Thesis ID: CBB001560918

From Pair Bonding to Polyamory: A Feminist Critique of Naturalizing Discourses on Monogamy and Non-Monogamy (2010)


Willey, Angela (Author)

Emory University

Publication Date: 2010
Physical Details: 150 pp.
Language: English

This dissertation is a feminist critique of naturalizing discourses on monogamy and non-monogamy. Feminists have critiqued monogamy as compulsory and sought to challenge the naturalness of coupled forms of social belonging. This dissertation's critique moves in two directions. First, drawing on the epistemological interventions of feminist science studies, it challenges compulsory monogamy by offering an analysis of its naturalization in scientific discourses and practices. Second, the dissertation critiques a similarly naturalizing rhetoric at work in feminist polyamory discourses that seek to challenge compulsory monogamy. The dissertation argues that universalizing rhetoric in feminist polyamory discourse reflects and inverts the discourse of science by naturalizing non-monogamy. In both scientific and feminist contexts, that which is deemed natural becomes a privileged site for determining values of right and wrong. The dissertation explores how those values are linked to both contemporary and historical scientific epistemologies and practices. A central feature of the dissertation is an ethnographic analysis of genetic research on pair bonding in a contemporary laboratory. Drawing on this fieldwork, the dissertation shows how both modern genetics and feminist polyamory discourse are grounded in 19 th century biosciences. These contemporary rearticulations of 19 th century phrenological and evolutionary claims in particular also redeploy an analogizing logic of racialized sexual differences. Thus sexualization itself becomes the basis upon which the naturalization of monogamy as pair bonding and non-monogamy as polyamory depend. Critiquing the logic of that sexualization, the dissertation offers an alternative to sexualized naturalization through a close reading of friendship as an alternative to sexuality in a popular contemporary queer feminist comic strip. As a fiction that both describes and transforms the sexualized reality in which we live, the comic strip becomes a model for new ways of living beyond monogamy's failures. Ultimately, the dissertation paves the way for rethinking not only monogamy's compulsory status, but also pervasive assumptions about nature itself. So doing, the dissertation provides an important resource for imagining new forms of social belonging.


Description Draws on feminist science studies to study how monogamy was naturalized in scientific discourses and practices. Cited in ProQuest Diss. & Thes. : doc. no. 3423134.

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Authors & Contributors
Sharman Levinson
Alain Giami
Nye, Robert A.
Lik Sam Chan
Ash Kayte Stokoe
Pauline Mortas
Gender and Society
Women's History Review
Psychoanalysis and History
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Medical History
Journal of the History of Sexuality
Springer International Publishing
MIT Press
McGill-Queen's University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Gender identity
Science and gender
Human body
Medicine and gender
Sex differences
Krafft-Ebing, Richard von
Weininger, Otto
Moll, Albert
Loveling, Virginie
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
18th century
Early modern
United States
Vienna (Austria)
South America

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