Polyamories: a multi-faceted look at non-monogamy

Overview

This panel’s intention is to demonstrate how, more and more, the notion of a relationship identity and the way it shapes people’s sexual and intimate behaviors has become central to conducting research around sexualities. Our intention is to critically acknowledge but also question the modes of existence of polyamory and of polyamorous subjectivities, dealing with issues of definitions (or lack thereof), research practices and the tensions between normativization and the queering of practices and theories. Our combined works will not only contextualize polyamory and its subjects within the field of (responsible) non-monogamies, but also make it interact with mononormativity and, also, possible emergent forms of polyamorous normativities.

We are then taken to the issue of what a polyamorous subjectivity can be, how can it be constituted and also how - in a seemingly contradictory way - this bid against mononormativity (and thus, against the notion that monogamy can be seen as superior or more desirable), makes sex an especially controversial (but nonetheless central) issue: an issue often to be discursively avoided in an attempt at a possible social respectability stemming from the emphasis given to feelings (and, hence, -”amory”).

 

These political and identitary choices - and polyamory itself - need to be contextualized, too. By approaching polyamory as a specific product of a socio-cultural background that both informs and gives intelligibility to it, we must look at the specific positions, discourses and stances deployed in the definition(s) of polyamory, its defense and also the ways by which it is seen as standing apart from other forms of (responsible) non-monogamy. Recent changes in both the history and framing of intimacy, sex and gender, and in the construction of personal and political subjectivities need to be taken into account, in order to avoid an essentialist take on non-monogamies as they present themselves in highly complex formulations that are not reducible to the scrutinizing of sexual acts.

This is reflected also in our attention to the direct links between intimate and/or sexual relationships and the role of the State as a purveyor of interpersonal relationships and as an institution that distributes privilege along a set of cultural and moral values that exclude (responsible) non-monogamies. So, it not only non-monogamies as a practice of the motto “the personal is political”, but also a concern with the legislative background against which these subjects must organize their experiences, personal finances, living arrangements, and so forth. The possibility to queer relationships can then lead to the possibility of considering alternative forms of governmentality - both of the self and of the State - and even moving, perhaps, beyond the notion of polyamory towards an anarchist take on interpersonal relations, and the emphasis on creativity when dealing with contemporary life challenges.

The contributions to studying and reflecting on polyamory and other forms of non-monogamies aren’t limited to the study of non-monogamous behavior, though. By making us reflect on the presuppositions in play when we address the notions of “love”, “relationship”, “sex”, “feelings” or “intimacy” - by queering them, even - this line of research helps us to continually redefine and update the field of sexuality studies, pointing to the need of constantly reconceptualize the role of sex, love, gender, sexual orientation, relationships in our many-sided contemporary lives.

Both the presentations and the presenters themselves will utilize several different conceptual tools and positionings to explore these several intersecting intricacies: from Psychology and Sociology, to Cultural Studies and Communication Sciences, it will be in the transdisciplinary approach centered on the contributions of critical theory, feminism(s), post-structuralism and queer theory that all this diversity is approachable and made relevant in the context of researching everyday sexualities and in the exploration of the social and cultural guidelines (or their challenging) that give meaning and power to those very same sexualities.


Abstracts and Presentations

Non/Monogamies

Meg Barker

In recent years there has been an explosion of interest, both popularly and academically, in a forms of relationships which are situated outside of mononormativity. Most notably amongst these, perhaps, is polyamory, which is more frequently claimed as an identity label than – for example – swinging, gay open relationships, or the 'new monogamy'. This presentation will situate such new forms of relating within wider sociohistorical shifts regarding romantic relationships. It will examine the various ways of negotiating relationships which are emerging within openly non-monogamous relationships, and will consider both the liberating and limiting potentials these offer in relation to mononormativity. Finally, distinctions between monogamous and non-monogamous relationships will be called into question more radically, presenting an alternative 'multiple continuum' perspectives on non/monogamies (plural), and drawing on other authors who have questioned the utility of these categories and the potential for new forms of normativity within them.

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“Communicate, communicate, communicate” - building ethical subjectivities within polyamory

Daniel Cardoso

Though explicitly non-monogamous relationships are anything but new, the last 20 years have seen the rise and development of another identity: polyamory. This new identity brings with it a focus on feelings and emotions, and seeks to build itself around the ethical notions of frankness and communication. But what is frank communication, how is it supposed to be deployed and, most of all, how does it work in constituting an ethical practice and subjectivity? From the analysis of the conversations on the oldest mailing list on polyamory, we consider how this relates to Foucault’s writing of the self as an ethopoietic practice based on parrhesia - the courage of truth. By focusing on feelings, polyamorous subjects seek to improve themselves and be more autonomous by being able to better control and modify those same feelings.

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Polyamory – Intimate Practice, Identity or Sexual Orientation?

Christian Klesse

Polyamory means different things to different people. While some consider polyamory to be nothing more than a convenient label for their current relationship constellations or a handy tool for communicating their willingness to enter more than one relationship at a time, others see it as an anchor for aspects of their core identities. This paper looks at identity narratives around polyamory. How do polyamorous identities relate to other sexual identities? The paper rejects the common conflation of polyamory with bisexuality. But what is polyamory? Is it just one more category of sexual orientation?  Do modes of polyamorous identification undermine hegemonic categorization of sexual identities along the lines of sexual object choice? Are there any accounts on poly desire which have the potential for ‘queering’ our current understandings of eroticism and sexuality? The term polyamory matches rather novel accounts of socio-sexual identification. Contemporary theories on sexual identities still have difficulties to accommodate them within their paradigms. 

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Queering Non/Monogamy: An Anarchist Approach

Jamie Heckert

What do mononormativity and the State have in common? Inspired by feminist critiques of hierarchical separations of the personal from the political, and currents within anarchist/poststructuralist thought on the State as a pattern of relationships rather than an institution, I argue that these two have more in common than one might expect. In making this argument, I draw upon interviews with 16 people who described their experiences of intimate relationships which crossed borders of sexual orientation identity. The people who shared their stories were not necessarily nonmonogamous. Rather than simply following or rejecting norms, they imagined different choices and organized themselves. In conclusion, this paper argues that creating alternatives to both compulsory monogamy and the State have much to offer each other: intimate relationships are more likely to flourish in a general atmosphere of autonomy and anarchist practice would benefit from greater attention to love, sexuality and intimacy.

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