Contemporary concern about climate change has been accompanied by a resurgence in questions about what part human numbers play in environmental degradation and species loss. What does population mean, and how is this concept being put to use at a moment when the urgency of climate change seems to elevate the appeal to/of numbers? What role has and should kinship play in understanding “population”? Through a discussion of three recent books—Adele Clarke and Donna Haraway’s edited collection Making Kin Not Population, Michelle Murphy’s The Economization of Life, and Jade Sasser’s On Infertile Ground—this book review essay grapples with the place of human numbers in our understanding of the connections between human reproduction, kinship, and environmental issues. This essay engages most closely with the chapters by Clarke and Haraway in Making Kin, setting out concerns about their turn to (over)population through the analytical insights, historical perspectives, and empirical data of Murphy and Sasser. By putting these three books in dialogue with one another, this essay argues that responsibility for limitations on one’s ability to make kin lies within a heteronormative, White supremacist, capitalist political-economy and its inherent structures of inequality rather than in individual (decision) making.
Contemporary concern about climate change has been accompanied by a resurgence in questions about what part human numbers play in environmental degradation and species loss. What does population mean, and how is this concept being put to use, at a moment in which the urgency of climate change seems to elevate the appeal to/of numbers? What role has and should kinship play in understanding “population”? This essay scrutinizes these questions and some proposed answers to them, through a discussion of three recent books: Adele Clarke and Donna Haraway’s edited collection Making Kin Not Population, Michelle Murphy’s The Economization of Life, and Jade Sasser’s On Infertile Ground. In this essay, our purpose is not to provide a thorough review of each book, but to grapple with the place of human numbers in our understanding of the connections between human reproduction, kinship, and environmental issues. We engage most closely with the chapters by Clarke and Haraway in Making Kin, setting out our concerns about their turn to (over)population, through the analytical insights, historical perspectives, and empirical data of Murphy and Sasser. By putting these three books in dialogue with one another, this essay simultaneously addresses issues of international reproductive justice alongside concerns about the role of overpopulation in environmental deterioration and environmental justice.
Making Kin is a small but complex book with chapters from leading Black, Indigenous and feminist science studies scholars. Clarke and Haraway’s chapters both put expanding population numbers at the forefront of their environmental concern, pointing specifically to the threat of increased food demand. While recognizing declining birth rates “almost everywhere,” their chapters privilege a reduction in “biogenetic” reproduction as a means to reduce human burden on a damaged planet. “Making kin, especially non-biogenetic kin” is presented as the means to achieve “multi-species reproductive justice fully integrated with human and non-human environmental justice and savvy environmental action.”1 This call to make “oddkin” in (bio)diverse and plentiful ways fruitfully connects issues of reproduction and the environment that are too often siloed.2 Less fruitful is their move toward “non-natalism,” and Haraway’s call to “make kin, not babies,” which potentially places unnecessary and disproportionately distributed constraints on reproductive freedoms and bodily sovereignty as well as the further separation of kin into kinds.
In a time of rapidly falling global fertility rates, this essay redraws the focus of the conversation on human numbers away from individual (decision)making toward the inequalities and infrastructures that make reproduction (im)possible and that make environments (in)capable of supporting life. How can Clarke and Haraway’s call for multispecies environmental and reproductive justice be refined, and kinmaking be further situated in capitalist political-economy and structures of inequality, rather than individual decisions to make or not make babies?
Problematizing the Population “Problem”
Murphy’s The Economization of Life shows the vital importance of the language we use to describe, characterize, and propose solutions to problems. Murphy argues that family planning initiatives based on infrastructures of calculation and ideas of limited resources are directly linked to quantitative racist practices. Clarke and Haraway signal that the term “population” does not have an innocent history. But Murphy’s book, and her chapter within the Making Kin volume, truly wrestle with this legacy. Population is at the heart of what Murphy terms the economization of life, “a historically specific regime of valuation created with technoscientific practices (rather than markets) that used quantification and social science methods to calibrate and then exploit the differential worth of human life for the sake of the macrological figure of ‘economy.’”3 For Murphy, population took the place of race when it became politically incorrect to use it as a biological categorization, but, as she says, “Race did not have to be named in order to enact racist practices.”4 As Banu Subramaniam has written in her excellent review of Making Kin, the legacies of misogyny, colonialism, and racism in the science of population and policies of population control make this an intensely troubling concept to work with.5 Population, as Murphy outlines, is a science that categorizes and thereby values people differently. It is a concept with vast necropolitical potential. The imperative question, then, is why one would want to stay with this particular trouble.6
Haraway and Clarke both rely on the term “population” in their respective chapters in Making Kin, and their use of the term is often slippery. For instance, it is not entirely clear when Clarke or Haraway are talking about population in general terms to describe a number of people, and when they are employing this term to describe population control, overpopulation, or even eugenics. As both Murphy and Sasser make clear in their books, population is not the sort of concept that should be wielded imprecisely; it has consequences.
The slipperiness of the term population in Clarke’s introductory chapter is especially jarring given the description of Making Kin as addressing a “booming silence” on population among academics (which elsewhere Haraway has likened to climate change denial).7 This framing implies an urgent heroism to the book, yet as Sasser points out, population has never really gone away. Sasser describes the idea that human population growth is leading to environmental problems as “a long-enduring narrative that permeates ecological sciences, international development, and everyday conversations about the environment.”8 Sasser, like Murphy, shows that the contemporary reframing of population as a matter of social justice and women’s empowerment, and its uptake by influential feminists including Gloria Steinem and Hillary Clinton, makes critically engaging with the concept of population a pressing task. Yet such engagement can take place while questioning the logic of the argument that human population growth needs to be curtailed to avert ecological catastrophe.
Clarke and Haraway imply that talk about population has been stifled among social scientists who position themselves on the left of the political spectrum, as if it had been no-platformed. Perhaps it is not so much that population is unsayable, as that it is, to borrow Murphy’s term, intolerable.9 Perhaps the absence of population talk within reproductive studies and environmental studies is not down to changing academic fashions, or indeed an implicit pronatalism as they claim, so much as scholarly commitments to antiracism, anticolonialism, and reproductive justice. Jade Sasser’s ethnography On Infertile Ground raises the question of why certain terms (re)emerge at certain times—why population? Why now? Is it really because of the undoubtedly desperate urgency of climate crisis? Or is it, as she suggests, related to the current political climate of division, extremism, and populism? Sasser discusses how those doing policy work and activism in international development use population as a hinge to connect sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) with contemporary environmental concerns. Based on interviews with environmentalists and key figures in SRHR, and participant observation of training programs and events organized around the supposed threats of increased human population to planetary health, Sasser points to the dangers of a reinvigorated population movement that promotes environmental responsibility through targeting family planning at women in the Global South.
The Appeal to/of Numbers
As both Sasser and Murphy point out in their books, numbers can be especially appealing when one perceives a crisis. This is because, as Haraway taught us when she articulated “the god-trick,”10 numbers seem to a post-Enlightenment Western mindset, to contain impartial truth. There are, of course, advantages to numbers—both in terms of rhetoric (think, for instance, of the importance of numbers in climate campaigning, from rises in temperature to quantifying species extinction) and in terms of practicalities (for example, in the administration of welfare states). However, as Sasser points out, appealing to numbers can also be an attempt at forging simple solutions to complex problems.11 She notes that future imaginaries, like the aftermath of global climate change, create a sense of urgency that can make once unpalatable “solutions” like population control seem like necessary evils;12 this is precisely the rhetorical trick that Paul Ehrlich attempted in The Population Bomb.
Through the concept of the economization of life, Murphy shows how numbers can never be unhitched from the political-economic contexts in which they are produced. Given this, we must ask, which numbers count? Betsy Hartmann has repeatedly pointed out that there is no consensus that the human species is headed for overpopulation.13 Similarly, Sasser explains that the scale of statistics can tell remarkably different stores about population trends. For instance, birth rates may be higher than “replacement rate” in many countries, including those where people are living in poverty, and many truly have an “unmet need” for contraceptive technologies. But at the same time there is evidence that the global population may not reach the numbers that have been projected. Instead, the global fertility rate is falling,14 and, as the chapter by Yu-Ling Huang and Chia-Ling Wu in Making Kin elucidates, many policy-makers are more concerned with population dynamics than sheer numbers.15
Humans certainly put pressure on the earth, its other inhabitants and its resources, but—as Murphy and Sasser argue—they do so unevenly. While Haraway and Clarke admit that different populations use natural resources, create waste, and contribute to environmental degradation to varying extents, this is often occluded by their focus on the numbers of humans living on the earth. Murphy proposes a theory of distributed reproduction that could be compared to Shellee Colen’s concept of “stratified reproduction,” which emphasizes how socioeconomic factors unequally impact reproduction.16 Distributed reproduction aims to extend this by establishing greater attention to the effects of environmental infrastructures on reproduction. As Murphy writes, “The [population] ‘problem’ requires flipping from the question of how much and which bodies get to reproduce to what distributions of life chances and what kinds of infrastructures get reproduced. Distributed reproduction names this better than population.”17 Her argument is not only that population is an “intolerable” concept that perpetuates racist regimes of valuing and devaluing human life but also that it lets capitalism off the hook:
The fantasy of simply reducing human numbers is so attractive because it does not require the rearrangement of all the other world orders, and particularly the orders of too much accumulation that have accreted in sites with low fertility rates, such as North America, Europe, and East Asia. In the name of earthly life within the horizon of climate change, one can even be against humanity as a whole, a gesture at once against speciesism (that would put humans above other living beings), and a gesture where life in earthly aggregate exceeds, and even diminishes, the human, offering yet another formulation of some must die so that others might live.18
This points to the importance of attending to scale in these arguments about reproduction, population, economy and environment. Murphy argues for attention beyond the body and reproductive labor, much like Haraway did in her 1997 essay, “The Virtual Speculum in the New World Order.” Sasser also attends to scale as she aptly criticizes the populationists she studied for locating environmental problems in women’s bodies through their focus on population and contraceptive interventions targeted at women in the Global South.19
From Malthus to Making Kin, the constant specter that stalks population discourse is food insecurity.20 As Betsy Hartmann has pointed out, this can lead to a dehumanizing characterization of people as “mouths to feed.”21 She notes that the relationship between food production and availability and human numbers is not straightforward or linear: “The problem is not one of absolute scarcity, but one of distribution.”22 The idea that the greater the human population gets, the more likely it is to starve, is crucial to Malthusianism, neo-Malthusianism, and populationism, yet for some reason the instinct among those concerned about humans’ impact on the earth seems to be to look for solutions to this dystopian future in the numbers of people rather than in the way food is grown, distributed, and consumed. Why does limiting people’s reproductive options seem a less problematic approach than changing food systems? Why focus on limiting the numbers of one, albeit highly destructive, species rather than on facilitating biodiversity? Once again, Murphy’s attention to capitalist infrastructures is helpful here, reminding us that if there isn’t enough food to go around then the problem might not just be “demand,” but also “supply.”
Making Kin presents six distinct chapters, each of which addresses “the population problem” in different ways. The volume opens with the charge that feminist science studies scholars have been silent on issues of population. “Are feminists and STS scholars actively afraid of engaging these issues of human numbers, environment, and population control, with all their complexities and difficult histories?,” Clarke asks in the introduction.23 She then suggests two remedies to this perceived population avoidance. First, she argues that feminist science studies scholars should move away from a tacitly pronatalist research focus on “IVF, surrogacy and related natalist projects.”24 Second, she recommends that feminists should focus on not just making kin, but making kin of a specific kind: nonbiogenetic or nonbiological kin.
The use of the categories “nonbiological” and “nonbiogenetic” throughout Clarke and Haraway’s contributions to the volume may seem odd to readers of their previous works. Even within the volume these authors seem to both use and resist the simplified dualism that these terms imply. For instance, Clarke stresses the need for new vocabularies in kinmaking endeavors and reflections, including new words to describe “‘pro- and anti- and non-natalist’ and that does not use the binary-implying word choice.”25 But she also states that making nonbiological kin is more urgent and difficult than making biological kin. Clinging to these categories of biological and nonbiological, and to assumptions of difficulty or ease, urgency or triviality, that accompany different kinds of kinmaking, problematically entrenches a divide between nature and culture that has partially enabled the creation of the damaged world they seek to heal. How might scholars interested in the intersections of environmental and reproductive justice continue recognizing and proposing creative kinmaking without reifying categories such as “the biological” or “biogenetic” that previous scholarly iterations worked so hard to disrupt?
The call to cultivate “nonbiological” kin also problematically recreates a sense that some kin are inherently valuable while others are not. In her chapter “Making Kin in the Chthulucene,” Haraway writes, “Feminist science studies cannot be consumed by genetics, biological and technological reproduction, and related foci. Enough! Where are our utopian risky imaginings and actions for earthlings on a mortal, damaged, human-dense world? So, make kin not babies! Make kin not population! It matters how kin make kin.”26 Here, Haraway’s repeated phrasing discourages baby making, then population making. Is this to suggest that such activities are one and the same? Can babies be kin, or does the act of making babies always contribute to the sterile numbers of population, and so should be avoided?
Murphy’s The Economization of Life shows how the concept of “averted birth” was developed in the 1960s by US economists to calculate the value of “life not born.” In Murphy’s words, “the figure of averted birth did more than devalue future life; it cast a shadow over the living people who were also better-not-born.”27 This, one might argue, has been the real silence surrounding demography and population, especially in its contemporary guise of “family planning.” Like the averted birth, Sasser shows that international family planning professionals unintentionally devalue the lives of the “better-not-born” in their targeting of specific women for birth aversion. Through Sasser’s book and Ruha Benjamin’s Making Kin chapter (that we discuss later), one can see that “eugenic sensibilities are alive and well.”28
Unlike the international family planning organizations studied by Sasser, Haraway does not target those with the highest fertility rates to stop making babies. Instead she suggests that potential parents of the world’s richest regions opt out of baby making—a “solution” that was also promoted by Paul Ehrlich in The Population Bomb.29 In her chapter, Haraway “only partly jokingly” suggests “a sliding-scale approach to global reduction in human numbers,” in which tokens are distributed to all people of “reproductive age” and to become “bio-parents,” individuals would need to collect a certain number of tokens from other individuals, who have opted out of bioparenting.30 The exact number of tokens needed for an individual to make a baby would depend on regional class status, she suggests. One doesn’t need to be immersed in science fiction to imagine the dark sides of this thought project, where individually allocated tokens would be bought and sold internationally, or controlled and distributed through mechanisms of reproductive governance.31 Indeed, scholarship that documents the realities of transnational surrogacy and cross-border reproductive care perhaps forecasts how such a scheme could play out.32
By all means, let’s keep engaging in risky utopian imaginings that embody environmentally responsible kinmaking. But in these thought projects let’s dream up institutions, infrastructures and ecologies that do not place the onus on individuals. Let’s think of parental arrangements, co-living spaces, and institutional and educational resources that distribute the pleasures and responsibilities of raising and caring for humans and other creatures.33 Let’s find collective mechanisms to cultivate what Tsing and colleagues call “arts of living on a damaged planet” by growing intergenerational awareness of interdependencies.34 But instead of only welcoming “nonbiological kin” to join in these risky imaginings and actions, let’s keep studying how and why “relatives are always a surprise.”35 Kin are already connecting in unexpected ways that rework the boundaries of the biogenetic, forming new kinds of biological diversity through breast milk, blood, and reproductive technologies.36 Black feminist scholarship reminds us that kinship is also made through the food, sweat, care, joy, and sorrow shared in everyday exchanges of living and becoming-with.37 As Kim TallBear suggests in her Making Kin contribution, let’s proliferate kin categories and kinds, not police them.38
TallBear and other contributors to Making Kin stress deindividualized forms of creative kinmaking throughout the book, addressing planetary pressures without over-simplifying problems or solutions as a matter of human numbers. TallBear’s reflections on Indigenous relationality show how White settler ideals of “biologically reproductive heterosexual marriage” as well as monogamy, the nuclear family, and the transfer of private property through male-headed households, justified the elimination of Indigenous life and the assimilation of Indigenous lifeways.39 Yet, TallBear writes, “despite colonial violence against our kin systems, we are in everyday practice still quite adept at extended family.”40 TallBear shows how the Indigenous relationalities that White settler colonialism attempted to dismantle are still present in intergenerational caretaking practices that render both “kin born to us” and kin who “come to us in other ways” as care-worthy, through meals, storytelling, card games, and political conversations in matriarchal spaces.
Benjamin’s chapter in Making Kin also captures the importance of extended family, reaching into the domain of the nonliving. Through the concept of afterlives she points to disparate racial experiences in the United States, where Whites are perpetually given second chances while vampirically feeding on Black demise. Her powerful chapter discusses how Black afterlives come, for many, after death, when kin are created through connecting with ancestors at gathering points such as #SayHerName hashtag signifiers and “fictive kin” networks in the African diaspora. Benjamin shows how Black Americans’ propensity to cultivate kinfulness comes out of a necessity to construct alternative family formations in moments of crisis, and is a source of Black pride. Here kinmaking is material and immaterial. It is conjuring “co-presence” of the living and dead.41 And kinmaking, by being situated in the particular histories and struggles of specific people, is shown to be a conflicted necessity, rather than a generalized tactic for earthly survival.
As Benjamin reminds readers, the act of kinmaking can be “deadening” or, as Sarah Franklin and Susan MacKinnon have described: ambivalent, injurious, and toxic.42 Highlighting the sometimes destructive potential of kinship, Vanessa Agard-Jones conceptualizes “chemical kin” as connecting “communities of chemical injury” in “a cynical deployment of kinship.”43 Adriana Petryna’s work on Chernobyl describes kinship in the aftermath of disaster as biological citizenship—where a relationship to the state through one’s damaged body becomes a means of economic and emotional survival.44 Janelle Lamoreaux’s research on epigenetic toxicology in China shows how the human and nonhuman kin we make in and through environments can also be our unmaking.45 Such emphasis on kinship’s darker side makes clear that kin relations are not always strategic engagements or willful encounters. Kinship might also be unintentional, unwanted, or unknown entanglements with other beings, and chemicals, across lifetimes and between generations.46 Situated kinmaking is not only about strategic alliances but also about the destructive elements of relations.
The chapters by Benjamin and TallBear in Making Kin point to a broader body of work by queer, Black, and Indigenous scholars that shows the myriad ways people make kin. How might scholars of reproduction, kinship, and the environment attend to this diversity while also seeking to knock the White, heterosexual nuclear family off its cultural and political perch? Sophie Lewis makes this point in her electric polemic against the Family in Full Surrogacy Now. Rejecting “call[s] for a reduction in baby-making,” Lewis “seeks to land a blow against bourgeois society’s voracious appetite for private, legitimate babies.”47 Through a focus on bourgeois notions of property within the realm of kinship and reproduction, Lewis shifts the focus from the quantity of humans made to the quality of relations available under capitalism. Family abolition is not about not making babies, it is about transforming social, economic and environmental arrangements. Lewis acknowledges that “alternative” forms of reproduction and kinship have often been forged in the face of extreme adversity and marginalization, yet, she argues, they can still offer a hopeful future of “real, loving solidarities” and thereby “a world sustained by kith and kind more than by kin.”48
What other kith and kinmaking endeavors might recognize the failures and limitations of the nuclear family, and creatively provide more distributed support systems for the care required at various life stages? Following the chapter by Yu-Ling Huang and Chia-Ling Wu in Making Kin, how might demographic research and related policies support “community-oriented social relations beyond one’s family,” as in East Asia, where ultralow fertility has been perceived as a problem? Can Huang and Wu’s chapter and other critical feminist demography inspire more creative and nuanced quantitative research that not only counts humans by numbers and relations by blood and marriage but also attempts to capture the importance of kinmaking that occurs through multigenerational housing, neighborhood activism, cooperative childcare, and queer family formations? Instead of striving to describe and decrease human numbers, what if environmentalists worked to decrease the formal and informal limitations that accompany individualist, racist, sexist and capitalist landscapes in which people live, love, and make kin?
Toward Environmental Reproductive Justice
Central to Haraway’s analysis in her Making Kin chapter is the relationship between “the Born Ones” and “the Disappeared.” Essentially, Born Ones correspond to those whose birth has been promoted and sanctioned by the hegemonic structures of White supremacist capitalism. The Disappeared are those whose birth has been thwarted, averted, or challenged, or whose life has been cut short by those same political-economic and ideological forces. Importantly, the Born Ones and the Disappeared are not just humans, but include in the former category, agricultural animals and pets and in the latter category, “wild” creatures and those that have become endangered or extinct through the actions of people motivated by extractivism and exploitation of “natural resources.” While Haraway is clear that the plight of the Disappeared is a matter of reproductive (in)justice, aligning people who have been subject to reproductive injustice, whether through population control programs, exposure to toxins through environmentally racist policies, or poor sexual and maternal health care based on a devaluing of certain lives, with “wild” and feral animals is problematic. The close historical relationship between dehumanization, racialization and colonialism demands an alertness to the (unintended) consequences of such rhetoric.49 Certainly, the devaluing of nonhuman species’ lives and their reproductive possibilities is crucial in both understanding and responding to our ecological crisis, but the dualism of this formulation does not allow for the nuance necessary to discuss distributed reproduction; intersectional feminism, environmental justice, and reproductive justice demand more.
Still, there are important ideas to take away from Haraway’s chapter. Haraway outlines how multispecies environmental and reproductive justice is a project to “increase human and multispecies well being . . . while radically reducing human demands and radically repairing damaged life worlds and places across the planet.”50 She also argues that “Making many fewer new babies” is an “inescapable thread in the weave” of this approach.51 We do not agree that antinatalism is inescapable or essential to multispecies flourishing or to reproductive justice. Since both antinatalism and pronatalism lead to different lives being valued differentially, coercive policy-making, and the curtailing of reproductive opportunities and freedoms, they are anathema to reproductive justice. But we do agree that a framework that recognizes and builds on the fruitful connections between reproductive and environmental justice needs to continually be foregrounded, both in academic analysis and in activist interventions.52 Reproductive justice advocates have long recognized the importance of environmental infrastructures for reproductive justice and have fought against environmental racism alongside the stratification of reproduction.53 This history is one of the reasons why it is troubling that the populationists that Sasser describes in her book have co-opted the language of reproductive justice to promote family planning programs in the Global South.54
In their 2016 article calling for a renewed alliance between environmentalists and advocates for racial justice, James Gustave Speth and J. Phillip Thompson III point to the shared radical roots of both movements, based in a critique of capitalist economy and a call to restructure human societies around a reaffirmation of the importance of life over economic growth.55 As they point out, both racism and environmental degradation are fueled by separation and division. Previously, Haraway (1991) has shown how, in Western science, theology, and philosophy, culture has a domineering relationship to nature; this colonizing approach to “the natural world” is one important driver of the extractive and exploitative activities that have created climate change.56 As Kathryn Yusoff articulates in her vital intervention in the Anthropocene debate, this colonization is not merely metaphorical, nor is it just something that humans do to other species, but it is practiced by some humans—those who are at the apex of the capitalist system—against others, especially when those latter humans have been deemed as “closer to nature,” as in transatlantic slavery and the workings of the British Empire, to take two obvious examples.57 The myth of Man’s dominion over nature motivates environmental destruction; it is also at the heart of White supremacy.
Elizabeth Hoover has called for environmental reproductive justice (ERJ) on the basis of her research with the Akwesasne Mohawk community in the United States, where exposure to environmental contamination has threatened their ability to reproduce both healthy children and their culture.58 Hoover traces the concept of ERJ back to Katsi Cook, a midwife and community activist from Akwesasne, who started facilitating greater research into the effects of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination on locally grown food and breast milk in the early 1980s.59 Cook proposed ERJ to a meeting of Indigenous representatives who were concerned about both environmental and reproductive health in 2011. For them, Hoover writes,
[ERJ was an] opportunity to highlight how they were not only disproportionally exposed to environmental contamination (environmental justice), and not only was this contamination impacting their ability to have children and raise them in a safe environment (reproductive justice), but also that, on top of these issues, their exposure to environmental contamination was impacting their communities’ abilities to reproduce cultural and social practices and relationships through the maintenance of traditions that necessitated close interactions with the environment.60
In 2010, feminist scholar Noël Sturgeon also called for environmental reproductive justice, arguing that we need to connect environmental issues with social justice ones, through a reproductive justice approach.61 Sturgeon draws attention to the important yet often overlooked relationship between heterosexist and patriarchal gender norms on the one hand and environmental degradation on the other, noting that as long as reproduction and family-making are considered to be individual choices, separate from political-economic hegemonies, the unequal power structures that they breed will go unchallenged and misunderstood.62 She writes, “heteronormative family forms are bound up in environmentally dangerous social and economic practices,” yet, “we are promoting environmental damage by naturalizing heteronormative patriarchy, preventing us from imagining and putting in place alternative ways of living more lightly on the earth.”63 Clearly there are close parallels between Sturgeon’s earlier analysis and many of the points put forward in Making Kin. However, like Hoover, Sturgeon sticks close to the reproductive justice approach and rejects populationist discourse for its potential to perpetuate injustices. As a framework environmental reproductive justice makes crucial connections between reproduction, gender, and the environment, animated by the antiracist, anticolonial politics of reproductive justice, environmental justice, and intersectional feminism.
Clarke and Haraway’s call to diversify our kinship universes and to face environmental problems through a feminist lens is important, but doing so does not necessitate a focus on population. Instead, it requires a recognition that the kinship system that accompanies global capitalism and its buttressing ideologies of class, gender, race, nation, ability, and sexuality, is one of the drivers of climate change and environmental degradation. In line with the principles of the reproductive justice movement, how might efforts to expand people’s reproductive possibilities be supported, and unjust reproductive infrastructures broken down without relying on the frame of (over)population?
The logic behind populationism, and theories of population that count humans simply by number instead of as beings living in highly stratified and unequally distributed worlds, are not just overly simplistic. Calculations of limited resources and (over)population are, as Murphy shows, historically linked to eugenic legacies and, as Sasser shows, currently being used to restrict the reproduction of certain people and not others in the name of the environment. Birth aversion campaigns now and then are inevitably tied up in the histories and contemporary permutations of racist logics. Such logic-by-numbers also fuels contemporary anti-immigration laws and nationalist fears of racial replacement, reinforcing White supremacist rhetoric that portrays countries as “invaded” or “overrun.” In such racist contexts, certain kinds of kinmaking are enabled and others are restricted. The responsibility for limitations on one’s ability to make kin lies within a heteronormative, White supremacist, capitalist political-economy and its inherent structures of inequality, rather than in individual (decision)making.
Chapters within Making Kin think through the kinds of kinmaking that are necessary and ongoing, but often difficult to create and/or maintain in the face of White supremacy, settler colonialism, hetero- and bionormativity, and patriarchy. This aspect of the book is inspirational. But how can the editors’ generalized call for kin cultivation and population aversion make sense without being situated historically and globally? To achieve environmental reproductive justice, there needs to be further acknowledgement that reproductive infrastructures go far beyond bodily and familial boundaries, and to make kin of many kinds there needs to be better infrastructural support, from housing to employment practices to education. There needs to be attention given not just to food production, but the economics of distribution, (over)consumption, and individualism that lead to a lack of interdependence when feeding and caring for ourselves and one another. Immigration policies need to stress the removal of barriers to human movement and reject the intensified nationalism and continued (environmental) racism of this political moment. This is what we learn from Murphy, Sasser, and the chapters in Making Kin that focus on stratification rather than sheer numbers, on distributed reproduction rather than (over)population.
We benefited from conversations with scholars who were brought together in a series of “Reproducing the Environment” workshops. We thank the sponsors of these events, including the Reproductive Sociology Research Group under the leadership of Sarah Franklin and the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities. We also thank participants in these events, including Olivia Angé, Charlotte Bruckerman, Carrie Friese, Ruth Goldstein, Kristina Grossmann, Deborah Heath, Tracey Heatherington, Tsipy Ivry, Karen Jent, Eben Kirksey, Linda Layne, Noémie Merleau-Ponty, Robert Pralat, Elizabeth Roberts, and Marcin Smietana. Katharine Dow’s work on this article was supported by the Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award “Changing (In)Fertilities,” award number 209829/Z/17/Z.
Clarke, “Introducing Making Kin,” 2.
Huang and Wu, “New Feminist Biopolitics”; see also McMullen, “Exploring.”
Clarke, “Introducing Making Kin,” 9.
For instance, see Kim TallBear, The Critical Polyamorist (blog), www.criticalpolyamorist.com; Herbrand, “Co-parenting Arrangements”; Fernandez Arrigoitia and West, “Interdependence, Commitment, Learning, and Love.”
Wilson, Others’ Milk; Carsten, “Substance and Relationality”; Franklin, Biological Relatives; Hayden, “Gender, Genetics, and Generation.”
Franklin and MacKinnon, Relative Values; Benjamin, “Black AfterLives Matter,” 50; Murphy, The Economization of Life, 120.
See also Todd, “Fish, Kin, and Hope”; Davis, “The Queer Futurity of Plastic”; Clark and Yusoff, “Queer Fire.”
Sasser, On Infertile Ground, especially chap. 5.