Politics of kinning and de-kinning: Conjunctions of kinship, care and the state

Our project participated at the Finnish Anthropological Society’s conference Relations and Beyond, which took place in Rovaniemi on March 21-23, by organizing (together with PhD candidate Anna Pivovarova) a panel entitled Politics of kinning and de-kinning: Conjunctions of kinship, care and the state. The panel sought to explore kinning, de-kinning and re-kinning as processes through which kinship and the state are co-produced, emphasizing in particular the way kinship accumulates and dissolves through time, as well as the relational acts of nurture and neglect by which kin relations are constructed and confronted. The papers we received approached the political processes of kinning from a number of perspectives, highlighting, for instance settler colonial de-kinning, the kinning of labor relationships, state recognition of relatedness in terms of creating papered kin or of categories of motherhood and the citizenship of stillborn children, and the temporalities and memories of kinship of children in institutional or foster care. Our three presentations addressed these concerns from the following perspectives:

Hanna Rask:
Resourcing of child welfare services as a site of settler colonial de-kinning: Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case on First Nations child welfare 

This paper focuses on funding of child and family services on First Nation reserves in Canada as a particular site where politics of kinning and de-kinning play out. The paper examines the 2016 and 2019 decisions of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal concerning discrimination of First Nation children in the child welfare system. In these decisions the Tribunal ruled in favor of a human rights complaint filed by two First Nation organizations against the Government of Canada, stating that underfunding of preventive child welfare services on reserves contributes to disproportionate apprehensions of First Nation children. Examining discussion in the decisions on the nature and scope of the harm caused by the discriminatory funding practice, the paper discusses how they suggest a particular kind of interpretation of state-sanctioned de-kinning. In its arguments of defense, the government had challenged the complaint particularly for vagueness of the alleged connection between the funding of on-reserve child welfare services, apprehensions of children through those services, and harm caused to individual children and families. The Tribunal decisions, however, address the funding framework and its impacts in the light of a broader history of settler colonial state intervention on Indigenous families and kinship relations. The paper discusses these decisions as an example of how politics of de-kinning can be viewed as not necessarily entailing direct involvement of state authorities in severing of kinship relations but as operating indirectly through processes that involve multiple institutional actors and extend relationally and temporally beyond an individual case of child apprehension. 

Saana Hansen:
Kinning by other means: registering citizens by creating papered kin among Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa

This paper investigates birth and death registration simultaneously as acts of kin and state. It draws on ethnographic research on the economies of care among low-income Zimbabwean migrants, injivas, who return from South Africa. The paper expands the term ‘kinning’ from Signe Howell (2003, 2006) to make sense of the creative ways through which people whose life-worlds are embedded in the context of endemic crises and state-produced undocumentedness, have responded to such conditions. The paper zooms at the tactical ways people, in relation to various bureaucratic agents, seek access to citizen certificates primarily to secure their national belonging and access to citizenship and protective migrant status. However, through such acts, people also get entangled with papered relatives and kin networks both in South Africa and in Zimbabwe. I show how the credibility of ID documents are socially constituted via the creation of a convincing ’make believe’ narratives (Navaro-Yashin 2007) having intended and unintended impacts on people’s social worlds, that need various de- and rekinning practices to be repaired. By so doing, the paper contributes to the literature on bureaucratic documents by bringing at the fore the ‘generative capacity’ of documentation (Hull 2012) that brings into being new, often unintended forms of relatedness and belonging to both state and kin networks.

Katja Uusihakala:
Temporality and ambivalence of kinship: Politics of kinning in the lives of late colonial British child migrants

This paper examines political processes of kinning and de-kinning from the perspective advocated by Janet Carsten, namely that anthropologists should pay attention to the “thickening” and “thinning” of kinship over time, stressing state engagement in such processes of kin-making. The case I examine concerns a child migration scheme, which selected, shipped and permanently relocated white British children to colonial Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) between 1946 and 1962. What characterizes kin relations among the former migrants is their fragmentedness – they are permeated by abandonment and absence; loss of kin connections, memory and a sense of belonging; and, at times, by the obscurity of documented relatedness. Such processes of kinship are not solely intimate, emotional and experiential family affairs. In this state-supported project of social engineering, active forms of de-kinning and re-kinning were very much orchestrated by the state. State actors and child emigration societies legitimated children’s de-kinning from their families with the principle of “children’s best interests”, acting to ensure the production of proper citizens, re-kinned as wards of the colonial state. Thus, the politics of “children’s best interests” were intrinsically linked with political ideologies and processes of nation and Empire building. This draws attention to the fact that forms of relatedness – and memories of those relations – are inalienable from wider political and historical contexts in which they occur. It further underlines that kinship and the state need to be analyzed as intertwined and mutually constitutive, and that ethnographic attention should be paid to political implications of forms and processes of relatedness.