How do the conditions of transnationalism affect a conception of kinship premised upon genealogical and geographic fixity? What does a new model of kinship, one that accounts for mobility, multilocality, and transience in contemporary relationships, look like? Or sound like, rather?
My final project will explore these complementary questions. Through a combination of yangqin, voice, field recording, and live processing, I will develop and perform an "electroacoustic folk" set that reflects on themes of relationality, rootedness, love, and fragmentation as they relate to notions of transnational kinship. I will draw on field recordings and interviews conducted with close friends and family on a trip I am taking from London to my home of San Francisco. There, I will be attending a wedding and a farewell party, among other events that will bring those whom could be considered my "kin." These gatherings will serve as an apt opportunity for sincere discussions around how we relate to one another when we live so far apart.
My research will begin with a deeper investigation into the theoretical underpinnings of traditional conceptions of kinship, which tend to revolve around families who live in a specific locality over a long period of time. I intend to survey sociological, anthropological, and literary work on the topic. I will then conduct a similar investigation into the theories behind transnationalism and its effect on familial and social relationships. I am curious about multiple areas related to this, including: post-structuralist theory, diasporic identity, definitions of community in the Digital Age, and "place" vs. "space."
Today, with 244 million people in the world classified as migrants,* and a media filled with emotionally charged debates surrounding national identity and the impacts of migration, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold onto traditional ideas of what constitutes kinship, and how it is created and maintained. There is a need for new models of determining how to relate to the important people in our life, and who they are in the first place.
My hypothesis is that for migrants and diasporic communities, a traditional model of kinship that rooted in one locality for several generations is insufficient. We may have grown up in a place different from where our parents grew up; we may have moved across cities or countries in our lifetime; we may regularly commute between different places, and so might our family and friends. Our experiences are more multilocal, and so are our relationships. They are not defined by one fixed place.
Moreover, our opportunities to connect with each other and be present with each other are sparse. We are only able to see each other during brief visits, either when the migrant visits the family or vice versa. For those who are more mobile, we experience various crossings, during important events such as holidays, or on spontaneous occasions. Our relationships are thus do not consist of contiguous periods of time spent together, but rather episodic segments of time surrounding particular experiences.
In addition, when we live far away from our family, in their absence we must find people to stay connected with, to stay socially active and to feel loved. Friendships we develop in our day-to-day lives might take on a new significance, if friends become the closest thing to family we have available. Some of us may identify as having "chosen family."
Within these conditions, our understanding of kinship, of the set of close relationships that are most important to us, becomes less contingent on a fixed location, a biological bloodline, and a contiguous period of time. These factors become fragmented by the forces of globalisation. In this context of fragmentation, what kind of structure holds together our close relationships?
My project will postulate that a transnational model of kinship is more multilocal, episodic, and unpredictable, and bases itself on shared experience more than shared blood. The conditions of transnationalism also reached toward a more pluralistic social infrastructure, which makes ethnicity a less fundamental characteristic of close community.
Within this model of kinship, conversation plays an important role in facilitating and holding together shared experience. Conversation is a unifying, sonic form that makes people feel connected to each other. Conversations can happen in person during those brief visits on special occasions, and they can be continued digitally. Because of the primacy of conversation in this model of kinship, it will be an important component of the sonic landscape of the piece.
My goal with the piece is to use music and sound to represent my own experience of transnational kinship and offer a template for the audience to consider. Much of the piece will be shaped by the conversations I have with my family and close friends. The music will respond to that content as well.
A series of papers I intend to read on this topic comes from the Leeds University research project, Care, Values, and the Future of Welfare. The strand of research is called "Transnational Kinship" and can be found here: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/cava/research/strand3c.htm
*World Migration Report, UN Migration, 2018: https://www.iom.int/wmr/chapter-6