Kinship as Critical Idiom in Oceanic Studies

Katharina Fackler's picture
Call for Publications
February 1, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Atlantic History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Ethnic History / Studies, Maritime History / Studies, Literature

In the context of the recent “oceanic turn” (DeLoughrey 2016), the world’s oceans have not only been (re-)valued as objects of study, but they have inspired a range of formative new theories and methodologies in literary and cultural studies. On the metaphorical level, the oceans’ watery ways provide models for “nonlinear or nonplanar thought” (Blum 2013: 152), placing notions of circulation, fluidity, mobility, and mingling at the center of attention. Thereby, they also beckon a (re-)consideration of “transoceanic connections” (Burnham 2016: 154) between different bodies of water, their cultures, and histories (e.g. DeLoughrey 2007). Increasingly venturing below the ocean’s surface, scholars immerse themselves in the sea’s material and nonhuman dimensions, inquiring into the realm of the biological, the geophysical, and the ecological (e.g. Steinberg 2013).

This special issue sets forth from Hester Blum’s argument that we may “find capacious possibilities for new forms of relationality through attention to the sea’s properties, conditions, and shaping or eroding forces” (2013: 152), investigating its particular applicability to questions of kinship. More specifically, it uses the notion of kinship as a critical idiom and conceptual lens to examine the oceanic turn’s potential for rethinking forms of (human and nonhuman) belonging. In other words, it considers kinship a particularly salient concept through which to explore the new concepts and ideas coming from oceanic studies.

Following anthropologist Linda Stone, we depart from a notion of kinship as first and foremost “an ideology of human relationships” (2000: 6) and are interested in the various representational and affective strategies through which oceanic texts and performances attend to questions about kinship. In so doing, we do not think of kinship as signifying common ancestry but as a multi-dimensional social practice, not, to borrow from David Eng, as characterized by “racial descent, filiation, and biological traceability, but through the lens of queerness, affiliation, and social contingency” (2010: 13). By invoking kinship as our methodological approach, we seek alternatives to concepts such as imagined communities and families of nations which reference nation-bound and anthropocentric ideologies of human relationships. Instead, we are interested in the particular intersections between oceanic studies’ emphasis on “mobility across transoceanic surfaces” and theories of “oceanic submersion” (DeLoughrey 2017: 32) and kinship studies’ notions of a “mutuality of being” (Sahlins 2013: 2).

Conceiving of kinship as a particular kind of affect best described as the “feeling of kinship” (Eng 2010) and a formation of solidarity synecdochically referencing the social writ large (Berlant 2011), we are interested in questions such as the following:

  • What constitutes this ideology of (human) relationships in the particular realm of oceanic studies and in what capacity can it make sense of the critical interventions scholars in oceanic studies have put forth?
  • To what degree can oceanic studies, perhaps implicitly, help rethink kinship as a concept to address forms of being in common within and beyond the boundaries of the human explored within the fields of new materialism, postcolonial studies, and ecocriticism?
  • How can different forms of representation help negotiate and constitute kinship in the context of oceanic im/mobility, affiliation, and attachment?
  • How do the formal features of certain media or genres shape and inflect theories of oceanic kinship?
  • How do these texts and performances “do kinship” (Schneider 1968) both aesthetically and politically?
  • What are the material and ecological dimensions of claiming heritage and how can we study them through the lens of kinship, presently and historically?
  • How can kinship as a methodological approach productively analyze the historical continuities put forth in light of the oceanic turn?

We invite 500-word abstracts and working bibliographies that outline the valence of kinship as a critical idiom within oceanic studies by February 1, 2019.

Please send abstracts and working bibliographies to both and

Contact Info: 

Dr. Katharina Fackler and Dr. Silvia Schultermandl

Department of American Studies

University of Graz