Rethinking Kinship

Interview with Geoffrey Bowker

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Video transcript: "The concept of kinship for me goes back to the work of Donna Haraway, also Adele Clarke, they just came out with this wonderful collection they just came out with this wonderful collection called Make Kin Not Population. But the idea of kinship is recognizing that we don't have any kind of special place in reality. The old religious idea was the great chain of being, where there were people on top and then the apes and then we kinda go down and down and down until we get to the bacteria, and it's a kind of hierarchical system going down like that. That's not the way in which we can and should understand the world.

The world is much more rhizomatic than that, it's not ordered into a nice neat hierarchy. It's rhizomatic and being rhizomatic means we're always connected with each other and with the world around us in all the ways you can't imagine. One idea I came across a few years ago which I love is the exposome. There's the microbiome, which is the flora and fauna that you have inside your stomach, and the microbiome is really important in terms of regulating your mood, in terms of regulation your intelligence and we're finding more and more importance to the microbiome. But if you really want to find out what a person's biome is, you need to do it with the exposome as well, you need to go into their homes and see the ways in which their being is scattered throughout the home. So they're leaving bacteria at different parts of the home, which collect, which breed, which then come back into the body. So, in a sense, there's no separation between my house there, which is a built object, me here, which is a set of DNA. We need to recognize new kin, we need to recognize that it's about relationships all the way down.

Michel Serres who is one of my favorite French philosophers has this wonderful book called the Parasite, where he says the fundamental relationship in the world is that of parasitism. It's living forms living off, living with other living forms, and if we see ourselves as we have parasites within us - we are parasitic. We live in this constant world of relationships. Now that's not something... I mean I can tell you that scientifically, for it to mean something, we need to start telling stories in new ways and we need to tell those stories. That's why we need the artist, that's why we need the storytellers, it's why we need the mythtellers. I could convince you of this on paper, but it wouldn't change how you were in the world.

What we need is, what's called in some literature, a Gestalt switch. So, to suddenly see the world differently, how do you induce somebody or a group of people to suddenly see the world differently? You don't just do it by hitting them over the head with facts, you do it by telling stories, you do it by sketching out possible futures. You do it by trying to sensitize people, go through exercises to sensitize people to the world around them and the way in which the magnetic forces around us, the lifeforms around us, everything around us interpenetrates us all of the time. Until we have that kind of Gestalt switch, we're going to still have this mythology of human exceptionalism, which, unfortunately, most western science is based on human exceptionalism - humans are the intelligent, rational creatures that sit above reality. We are not. We're not the only intelligent creatures, I sometimes doubt we're even the smartest creatures around. And we're certainly not the only creatures that should be in league together and working together and playing together and developing together, in order to address the issues that we're facing, as a world, today."

Other interviews with Geoffrey Bowker

Related tags: Theory, Systems, Story, Interdependence,