Bargaining with Normativity: Queer Kinship as Quests for Wellbeing in Contemporary China

Wednesday, March 25, 2015
4:00 PM to 5:30 PM

Room 105, 10 Sachem Street

Elisabeth L. Engebretsen – Department of Anthropology, Shandong University

Family and queerness have a tense relationship in China, due to the sustained dominance of heteronormative family values, and the absence of legal protection for sexual and gender minorities. Chinese queers apply a range of strategies to navigate this terrain and create meaningful lives that usually combine strategic compliance with queer alternatives designed to mediate and dialogue rather than confront and alienate. Queer theoretical frameworks, embedded within Euro-American identity categories, activist politics and liberatory ideologies, are ill equipped to account satisfactorily for the complexities of lived experiences and localized aspirations for what amounts to a meaningful queer life. This talk takes seriously the material realities and aspirational values that inspire ‘queer kinning’ by interrogating quests for wellbeing within their locally embedded, yet regionally and globally inspired, moral worlds. To illustrate, Engebretsen offers ethnographic scenes on marriages, kin-vocabularies, ‘coming out’ discourses, and familial ally groups such as PFLAG. From these studies, she suggests that shifting our analytical focus to the terrain of wellbeing helps to relativizes identitarian models, centers critical empiricism as method, and ultimately invites an engaged anthropology that probes the intimate, familial and transnational politics of difference and inequality in our time.