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Parenthood, Climate Justice and the Ethics of Care: Notes Towards a Queer Analysis

Carmen Dell’Aversano (University of Pisa) and Florian Mussgnug (UCL)


Our conversation explores the concepts of parenthood, reproduction and care in the context of the unfolding global environmental crisis. Arguing from the perspectives of queer theory, literary studies and climate justice, we call for new strategies and attitudes towards procreation, beyond the strictures of colonizing frames of knowledge and hegemonic cultural practices. More specifically, we seek to move the debate around assisted reproductive technologies (ART) in new, speculative directions that are centred on shared vulnerability and kinship, and which remain fully attentive to human and non-human relations and shared responsibilities on a warming planet. We come to this debate from related but distinct disciplinary backgrounds and with different urgencies, but agree on a set of assumptions. First, we share the belief that human reproduction is not in itself an inherent good and that a carefully reasoned case for the permissibility and desirability of procreation can and must be made in each and every case, in relation to the contingent factors that will be discussed in this text. Secondly, we are averse to coercive policies and mechanisms of population control that violate individual reproductive lives and futures. Finally, and most importantly for the purpose of this discussion, we object to what we perceive as a widespread tendency to discuss reproductive rights exclusively in relation to the needs of the well-resourced individualized user – frequently an inhabitant of the global North – in the face of persistent patterns of racist, colonial and heteropatriarchal violence. Against this trend, we insist that meaningful parental responsibility, not only in the context of ART, must be grounded in an egalitarian, transcultural and post-anthropocentric ethics of planetary care (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017). As gender theorist Michelle Murphy puts it, with memorable clarity: “If you cannot drink the water, there is no reproductive justice” (Murphy 2018: 109). Humans live, die and reproduce in the company of other beings. In light of this, our analysis of parenthood affirms the importance of versatile practices that hold the power to support planetary life and the more than human world, not as a mere backdrop or context for human stories, but as a co-constitutive presence that intersects with human culture and society in a single material and ethical force field.


References: Murphy, Michelle, “Against Population, Towards Alterlife”, in Adele E. Clarke and Donna Haraway (eds), Making Kin not Population (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2018), 101-124; Puig de la Bellacasa, María, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).




Carmen Dell’Aversano is Associate Professor of English Literature at Pisa University and founding director of CIRQUE (Centro Interuniversitario di Ricerca Queer / Inter-university
Centre for Queer Research). Her published work spans and connects a number of fields, from Jewish studies to psychology, from philosophy to discourse analysis, from literary theory to queer studies, from linguistics to film studies to critical animal studies. She teaches at the Italian Institute of Constructivist Psychology, Padua, and at the European Institute of Systemic-Relational Therapies, Milan, and has been visiting professor at Princeton University and the National University of Singapore. Her current research focuses in two topics: the assimilation of European Jews and a critical animal studies approach to queer theory, shaped by Harvey Sacks's work on categories.


Florian Mussgnug is Professor of Comparative Literature and Italian Studies at University College London. He has published widely on Twentieth and Twenty-First Century literature, with a particular focus on literary theory, experimental literature and narrative prose fiction in Italian, English and German. Recent publications include Rethinking the Animal-Human Relation: New Perspectives in Literature and Theory (2019, with Stefano Bellin and Kevin Inston), The Good Place: Comparative Perspectives on Utopia (2014, with Matthew Reza). He has held visiting and honorary positions at the Universities of Siena, Roma Tre, Oxford and Cagliari, and at the British School at Rome. He is co-investigator for the five-year AHRC-funded research project "Interdisciplinary Italy 1900-2020: Interart/Intermedia" and academic director of the UCL Cities Partnerships Programme in Rome.

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