest that this introduction would benefit from closer attention to a complex understanding of ‘Islamic law’ as done by Talal Asad (2003) and Wael Hallaq (2014).
In the volume, the first few chapters are legal-historical. Anmmar Belhimer (chapter 1) claims that since independence, Algeria has undergone a precarious reformation of private property law. He highlights how recent developments reveal a two-fold evolution: the maintenance as state property of the agricultural lands abandoned by the settlers in the aftermath of independence, and the privatisation of all other immovable assets and economic activities.
Hichem Amichi, Macel Kuper and Sami Bouarfa (chapter 2) analyse the specificities of land appropriation in a post-socialist context by considering two main social categories of Algerian farmers: (1) the beneficiaries of rights to public land use, former workers on state farms and colonial domains, and (2) tenants or sharecroppers, often Algerian peasants dispossessed of their land by French colonisation. Their analyses are based on their study of observation of the proliferation of informal arrangements between the two categories of stakeholders who currently work public lands.
Tarik Dahou (chapter 3) argues that the use of natural resources in the Mediterranean is governed by multiple norms, operating at global and local levels. He states that the academic literature on nature conservation does not sufficiently explore the national and local impacts of conservation processes. He focuses on the case of the El Kala National Park, showing how international nature conservation objectives can become blurred at the local level, as attempts to apply international conservation norms produce inequalities and pose threats to biodiversity. The analysis focuses on the normative mechanisms and disciplinary techniques used by the Algerian state to govern nature that go beyond international law of conservation. This is indicated as a function of systemic inefficiency of the state bureaucracy, although what could have been included is the obvious point that international conventions are not in strictly legal terms enforceable by any means other than the legal infrastructure of the signatory states.
The next chapters are ethnographic, beginning with Judith Scheele (chapter 4) who describes long-standing conflicts over property rights in one small part of the Soummam valley in Kabylia, which, while being rooted in precolonial times, have recently led to renewed social protest. The protests are analysed as calls for justice over and above ‘the law’, which clearly is only understood as contractual. Law thus appears not as a given authority. Law is subordinated to considerations of general morality and politics, according to Scheele: ‘This reflects the inherent ambiguity of national legislation in Algeria: as the framework of the Algerian state, defined as the natural expression of the revolutionary Algerian people’ (99). This leaves open the question the nature of law in Algeria: must it be conceived as mandatory, or can it be conceived of as possible to be superseded by the idea of the just? Scheele concludes by saying, ‘Revolutions do not necessarily stop to respect the law’.
Ben Hounet (chapter 5) presents and analyses conflicts that have emerged from the enforcement of Algerian Agricultural Land Ownership Act since 1983, discusses the issue of agricultural land tenure and raises the question of law by analysing how people refer to the law in land-tenure disputes. He, however, explicitly states himself that the act of 1983 corresponds to and implicitly reproduces an Islamic law of appropriation: anyone who improves or reclaims land by cultivating it or restoring it, or by making it useful, becomes its owner.
Nejm Benessaiah (chapter 6) investigates how the presence of multiple systems of law of land tenure influences the decision-making process of disputants in Beni Isguen, Ghardaia. These include Islamic to colonial and postcolonial state laws. She demonstrates evidence that scriptural Islamic law and state statutory law may be in conflict, ‘yet they also can interact “harmoniously” (when referred to by “enlightened” judges)’ (139). Alice Wilson (chapter 7) considers the question of refugees’ eligibility for, and receipt of, material compensation from other refugees in internal disputes that take place in exile. Emilie Barraud (chapter 8) studies legal fostering cases in Algeria and the measures that are focused on circumventing the Islamic prohibition of adoption and that present new strategies of action. These strategies try to balance the conflictual encounter of two major principles: that of the equality of rights of all the children of a family and that of legitimacy, under Islamic law. The chapter clearly shows the continuing importance of Islamic legal legitimacy to the supposedly secular Algerian State and its judicial functionaries.
The introduction endeavours to develop a narrative arc to connect the chapters together by focusing on the lack of ‘Islam’ in the individual chapters. Islam, however, comes across several times as either general morality behind protest movements or manifested in balancing acts between statutory legislation and Islamic laws of appropriation, land tenure and inheritance. What the introduction accomplishes is to raise good questions: What place do Islamic norms in fact occupy in property law in practice today? On what registers and foundations do these practices rest? An idea of the state as the backdrop to the introduction remains unchallenged. After all, it is the abstraction of our time legitimising power and monopolising violence.
Judging the chapters on their own merit, this book presents a strong collection which shows the potential of fruitful interdisciplinary conversations focusing on a place and a theme. The clear theme that emerges from this diverse collection of chapters is ‘negotiations over territoriality and ownership in Algeria’. Land and its uses could have been developed further as a theme. After all, land is anything but metaphysical. Its uses and abstractions in law – whether Islamic or statutory – make it a metaphysical entity.