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Critical Relationality: Queer, Indigenous, and Multispecies Belonging Beyond Settler Sex & Nature

Kim Tall­Bear and Angela Willey

This spe­cial issue of Imag­i­na­tions was con­ceived to doc­u­ment, pro­voke, the­o­rize, and imag­ine rela­tions between humans, and between humans and oth­er-than-humans, that go beyond and trou­ble nor­ma­tive cat­e­gories of nature, sex, and love. Such cat­e­gories man­i­fest, for exam­ple, in set­tler-colo­nial forms of kin, kind, and relat­ing that are hier­ar­chi­cal, anthro­pocen­tric, cap­i­talo­cen­tric, and het­ero- and homo­nor­ma­tive. Activists, artists, and schol­ars have rig­or­ous­ly cri­tiqued fam­i­ly forms legit­i­mat­ed by state-sanc­tioned mar­riage and nat­u­ral­ized by neo-Dar­win­ian nar­ra­tives of belong­ing cen­tered around bio­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion and which treat land, women, and chil­dren as prop­er­ty, yet such forms remain as rela­tion­al ideals. The so-called nat­ur­al is always para­mount in set­tler ideas of appro­pri­ate ways to relate, con­trol, and allo­cate rights and resources that repro­duce struc­tur­al inequities.

If we are to move beyond the repro­duc­tion of the dyadic family’s script­ing and priv­i­leged sta­tus, we need to under­stand nature dif­fer­ent­ly. We need to rethink sex as the cen­tral orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple of human social­i­ty, the human as the only impor­tant unit of rela­tion­al ethics, and the white suprema­cist set­tler and oth­er colo­nial cul­tur­al scripts as eth­i­cal mea­sures of belong­ing through which the nat­u­ral­ized ide­al of the fam­i­ly emerged his­tor­i­cal­ly (McClin­tock 1995, Carter 2008, Carter 2007, Cott 2002, Denial 2013, Mor­gensen 2011, Franke 2015, Tall­Bear 2018). Our abil­i­ty to imag­ine nature and rela­tion­al­i­ty dif­fer­ent­ly are deeply enmeshed, and this imag­i­na­tive work is vital to the re-world­ing before us.

Anoth­er set of gen­er­a­tive influ­ences that spur this issue of Imag­i­na­tions are the frame­works of eco­sex­u­al­i­ty and Indige­nous Stud­ies rela­tion­al frame­works, includ­ing Indige­nous eco-erotics. Per­for­mance artists Beth Stephens’ and Annie Sprin­kles’ eco­sex­u­al approach—Earth as lover rather than Earth as mother—has a glob­al fol­low­ing (Stephens and Sprin­kle 2019, Theobald 2017). Their art and activism—like Audre Lorde’s “erotic”—prompt us to decon­struct the con­cept of “sex­u­al­i­ty.” Eco­sex­u­al­i­ty is the­o­ret­i­cal­ly gen­er­a­tive for an Indige­nous Stud­ies analy­sis of sex and rela­tions, pre­cise­ly because it is not nec­es­sary for Indige­nous peo­ple who have much longer-stand­ing inti­mate rela­tion­al frame­works to guide rela­tions with lands and waters. To that end, Tur­tle Moun­tain Chippe­wa schol­ar Melis­sa Nel­son writes on Indige­nous eco-erotics that do not lim­it the notion of erot­ic rela­tions to sex. Nel­son fore­grounds Indige­nous sto­ries and frame­works of rela­tion­al­i­ty between humans and non­hu­mans (Nel­son in Bark­er, 2017). Final­ly, the crit­i­cal analy­ses of Indige­nous Stud­ies schol­ar and anthro­pol­o­gist, David Del­ga­do Short­er, chal­lenge the objec­ti­fi­ca­tion by anthro­pol­o­gy of both Indige­nous sex­u­al­i­ty and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Instead he advo­cates for Indige­nous ana­lyt­i­cal frame­works and empha­sizes the cir­cu­la­tion of pow­er in order to dis­ag­gre­gate these objects into sets of rela­tions between bod­ies, not all of them human and not all of them liv­ing (Short­er 2015 and 2016).

The writ­ers and artists fea­tured in this issue explore crit­i­cal forms of relat­ing that defy the raced, gen­dered, and geno­ci­dal kin­ship man­dates of set­tler-colo­nial struc­tures. In their tex­tu­al and visu­al analy­ses and advo­ca­cy of crit­i­cal the­o­ries, knowl­edges, and forms of relat­ing, these thinkers and cre­ators take inspi­ra­tion from the poten­tial­ly artic­u­lat­ed fields of fem­i­nist, queer, and trans the­o­ry; Indige­nous the­o­ry; dis­abil­i­ty and crip stud­ies; crit­i­cal race stud­ies; sci­ence stud­ies; ani­mal stud­ies; and per­for­mance stud­ies. In their play with rela­tions among var­i­ous ana­lyt­ics, fields, and method­olo­gies, they are often inno­vat­ing new ways know­ing and talk­ing about relationality.

Twelve essays plus two book reviews con­sti­tute this spe­cial issue. Promi­nent the­o­rists inform the think­ing in these pages, but this issue fea­tures espe­cial­ly schol­ars and artists who are work­ing in new, exper­i­men­tal ways to chal­lenge nor­ma­tive ways of relat­ing. Their archives and visions push under­stand­ings of queer, Indige­nous, and mul­ti­species belong­ing in excit­ing new directions.

As non-artist writ­ers and schol­ars who seek to decol­o­nize and dis­ag­gre­gate sex­u­al­i­ty from an object out into sets of rela­tions, Rebec­ca Anweiler’s Sexual/Nature images com­pel us in their veer­ing away from objec­ti­fy­ing sex as a thing. Yet Anweil­er does this by coun­ter­in­tu­itive­ly focus­ing the artist’s eye on bod­i­ly entan­gle­ments that to many observers sig­ni­fy the thing­ness of sex­u­al­i­ty, for exam­ple hands or mouths on breasts, fin­gers and tongues on/in gen­i­talia. The artist’s state­ment notes and push­es back against a world and its human sci­en­tif­ic and media gazes that have priv­i­leged het­ero­nor­ma­tive and bio­log­i­cal­ly repro­duc­tive sex between not only humans, but also oth­er-than-human ani­mals as nat­ur­al. At the same time, same-sex rela­tions have been depict­ed as unnat­ur­al or per­verse. We were delight­ed with how Anweiler’s images and artist’s state­ment play­ful­ly and seri­ous­ly chal­lenge what she sees as a per­verse solid­i­fi­ca­tion of rela­tions into the object of sex. So-called sex can then be ordered, script­ed, man­aged, and con­trolled by the patri­ar­chal white male human sub­jects who have tra­di­tion­al­ly gath­ered these rela­tions into a nar­row purview with their visu­al­iz­ing appa­ra­tus­es (Har­away 2013). How unsexy! The bor­ing straight sex that is script­ed and stan­dard­ized by the set­tler-colo­nial gaze is then used to obscure diverse, plea­sur­able ways of relating.

Emi­ly Coon and Nicole Land, in “iMes­sag­ing Friend­ship and Flesh,” deploy a “Mil­len­ni­al fem­i­nist aca­d­e­m­ic” writ­ing method and build their paper through and around iMes­sage exchanges that near­ly instan­ta­neous­ly cross 4,595 kilo­me­tres of land span­ning Hau­denosaunee and Anishi­naabe peo­ples on one side of the con­ti­nent and Coast and Straits Sal­ish peo­ples on the oth­er. The sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tions that form their fem­i­nist ecosys­tem might serve as a metaphor for the cen­tral­i­ty of rela­tion­al­i­ty to our work. Jen­ny Rear­don and Kim Tall­Bear engaged in a Gen­er­a­tion X fem­i­nist aca­d­e­m­ic ver­sion of this col­lab­o­ra­tion one sum­mer, years ago. They wrote “Your DNA is Our His­to­ry”: Genomics, Anthro­pol­o­gy, and the Con­struc­tion of White­ness as Prop­er­ty (2012) by exchang­ing drafts dai­ly via email. Their geo­graph­ic dis­tance facil­i­tat­ed an effi­cient writ­ing process with the writ­ing hap­pen­ing 16-20 hours a day. Tall­Bear wrote from Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia and sent drafts to Rear­don by 10 pm each night. That was 6 am in Eng­land where Rear­don was writ­ing. Rear­don would add her edits and return the draft to Tall­Bear by 5 pm Eng­land time, 9am Cal­i­for­nia time. They sent drafts back and forth dai­ly like this for sev­er­al weeks.

While Rear­don and Tall­Bear wrote a more typ­i­cal aca­d­e­m­ic arti­cle less co-con­sti­tu­tive­ly formed with the tech­nol­o­gy that car­ried words near­ly instan­ta­neous­ly around the globe, their writ­ing and friend­ship process, like Coon’s and Land’s process in both con­tent and form, mod­els the sort of rela­tion­ship work usu­al­ly imag­ined to belong to—and often seen as con­sti­tu­tive of—sexual/romantic rela­tion­ships (Petrel­la 2007). The nat­u­ral­iza­tion of set­tler monogamy depends as much upon dis­tin­guish­ing love from friend­ship and oth­er forms of affin­i­ty as it does the pathol­o­giza­tion of promis­cu­ity or non-monogamy (Wil­ley 2016, 72). The val­u­a­tion of friend­ship as a site of inti­ma­cy, mean­ing-mak­ing, resource shar­ing, and trans­for­ma­tion has the poten­tial to unrav­el sto­ries about the spe­cial­ness of sex and to fuel our imag­i­na­tions to rethink forms and struc­tures that exceed the ide­al of the set­tler fam­i­ly, which may sus­tain and remake us.

Coon and Land are also pulled along their path as they walk with curios­i­ty and a sense of eth­i­cal adven­ture a lush cita­tion-lined path through a for­est pop­u­lat­ed by tow­er­ing old-growth intel­lec­tu­als, includ­ing Don­na Har­away, San­dra Hard­ing, Banu Sub­ra­ma­ni­am, and Mishua­na Goe­man. We hope that our men­tors and col­leagues will not mind us call­ing them “old growth.” It is only a tes­ta­ment to their intel­lec­tu­al stature! Coon and Land also walk among bright­ly col­ored, resilient, and deter­mined new growth spring­ing up in light through the old growth canopy. The new­er growth includes @apihtawikosisan, @kwetoday, @EricaVioletLee, @thesarahhunt, @RedIndianGirl and oth­ers. All are essen­tial to this fem­i­nist intel­lec­tu­al ecosys­tem that also feeds their resur­gent decolo­nial solidarity—their “Indige­nous-set­tler friend­ship” filled with exchanges and mutu­al sup­ports built through the tech­nol­o­gy of iMes­sage that aris­es from set­tler-colo­nial extrac­tions and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly works to cir­cum­vent and chal­lenge them. This is, in short, the fun­da­men­tal predica­ment of doing anti-colo­nial work with­in the colo­nial acad­e­my. We pre­dict that this arti­cle will incite more (seri­ous) play­ful­ness in the writ­ing of oth­er re/insurgent Mil­len­ni­als who, rather than sim­ply com­ing after us, are, like their co-con­sti­tu­tive tech­nolo­gies, com­ing for us.

Also work­ing from with­in a colo­nial sci­en­tif­ic field she chal­lenges, plant sci­en­tist and artist Sophie Dun­can con­structs an “(Un)Natural Archive,” an anti-colo­nial nar­ra­tive that traces sci­en­tif­ic explo­rations, dis­cov­er­ies, and the impo­si­tion of Latin names onto plants across time and space. Dun­can demon­strates botany’s co-con­sti­tu­tion as a dis­ci­pline with impe­ri­al­ism and colo­nial­ism span­ning Rome to Euro­pean inva­sions of the Amer­i­c­as. “(Un)Natural Archive” is punc­tu­at­ed with Duncan’s orig­i­nal art­works that com­bine rep­re­sen­ta­tions of plant and human bod­ies, some­times with text. The series of images rep­re­sent the impo­si­tion of human cat­e­gories of race, gen­der, and oth­er­ness onto the plant world in ways that rescript­ed relations—both between humans and plants, and between plants and dif­fer­ent lands—to coin­cide with colo­nial nar­ra­tives of Euro­cen­tric male explo­ration, dis­cov­ery, and appro­pri­a­tion. The images are often built on top of old fad­ed news­pa­per in which plants were pressed by col­lec­tors or onto mag­a­zine text in which roman­ti­cized tales of explo­ration are etched. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, the images are rich­ly splashed with pri­ma­ry and oth­er col­ors, thus fresh­ly ana­lyz­ing the fad­ed, but still dom­i­nant colo­nial archive of the “fathers of botany.” Rarely is the tak­ing-down of the “false god” of Objec­tiv­i­ty such a delight to gaze upon.

Rux­imik Qak'u'x: Inescapable Rela­tion­al­i­ties in Grupo Sotz’il’s Per­for­mance Prac­tice” is a deeply col­lab­o­ra­tive mul­ti­me­dia essay. Maria Regi­na Firmi­no-Castil­lo, with Daniel Fer­nan­do Guar­cax González (on behalf of Grupo Sotz’il), and Tohil Fidel Brito Bernal com­bine their use of video, still images, and text to offer a set of ana­lyt­ics for think­ing rela­tion­al­i­ty beyond set­tler sex and nature. The engage­ment of audio and visu­al sen­so­ri­um sup­ports the trans­la­tion­al and ana­lyt­ic expli­ca­tion of rich under­stand­ings of know­ing and being in inti­mate rela­tion with non­hu­man and human oth­ers. Begin­ning with the Iq’—life force—they map Kaqchikel epis­te­molo­gies that unset­tle human excep­tion­al­ism, the indi­vid­ual as know­er, and the prac­tice of know­ing as one of dom­i­na­tion. The method­ol­o­gy they enact sug­gests ways of know­ing with and about our inex­tri­ca­ble entan­gle­ments with one anoth­er. Rela­tion­al­i­ty here is always already more-than-human and often dangerous.

Sim­i­lar­ly, more-than-human rela­tions ground Alexan­dra Halkias’s “Track­ing Love in the Wild.” This piece offers a gen­tle, urgent nar­ra­tive analy­sis accom­pa­nied by pho­tographs of water, stone, bone, and a bit of plant mat­ter. Halkias presents in the pho­tographs “flu­id­i­ty of form,” thus con­vey­ing the relat­ed mate­ri­al­i­ty of all enti­ties, even those not con­sid­ered to be liv­ing accord­ing to the def­i­n­i­tion of organ­is­mi­cal­ly-defined life fore­ground in Euro­cen­tric dis­ci­pli­nary thought. The pho­tographs of most­ly life­less objects punc­tu­ate the author’s dis­cus­sion of rel­e­vant mul­ti­species, new mate­ri­al­ist, queer, and Indige­nous approach­es to the rela­tion­al­i­ty between human and non­hu­man ani­mals and also with geo­log­i­cal mat­ter. The bone adja­cent to rock in one pho­to­graph also recalls rela­tion­al­i­ty with ances­tors, be they human or oth­er-than-human rela­tions now fos­silized per­haps in both kinds of mat­ter. In defense of her rejec­tion of the sta­ble bound­ary between human and ani­mal, Halkias acknowl­edges that while human rights are pow­er­ful weapons for social jus­tice, desta­bi­liz­ing that human/animal line may loop back to “erode the very ground that feeds these vio­la­tions,” vio­la­tions that include mass incar­cer­a­tion and police vio­lence against cer­tain racial­ized human sub­jects. The essay then tracks across geo­gra­phies from San Diego, New York, and Boston to Athens to depict dense emo­tion­al and intel­lec­tu­al ties between humans and non­hu­man ani­mals in sev­er­al long-term rela­tion­ships. Two of the most insight­ful tales of human-ani­mal love are two artic­u­lat­ed stories—the author’s rela­tion­ship with the cat Myrra (even­tu­al­ly euth­a­nized after a very long life) and the three-way love between her friends, Eleni and Athena, and their dog baby, Bon­nie. Bon­nie also became ill and was euth­a­nized just as Eleni and Athena’s human babies (con­ceived with Dan­ish sperm donors) were born. The essay dri­ves home con­vinc­ing­ly the idea that the rela­tion­al­i­ty between humans and non­hu­mans is life-sus­tain­ing and in focus­ing on this cross-species sus­te­nance we might dimin­ish the impor­tance of “nat­ur­al dif­fer­ence” and dis­ap­pear entire­ly “all social and polit­i­cal uses of ‘the ani­mal’” that ulti­mate­ly do vio­lence to so many beings, and to the planet.

Of course, the ani­mal and notions of less­er evo­lu­tion have been cen­tral to the artic­u­la­tion of race and racial sci­ence for cen­turies, and con­tin­ue to be albeit in ways that seem more sub­tle from cen­turies past. Jen­nifer Hamilton’s “From Bits to Bod­ies: Per­fect Humans, Bioin­for­mat­ic Visu­al­iza­tions, and Crit­i­cal Rela­tion­al­i­ty” focus­es on “racial­sex­u­al for­ma­tion,” which is the idea that sex­u­al dimor­phism (the two-sex mod­el) is inex­tri­ca­ble from the devel­op­ment of racial cat­e­gories since the 18th cen­tu­ry. And while the bio­log­i­cal real­i­ty of race is con­test­ed in genom­ic dis­course, Hamil­ton argues that sex­u­al dimor­phism remains large­ly uncon­test­ed. Yet dimor­phism is cen­tral to the de-ani­ma­tion of women and to plac­ing them into a hier­ar­chy below men. Hamil­ton anchors an analy­sis of con­tem­po­rary genomics and its con­tri­bu­tion to het­ero­nor­ma­tive racial­sex­u­al for­ma­tion in the 2014 (not so) sar­cas­tic asser­tion and bioin­for­mat­ic visu­al­iza­tion by a Berke­ley com­pu­ta­tion­al biol­o­gist of the per­fect human. The sci­en­tist referred to a leg­endary six­teenth cen­tu­ry Taino (Puer­to Rican) woman, Yuiza, who along with her con­quis­ta­dor lover, are con­sid­ered in some nation­al­ist nar­ra­tives as the “great-great-grand grand­par­ents of the Puer­to Rican nation.” Bring­ing togeth­er Indige­nous, fem­i­nist, and queer the­o­ry that is crit­i­cal of the role of het­ero­nor­ma­tive kin­ship in nation-mak­ing, Hamil­ton ana­lyzes nation­al­ist-cum-genom­ic nar­ra­tives that are seem­ing­ly anti-racist and mul­ti­cul­tur­al. But as is com­mon in nation­al­ist genomics dis­course, the nar­ra­tive and bioin­for­mat­ic visu­al­iza­tion of Yuiza is also ground­ed in long­stand­ing eugenic thought and het­ero­sex­ist modes of kinship.

While Hamil­ton reminds us of how enmeshed log­ics of het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty and white suprema­cy are, oth­ers take up the lim­i­ta­tions and pos­si­bil­i­ties of queer­er notions of belong­ing. In “Dig­i­tal Nomadism and Set­tler Desires: Racial Fan­tasies of Sil­i­con Val­ley Impe­ri­al­ism,” Erin McEl­roy tracks the flex­i­bil­i­ty of set­tler log­ics of belong­ing. McEl­roy offers a care­ful exam­i­na­tion of dis­cours­es of free­dom along­side the infra­struc­tures that demand and enable the “dig­i­tal nomad’s” way of life. Despite a cel­e­bra­to­ry pre­tense of queer­ing het­ero­nor­ma­tive val­ues, like home­own­er­ship, using pow­er­ful images of protest against Airbnb, McEl­roy reads this fig­ure as enact­ing set­tler pol­i­tics through the dis­place­ment of oth­ers their reliance on short-term hous­ing economies requires. The racial fan­ta­sy of a gyp­sy lifestyle occludes the real­i­ties of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, white suprema­cy, and vio­lence upon which this new sub­jec­tiv­i­ty depends. Through this analy­sis, McEl­roy pow­er­ful­ly con­veys that the queer­ing of rela­tion­al­i­ty must exceed the inti­mate pri­or­i­ties of the indi­vid­ual. We exist in rela­tion with peo­ple we do not know. Crit­i­cal rela­tion­al­i­ty here might mean cen­ter­ing in our think­ing the mate­r­i­al con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty for our own con­strained choic­es and the dis­tri­b­u­tion of harms and ben­e­fits in which they are imbricated.

Con­verse­ly, Naveen Minai’s explores the dis­rup­tion of set­tler epis­te­molo­gies of time and space in “’Who Gave Your Body Back to You?’ Lit­er­ary and Visu­al Car­togra­phies of Erot­ic Sov­er­eign­ty in the Poet­ry of Qwo-Li Driskill,” which con­sid­ers the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty for decol­o­niz­ing belong­ing. The impo­si­tion of set­tler gen­ders and sex­u­al­i­ties as a site of colo­nial vio­lence (Rifkin) is the­ma­tized in Driskell’s poet­ry through the con­cept of erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty. Minai’s read­ing high­lights the exer­cise of erot­ic sov­er­eign­ty in Driskell’s deploy­ment of Chero­kee mean­ings, includ­ing the rela­tion­ship to land as a rela­tion between lovers. The close read­ing of the spa­tial and tem­po­ral dis­rup­tions of set­tler time and space (which locate set­tler colo­nial vio­lence in the past and Indige­nous bod­ies apart from Indige­nous lands), offers rich and gen­er­a­tive nar­ra­tive resources for reimag­in­ing belong­ing, beyond set­tler sex and nature.

Lind­say Nixon’s cri­tique of the dis­junc­ture between Robert Mapplethorpe’s treat­ment of white and Black sub­jects extends this analy­sis of the racial con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty for the intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty of queer white set­tler sub­jec­tiv­i­ties. In “Dis­tort­ed Love: Map­plethor­pe, the Neo/Classical Sculp­tur­al Black Nude, and Visu­al Cul­tures of Transat­lantic Enslave­ment,” they offer a care­ful analy­sis of Mapplethorpe’s evo­ca­tion of icono­gra­phies of the transat­lantic slave trade and cri­tiques of these themes in his work, show­ing how such images and sym­bols enact a queer necrop­ol­i­tics that depends upon the deval­u­a­tion of some lives for the reval­u­a­tion of oth­ers. Through a med­i­ta­tion on var­ied mean­ings of queer­ness in rela­tion to Mapplethorpe’s cel­e­brat­ed pho­to­graph­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of queer bod­ies, Nixon con­jures a frag­ile kin­ship among queers to call for the account­abil­i­ty of our com­mu­ni­ties (unmarked) toward “Black queer kin.”

Cleo Woelfle-Ersk­ine takes up dis­parate imag­i­nar­ies of kin­ship in his analy­sis of set­tler-fish rela­tions as a site for the pro­duc­tion of gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ties, and fam­i­ly. “Fishy Plea­sures: Unset­tling Fish Hatch­ing and Fish Catch­ing on Pacif­ic fron­tiers” treats fish-rela­tions as a naturecul­tur­al process, enabling Woelfe-Erskine’s deep explo­ration of the copro­duc­tion of “human nature” among more-than-human actors. A care­ful read­ing of the visu­al pro­duc­tion of set­tler rela­tion­al­i­ty through fish­ing cul­tures unset­tles its neo-Dar­win­ian claims on nature. The sig­nif­i­cance of the pro­duc­tion of land and fish as resource to the for­ma­tion of het­ero­nor­ma­tive famil­ial life cen­ters the non-human in our imag­i­nar­ies of rela­tion­al pos­si­bil­i­ty. Woelfe-Ersk­ine stun­ning­ly ren­ders the jux­ta­po­si­tion of set­tler and Indige­nous epis­te­molo­gies of rela­tion here in ways that make it clear that the project of queer­ing human-human love rela­tions is inad­e­quate to the task of reimag­in­ing belong­ing in tru­ly trans­for­ma­tive ways.

Extend­ing and fur­ther explor­ing this insight, in “Pili‘oha/Kinship: (Re)Imagining Per­cep­tions of Nature and More-than-human Rela­tion­al­i­ty” Kim­ber­ley Gree­son offers a mul­ti­species, autoethno­graph­ic explo­ration of Native Hawai­ian (Kana­ka Maoli) per­spec­tives on kin­ship. The cen­tral­i­ty of mul­ti­species entan­gle­ments to Pli’oha—kinship—is at the heart of this method­olog­i­cal med­i­ta­tion. Draw­ing on naturecul­tur­al approach­es, dif­frac­tive read­ing prac­tices, and an authoethno­graph­ic thema­ti­za­tion of expe­ri­ence, Gree­son explores what it means to do decolo­nial fem­i­nist research. Learn­ing to see and under­stand reci­procity among humans and the land, between humans and their more than human kin, and among non-human actors is key here not only to bio­di­ver­si­ty, but to reimag­in­ing what it means to relate, to be relat­ed, to be in relationship.

Shift­ing our focus back to the ubiq­ui­ty of reduc­tion­ist notions of rela­tion­al­i­ty, Jay Fields’ dig­i­tal art piece Con­sump­tion explores the ide­al of sex­u­al-roman­tic cou­ple­dom and the val­ues that shape and are per­pet­u­at­ed by com­pul­so­ry monogamy, the dyadic fam­i­ly struc­ture at the cen­ter of set­tler sex­u­al­i­ty. A med­i­ta­tion on the mun­dane inter­per­son­al vio­lence this sys­tem per­pet­u­ates, Con­sump­tion rais­es ques­tions about pow­er, desire, and the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty for the inscrip­tion of monogamy in sto­ries about human nature. What humans? In what con­texts? Fields’ visu­al­iza­tion of monogamy offers a sharp jux­ta­po­si­tion to the roman­ti­cized nat­u­ral­iza­tion of pair­ing off as the apex of human evo­lu­tion­ary and psy­choso­cial development.

This spe­cial issue of Imag­i­na­tions also includes reviews by Rick W.A. Smith of Angela Willey’s Undo­ing Monogamy (2016) and by Irene Wolf­s­tone of Don­na Haraway’s Stay­ing with the Trou­ble: Mak­ing Kin in the Chthu­lucene (2016). Both books—and their reviewers—tend to rela­tions between how we imag­ine nature and how we imag­ine belonging.

We hope the works col­lect­ed here will inspire and incite imag­i­na­tion about what it means to be in rela­tion­ship: with friends, real and imag­ined com­mu­ni­ties, humans we don’t know, non-human-oth­ers, and the plan­et. We hope that Crit­i­cal Rela­tion­al­i­ties sup­ports the work of mate­ri­al­iz­ing anti-colo­nial forms of relat­ing and that these forms in turn lend them­selves to the project of reimag­i­na­tion of a plan­e­tary belong­ing that rede­fines rela­tion­ship ethics. If we extend the val­ues of care and sup­port with­in pri­va­tized set­tler-fam­i­ly rela­tions and those of trans­paren­cy and con­sent at the heart of eth­i­cal non-monogamy (that unfor­tu­nate­ly often priv­i­leges sex and romance) to these more expan­sive notions of rela­tion­al­i­ty, what com­mit­ments might mar­ry us to one anoth­er? We would have to rethink the cen­tral­i­ty of set­tler notions of home, fam­i­ly, and kin­ship as cen­tral orga­niz­ing metaphors for relat­ed­ness. We would have to become otherwise.

Works Cited

Carter, Julian B. The heart of white­ness: Nor­mal sex­u­al­i­ty and race in Amer­i­ca, 1880–1940. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2007.

Carter, Sarah. The Impor­tance of Being Monog­a­mous: Mar­riage and Nation Build­ing in West­ern Cana­da to 1915. Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta Press, 2008.

Cott, Nan­cy. Pub­lic Vows: A His­to­ry of Mar­riage and the Nation.” Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2002.

Denial, Cather­ine J. Mak­ing Mar­riage: Hus­bands, Wives & the Amer­i­can State in Dako­ta & Ojib­we Coun­try. Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press, 2013.

Franke, Kather­ine. Wed­locked. The Per­ils of Mar­riage Equal­i­ty. NYU Press, 2015.

Har­away, Don­na J. Pri­mate Visions: Gen­der, Race, and Nature in the World of Mod­ern Sci­ence. Rout­ledge, 2013.

Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of the Erot­ic: The Erot­ic as Pow­er.” The Les­bian and Gay Stud­ies Read­er, edit­ed by David M. Halperin, Hen­ry Abelove, and Michele Aina Bar­ale. Rout­ledge, 1993, pp. 339-343.

McClin­tock, Anne. Impe­r­i­al Leather: Race, Gen­der, and Sex­u­al­i­ty in the Colo­nial Con­test. Rout­ledge, 1995.

Mor­gensen, Scott Lau­ria. Spaces Between Us: Queer Set­tler Colo­nial­ism and Indige­nous Decol­o­niza­tion. Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2011.

Nel­son, Melis­sa. “Get­ting Dirty: The Eco-Eroti­cism of Women in Indige­nous Oral Lit­er­a­tures.” Crit­i­cal­ly Sov­er­eign: Indige­nous Gen­der, Sex­u­al­i­ty, and Fem­i­nist Stud­ies, edit­ed by Joanne Bark­er. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2017, pp. 229-260.

Petrel­la, Ser­e­na. “Eth­i­cal Sluts and Clos­et Polyamor­ists: Dis­si­dent Eroti­cism, Abject Sub­jects and the Nor­ma­tive Cycle in Self-Help Books on Free Love.” Sex­u­al Pol­i­tics of Desire and Belong­ing, edit­ed by Nick Rumens. Brill Rodopi, 2007, pp. 151-168.

Rear­don, Jen­ny and Kim Tall­Bear. “Your DNA is Our His­to­ry”: Genomics, Anthro­pol­o­gy, and the Con­struc­tion of White­ness as Prop­er­ty.” Cur­rent Anthro­pol­o­gy 53, S5, 2012, pp. S233-S245.

Short­er, David Del­ga­do. “Sex­u­al­i­ty.” The World of Indige­nous North Amer­i­ca, edit­ed by Robert War­rior. Rout­ledge, 2015, pp. 487-505.

Short­er, David Del­ga­do. “Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty.” The Oxford Hand­book of Amer­i­can Indi­an His­to­ry, edit­ed by Fred E. Hox­ie, Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016, pp. 433-457.

Water Makes Us Wet: An Eco­sex­u­al Adven­ture. Direct­ed by Stephens, Beth and Annie Sprin­kle, Juno Films, 2019.

Tall­Bear, Kim. “Mak­ing Love and Rela­tions Beyond Set­tler Sex­u­al­i­ty.” Make Kin, Not Babies, edit­ed by Don­na Har­away and Adele Clark. Prick­ly Par­a­digm Press, 2018, pp. 145-164.

Theobald, Stephanie. “Nature is Your Lover, Not Your Moth­er: Meet Eco­sex­u­al Pio­neer Annie Sprin­kle.” The Guardian, 15 May 2017.

Wil­ley, Angela. Undo­ing Monogamy: The Pol­i­tics of Sci­ence and the Pos­si­bil­i­ties of Biol­o­gy. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016.