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Feminist 'Narrative In*her*itances:' Revisiting, Pondering, Stretching a Concept.

The tools are often stories, retold stories, versions that reverse and displace the hierarchical dualisms of naturalized identities. In retelling origin stories, cyborg authors subvert the central myths of origin of Western culture. We have all been colonized by those origin myths...feminist cyborg stories [recode] communication and intelligence to subvert command and control. (Donna Haraway, 1985, reprinted in Weiss, 2006, p. 141) (1)


This essay considers the generative potential of feminist theorizing for exploring the contours of the "sweaty concept" (2) of feminist narrative inheritance. Feminist scholars have interrogated what 'family' means and stretched family configurations in empowering ways, leading me to consider how process and choice are implicated in the work of inheritance. I begin by engaging with Harry L. "Bud" Goodall's compelling essay on narrative inheritance (3) to consider dimensions of the inheritances we receive and those we create. In recent years, Goodall's work has become a generative touchstone for me in exploring the fissures and choices involved in constructing ideas of family against the powerful backdrop of idealism and nostalgia. (4) His work has resonated with many others as well, including those represented in this two-volume special collection. And yet, the concept of narrative inheritance has accrued a kind of catchy analytical power, even presumed fixity, that invites reflection and reconsideration. I begin the process here of pondering what narrative inheritances might mean when reconstituted as feminist narrative inheritances.

I have come to think of feminist narrative inheritance as a type of "sweaty concept," a concept generated from lived experience, that we try out, that we sit with, that inspires and even demands our labor, that has the power to dis/orient and re/orient us. (5) For Ahmed, sweaty concepts spring from descriptive work in wrestling with the textured empirical worlds in which we live, from the experiences of (for example) racialized/queer/gendered bodies that are "not at home in the world" and that are not always at home within fixed terms that "scholars bring to the world." (6) She notes that we can approach particular words as sweaty concepts as well. She provides the example of the term, willfulness, one that accrues certain "orientations" and "leanings" over time, (7) and has implications for the people the term envelops. Women can suddenly transform into "willful" subjects (8) when they stubbornly resist conventions and commands. Sweaty concepts are thus a way of wrestling to uncover multidimensional meanings and/or to describe lived experience as potential tools to be "put to work" (9) to fuel a variety of inquiries. I wonder how feminist engagements with the "sweaty," "sticky" concept (10) of inheritance can expand dimensions of family theorizing?

In that spirit, I consider feminist work on origins, storying, inheritance and examples from family research to consider the contours of a feminist narrative inheritance--or, perhaps, in*her*itance--as an aspect of family methodology. What is a feminist inheritance? What might the term mean? What does the term produce? How does it function? Who does it 'take up'? How does this blend of terms highlight gendered power in family scripts? How can the term disorient us from the taken-for-granted inheritances and re/orient us to new forms? Can it take the form of a reading of a family member's life in feminist terms? (11) Can it be a "promiscuous" (12) troubling of what constitutes "family"? I explore here some possibilities that emerge from and in the spirit of generative engagement with Goodall's ideas. (13)

The Discourse of Family

I have written about "family methodology" in previous work, which I currently describe as a broad term to encompass critical engagements with the ideas and practices involved in conducting inquiries with, about, and/or on, family members. My interest in marking family research as a focus in methodology is to create a visible conceptual space that invites people to pause and ponder the complexities of forces that saturate engagements with "family" in research. These forces might involve cultural discourses, affective dimensions, identity issues, affinities and refusals, power dynamics, and stubborn idealistic investments in "the family" that demand unpacking. (14) I see this as a dynamic rather than prescriptive effort that refuses at the outset to take "family" as an expected or assumed category with expected and assumed meanings, and instead, to hold in play the diverse onto-epistemologies and allegiances that might shape engagements with "family." Naming it as a body of methodology, even a working conceptual space, invites critical engagement with the contours of family that matter for a given project.

Varied belief systems shape family inquiries; "family" demands researchers' scrutiny as an affiliation, concept and site; it can be conflicted, nourishing, personal, political, rhetorical, empirical, embodied, ideal, an impossibility, and a site of belonging and identity. "Family" is also deeply historical and discursive. Calling attention to family research as a methodological space invites those political questions and engagements: how we might imagine and constitute "family" in inquiry? The notion of "family" is itself an experiential and sweaty one, inviting an array of conceptual affinities that demand unpacking--among them, genealogy, heredity, ancestry, kinship--all of which have their own histories and expressions.

These ideas about family research have emerged from my textual and embodied encounters. I have perused family histories, engaged in dialogue about family-based research in diverse educational spaces, and worked with others who have conducted inquiries on, with or about family members. (15) One element of these interactions about family are their affective contours. Work with/on family members is suffused with affective registers such as il/legitimacy, nostalgia, enchantment and shame that merit scrutiny because these speak directly to people's investments in family and its power as a social concept, symbol and system which shape the doing of research. Work on family, however personally some frame their inquiries, always has social resonances and implications. The turn to ancestry and the genealogical industrial complex that has emerged in recent years (e.g.; is a striking testament to affective investments in "family." (16) Such quests reflect widespread yearning to expand one's sense of narrative inheritance. This work is also enmeshed in power relations, as some stories become entrenched and others are rendered invisible. As Hemmings writes in her analysis of narratives of feminist history, "which stories predominate or are produced or marginalized is always a question of power and authority." (17)

Goodall's 'Narrative Inheritance': Generative Dimensions

"a [narrative inheritance] allows us to explain to others where we come from and how we were raised in the continuing context of what it all means." (18)

Goodall's powerful essay, "Narrative Inheritance: A Nuclear Family with Toxic Secrets" is an example of work that fits within the broad category of family methodology because he attends to the methodological contours of inquiry about and for family. Goodall was a prolific communication scholar who died from pancreatic cancer at age 59. (19) In his essay, and then in his book, Goodall wrote with consciousness about the constructions involved in narrative inheritances. He insists that he is writing "a" story, rather than "the" story. (20) The style of Goodall's essay demonstrates his investment in combatting what he saw to be stultifying conventions of academic research and the pressing need to develop new forms of autoethnographic and narrative writing that invite readers to share in "intimate" reading encounters through developing a relationship between author and reader. (21) His inheritance work was deeply personal, even though he recognized its greater relevance. He wrestled publicly to complete the "unfinished story" of his father's life--a story he never wanted to write in the first place. (22) Goodall's phrase, narrative inheritance, emphasizes the storied foundation of inheritances that accompany the biological. To Goodall, we are, in short, Homo Narrans, a species of storytellers. (23)

Goodall's work on this concept has been generative for readers in a range of ways, (24) in part because it underscores through artful phrasing the importance family narratives can have to people's very sense of identity. Having family stories matters to many of us in making sense of our lives. In a cursory search of the literature, which generated dozens of citations, some scholarship that cites Goodall's work reflects passing engagements with his ideas, in a sentence or two, (25) while others embed their inquiries in the concept. (26) Given that people's access to their family history and stories have never been equal, both the expressions of those inheritances and the quest to access or create them have taken many forms. Many of us have little information about our families. These inheritances are simply inaccessible for reasons beyond the slippages involved in family communication: the profound historical forces of genocide or slavery, (27) the absence of archival records or refusal to share family histories, (28) the variable availability of oral "memory bearers," (29) the circuitous processes of adoption, migration, orphanage, and surrogacy; (30) and/or other complex examples of family secrets or losses (as examples, see Mason and Sayman, this volume). Because of the discursive framing of family as a force to help us make sense of our lives, as well as to structure social relations, these absences and wonderings can have multidimensional effects. Goodall writes, "where do you go when you are stripped of your family? When all you have left are the stories that comprise your history?" (31)

Goodall's questions speak to the desire for information about family histories and to creating narratives in their absence. In addition, "when you are stripped of your family," he suggests, narratives must stand in for the family members themselves. To explore his family dynamics, he interrogates a web of secrets in his parents' lives, including his father's role as a spy during the cold war, and his mother's struggle with the effects of this role for her life. Goodall's moving investigation traces, questions, and in turn creates, an inheritance to pass on to his child in the absence of a holistic and empowering one bestowed by his own family. Published in full as the monograph, A Need to Know: The Clandestine History of a CIA Family, Goodall describes his father's story as both "HISstory" and "history." (32) He connects his father's tortured CIA career and family life steeped in silences and betrayals (HISstory) to the larger patterns of national secrets and betrayals in war and espionage (history). The secret nature of Goodall's father's work pulled his family into this orbit of secrecy. For example, the sparse availability of photographs of his father, his father's tendency to carry a short stiletto knife in his pocket, practices like storing furniture in the basement of a nondescript suburban home and moving frequently are somehow understood by Bud as "normal," but in hindsight reflect the deeply woven silences of his father's work into the fibers of their family dynamics. Goodall's work is a moving testimony to the effect of family secrets on children's ability to craft a sense of themselves and their histories.

Sweaty Inherited Silences

Through such returns to Goodall's work and the engagements it has inspired, I began pondering the multidimensional meanings of narrative inheritances as thinking and teaching (33) tools because they beckon different angles of engagement, lay bare the labor, questions, and messiness involved in inquiry, and accept the theoretical premise that family inquiries are "a version of the truth, not the whole truth, or maybe even the main truth." (34) In the process, a feminist narrative inheritance has emerged as a compelling, sticky, sweaty concept. (35)

A narrative, broadly conceived via the Oxford Dictionary, can refer to an account, chronicle, story, or even a sketch, that is spoken or written. Historically, inheritance refers to physical objects, statuses and rank, or corporeal characteristics one might receive "genetically" from one's ancestors. The entities an "heir" might receive through "legal descent or succession" include property, rank, title, or other material objects. The legal, propertied roots of the term "inheritance" speak to its profoundly classed, racialized, and gendered historical associations with status, prestige, and propertied males. In this sense, inheritances are tangible objects, characteristics, or accounts that ancestors bestow, typically things of substance and social weight that can contribute to reproducing power relations. They can also be borne of and carried through bodies. To engage in a feminist pondering and stretching of the concept requires unsettling these racialized and patriarchal origins.

Many of us cannot possibly map on to such tidy, linear, examples of succession. Our bodies are not at home in such concepts. In drawing from the messiness of lived experience that Ahmed suggests is central to the labor of sweaty concepts, there are other ways to imagine the concept of inheritance. What about the intangible sensory inheritances that circulate--that are out of reach of legal definitions, hierarchies of title, and the materiality of the empirical world? The ones that are cobbled together or wrenched from family fragments and scraps, from songs and quilts, gleaned and plucked wherever possible, and/or chosen at will? Or those that are embraced as always partial and incomplete, with no hope or interest in unity, that never engage in the impossible quest for a unified account that the very concept of narrative suggests? What about those inheritances bestowed without welcome that demand resistance?

Ballard for instance, considers the lived experience for transnational adoptees of inhabiting an identity that carries a narrative "burden" shaped by others' racialized expectations, "meanings, assumptions and beliefs" about adoptees based on the racial discourses in which their bodies are situated within broader narratives about transnational adoption. (36) The American adoption discourse of "rescuing children" through transnational adoption (37) can shape how adoptees both make and navigate their identities in their adopted families. Inherited silences in adoption can also contribute to conditions in which broader cultural narratives intrude and descend to shape the contours of the inheritance. Adoptees grapple with broader cultural narrative inheritances, such as those inflected by redemption narratives about America's quest to save disadvantaged children worldwide, even while the stories, however riddled with racialized discourse, holes or politics, remain life lines for adoptees in cultivating identity. Ballard writes, "narrative is the primary, although fragile, crucible during interpersonal and intercultural interactions where we write our identities as adoptees." (38) It is thus a site of identity and community creation, even as adoptees constantly encounter the expectation from others that they account for their "difference" narratively as others encounter their "difference." (39) In this sense, narrative inheritances can be hegemonic, bestowed, and unwelcome, as well as potential sites of resistance to counter others' expectations and narrate anew.

Inheritances can also be imbued with inherited silences that are embodied, felt, reproduced, and passed on. Silences can represent selective information such as those Goodall details about his father's career and the reasons for his family's many moves; McNay productively describes her family secrets as a type of "absent memories." (40) Yet silences are also a presence as well. More than gaps in a narrative that becomes whole once they are filled in, silences can become inhabited by a felt "absent presence." Inheritance in this sense involves embodied sensory inheritances--bodies as they move in relation in family circles, from averted eyes to pursed lips, to the abrupt change of subject in the face of pressing questions. The affect conveyed through clipped phrasing and turned bodies convey without words that something is decidedly amiss, off limits, simultaneously lurking and absent. I see a sticky, sensory dimension to these pulsing absences that are forms of tacit inheritance of family silences that transcend the absence of information and words. For Goodall, his father bore secrets written on to his body. He describes "a certain tightness" of his father's "jaw muscles, the hardened visible lines around the eyes and mouth that hinted at a deeper traumatic pain." (41) Goodall transformed his struggle to make sense of these affective silences into narrative.

Goodall's father rarely spoke about his family. Similarly, McNay, who drew parallels between Goodall's father and her own, notes that her father "never talked about his childhood or family." (42) When she asked questions, he apparently "became silent and turned away" or chastised her not to ask at all. (43) This is another nuance in inheritance that reflects a silencing strategy that can occur in families. Instead of only inherited, affective, pulsing silences, these examples reveal outright refusal to answer questions and admonishments for asking them. Like Goodall, McNay later learned that her father carried painful secrets throughout his life that included the absence of his own family stories. After her father died, McNay learned that her father was a "home child" who was, according to the information available, "abandoned by his mother, surrendered to an orphanage, and sent to Canada to labor for strangers." (44) What began as discernable sensory inheritances in the form of felt secrets structured into McNay's childhood and admonishments for requesting information eventually gave way to a narrative constituted by words that she wrote to create some semblance of her father's history. Without her father's narration, she was left like Goodall with an "unfinished" inheritance. (45) She eventually drew links between her father's painful childhood experiences and the "postcolonial children's diaspora" (46) that shaped her father's life story as embedded in Canadian historical accounts of indentured child labor and transnational migration more broadly.

The forces shaping the inherited silences are multidimensional, in that the contours of speaking or narrating may be shaped by selective bestowals, conscious absences, narrative conflicts, and revisions. Goodall's father was restricted from telling his secrets because he was a spy, while McNay's father may have remained silent because of the shame he felt for being a home child. He also was missing fundamental information about his lineage or other diasporic kin, with, perhaps, no personal narratives he felt he could pass on. Silences occur for other reasons, such as narratives of "missing fathers" in South African contexts who become inaccessible to their children for complex structural reasons (47) or the marginalization within the "family narrative" of family members with intellectual disabilities who are institutionalized. (48) Such selective inclusions and exclusions in the constitution of how "families" are narrated, as Gachago, Clowes, and Condy emphasize, leave individuals without conventional nuclear families at odds with dominant narratives--even though the nuclear family model is not the dominant family form in the structural context of South African apartheid. Or, they can leave those with intellectual disabilities, as Burghardt describes, without a "storied sense of self" within the family. (49) In these cases, the person with the disability is the carefully curated secret or the figure of otherness (50) an "unseen, unheard, and unaccounted for" presence (51) within the family narrative that subsequently shapes their inheritance and those of other family members. As Burghardt describes, "the absence/presence of the person with disabilities dictated the boundaries around which what could be spoken in the home, yet that person had no power or place within the discourse." (52) How does one grapple with a narrative inheritance that includes the presence of one's own erasure?

These examples underscore silences as aspects of inheritance. Rather than necessarily signaling "incomplete" narrative inheritances--silences can also be absent presences; felt and known rather than discussed; (53) the sensory resonances from observing pursed lips and averted gazes; or, a burden, as Ballard notes, or site of resistance, when one is demanded to account for oneself in narrative terms dictated by others empowered by dominant cultural discourses. (54) The orientation to silences as only absences that need filling in to become whole betrays widespread investment in a vision of narrative conceptual unity that hints at the myth of origin stories and to a family unit: a narrative inheritance of enough wholeness and weight to bestow onto others. Yet, family narratives can never be whole; they are inevitably fragmented, and always in process. They can conflict, (55) gather momentum, (56) fragment into public and private versions, (57) be "multi-voiced and even "collective" when family members fill in gaps of individual memories. (58) And significantly, as Goodall's work invites, they can always be rewritten.

Gendered Contours of In*her*itance

An origin story in the 'Western', humanist sense depends on the myth of original unity (Haraway, 1985, cited in Weiss, p. 118).

Amid the enduring investments in narrative family unity, the messiness of lives intrudes to trouble and stretch the concept of inheritance. The legal, patriarchal origins of the concept of inheritance suggest the historical contours of both who was eligible to receive inheritances and who could bestow them. Feminist theorizing of historiography, narratives of humankind, and the family usefully stretch conceptions of inheritance to displace theoretical assumptions about blood ties, nuclear families, and the seductions of heredity as the source of one's inheritance. For some feminist theorists, its authorizing power as a dominant symbolic and discursive narrative of lineage merits disruption. Donna Haraway's enduring interest in interrogating human origin stories and narrating otherwise has stretched over four decades, from her gendered analysis of anthropologists' descriptions of primate behavior in Primate Visions (1989) as a basis for claims about humans, to a recent work, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016) in which she embraces a multispecies notion of kinship. (59) Expanding conceptions of connections and belonging are necessary in a troubled world in which we might most be inclined to direct our empathies to those we perceive to be our kin. In this sense, narrow conceptions of "family" have dangerous implications.

Haraway (1985) dismisses the very notion of biological kinship as the story of humankind. In early work with the cyborg manifesto, Haraway poses the figure of the cyborg as a force to interrupt a variety of "naturalized identities" and patriarchal lineages as the absolute source of human origins. To Haraway, the Western origin story is shaped by violence, capitalism, and the vision of the nuclear family that informs diverse fields of thought from religion to primatology. It is a myth of enormous proportions, a "plot." (60) She writes, "[a]n origin story in the 'Western', humanist sense depends on the myth of original unity, fullness, bliss and terror, represented by the phallic mother from whom all humans must separate, the task of individual development and of history." (61) She offers the cyborg figure as a vehicle for disrupting "origin stories" rooted in patriarchal lineages, gender norms, and biological reproduction. The figure is devoid of origins, created rather than reproduced.

Haraway describes Chela Sandoval's vision of "conscious coalition, of affinity, of political kinship" rather than "natural" or "essential" identification among women of color (62) as a dynamic conception of relation that interrupts and reconfigures both identification and relation. Sandoval's focus on conscious coalition, choice of identification, and political kinship interrupts the mystique of naturalized categories and heredity of humankind writ large, to open the directions in how we conceptualize and constitute our affinities outside of scripted origins and, accordingly, which family narratives we might seek, record, and "choose" to inherit. Kath Weston's (63) research with gay men and lesbians in San Francisco, California in the 1980s reflects such intentional conceptions of kinship. In the wake of cultural devaluing of gay families, who are placed "outside both law and nature," community members in Weston's study narrate connections based on love and friendship. (64) With dominant conceptions of family lurking in the ether, they used the wording of "families we choose," "recasting close friends as kin." (65) It is the work of hegemony that roots "real" connection in biology and law rather than choice.

Many groups cannot or do not ground their conceptions of "kinship" on biological conceptions of heredity and inheritance, but rather, stretch and adjust the contours of family groupings to reflect their affiliations and visions. The notion of "Active kinship" that some anthropologists have used to refer to family ties forged through friendships, networks, and ways of bonding other than marriage or blood ties (66) has given way to other productive concepts that do not begin from a place of lack, nor from discussions of 'real' and 'not real' families. Patricia Hill Collins' description of Othermothering champions women's extended networks involved in caring for and raising children to underscore its community value and dimensions. Such extended mothering networks for African-American children, for instance, also counter deficit discourses applied to families whose forms may not match white, middle-class, nuclear ideals. (67) Like Haraway's cyborgs, these concepts and ontologies disrupt conventional notions of family and narrative inheritances that rely on fixed myths of unity that Other the rest of us.

Ahmed's thoughts on citation practices offer another feminist intervention in the politics of inheritance. For instance, we participate in intertextual dialogue with diverse "companions" in doing our work. (68) For Ahmed, such companions are material, diverse, beloved. They include films or tattered copies of favorite feminist books that nurture and ground her. In her recent work, Living a Feminist Life, she describes citation practices as intentional and political because those actions record and create a feminist legacy. Grappling with how we enact feminism in the academy, she writes, "in this book, I adopt a strict citation policy: I do not cite any white men." (69) This conscious choice to exclude the work of "white men" from her writing--a term she conceptualizes as institutional rather than individual--is overtly political as it works to inscribe her intellectual heritage into her work. This is not a canonical inheritance bestowed on her, but a lineage she creates. Such inscriptions are about both past and present, echoing Hemmings' caution that dominant narratives in feminist accounts that concretize views of the past propel into the future one's sense of the very legacies of a field. The scripts endure through relations of power, repeated by generations of feminists, concretizing the "way things are" because they are repeated, inherited, and familiar. Hemmings works to dis/orient and reorient other narrations of a feminist past. (70) Ahmed also chooses to cite those "who have contributed to the intellectual genealogy of feminism and anti-racism, including work that has been too quickly...cast aside or left behind, work that lays out other paths, paths we can call desire lines." (71)

I connect the sweaty concept of narrative in*her*itance to Ahmed's wording about citation as "feminist memory. Citation is how we acknowledge our debt to those who came before; those who helped us find our way." (72) In this sense, citation is utterly political, dynamic, and chosen. It is not simply a straightforward recounting of names and works of scholarship as if they are bereft of power relations, but about intentionally crafting a web of nourishment that helps us in "dismantling worlds" and rendering visible the embodied labor of those who are part of our "survival kits." They are the material and symbolic components of our homes: "Citations can be feminist bricks: they are the materials through which, from which, we create our dwellings." (73) Our citational practices help create, in Ahmed's terms, our feminist dwellings. In summary, citations can be intentional choices focused on whose work nourishes our narratives. They are a scholarly form of inheritance. We can be strategic about them--what we choose, and how we use them, crafting new trajectories.

I have found some companionship through Goodall's work. Extending his work suits my work to create my feminist dwellings: keeping visible the labor of people who have shaped my thinking in sculpting an intellectual narrative inheritance of sorts, a dynamic type of kinship that is unfolding and chosen rather than bestowed. Goodall found companionship with the masculine writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Walt Whitman. Their work underscores the muscular, robust, material legacies of his family inheritance: the copy of The Great Gatsby left in his father' deposit box, the "toxic" secrets of his "nuclear" family, the ominous tensions of the Cold War, mysterious objects of inheritance that disappear without a trace, including the theft of his father's diary that was likely swept off by spies. (74) The moment Goodall marks as the beginning of his family narrative was the promise of developing a narrative relationship with his father that he did not have the opportunity to develop with the man himself. (75) "Fathers and sons. What is it between us? That is an ancient question and it may never be resolved." (76)

His citation practices and his literary inheritance includes meanings that are embedded within the texts. For instance, the novel, The Great Gatsby, has a (gendered) legacy of diversity and scope that Batchelor argues is sufficiently vast to create a "meta-Gatsby" cultural narrative. (77) Batchelor mentions the novel's broad appeal as "a cultural touchstone that carries value that transcends itself" and the central character as a symbol with varied meanings and continued resonance. (78) He writes,
Audiences enjoy Jay Gatsby the same way they like other seemingly
normal underdogs who have extraordinary (but somewhat believable)
powers, ranging from the undersized action heroes played on film by
Bruce Willis, Kevin Costner, and Patrick Swayze to the
up-by-the-bootstraps figures represented by Bill Clinton and Barack
Obama. (79)

Batchelor's comparisons to Gatsby are masculine action heroes and former leaders of the United States, evoking a range of associations to primarily white masculine power that are also woven through this now classic text. To many Fitzgerald scholars, Decker suggests that Gatsby stands "for America itself," (80) a self-made man who symbolizes "national anxiety about the loss of white Anglo-Saxon supremacy" in the American 1920s. (81) Others point to F. Scott Fitzgerald's concern with principles of evolutionary biology that undergird his work, including "eugenics, accidental heredity, and sexual selection" (82) and the (nativist) struggle (83) between men for the favor of Daisy, the central female figure in the novel. (84) In the text, Gatsby is concerned with sexual selection, the struggle for mates and the "fixed" nature of one's lineage at "conception." (85) Although the potential meanings of the Gatsby text and their associations exceed those noted here, it is exactly the gendered kinship aspects of evolutionary framing that energized Haraway's early critical analysis of primatologist studies. These legacies seep into the narrative fibers of Goodall's bestowed inheritances.

Feminist (Dis)orientation and (Re)orientation

"Heredity is why we're like our ancestors. Heredity is the inheritance of a gift, or of a curse. Heredity defines us through our biological past. It also gives us a chance at immortality by extending heredity into the future". (86)

For feminist theorists, the authorizing power of heredity as a meaningful symbolic and discursive site--as it seems to be used in the epigraph above--merits unpacking. Intentional choice to include and refuse what is proffered or bestowed can shape inheritances of many kinds. The concept of inheritance connotes a kind of holistic, tidy tale; an entity, rather than a dynamic. As noted early in this essay, the term might mean genetic or corporeal conceptions of inheritance--such as personality traits, disorders, or health conditions. These are selective inheritances. Instead, I turn to an example of a feminist artist's sticky choices and refusals as she troubles notions of inheritance through engaging with the physical structure of a family home. It invites sensory, affective associations as well as resistance to narrating altogether. I first encountered Ellea Wright's work years ago in a conference setting (87) in which she presented a drawing of her body crafted with caramel pastel hues, the angle focused on her shoulders down to her feet, the landscape of the drawing lightly pulsing from technological manipulation. She called this work "The Family Body," a representation in which she tracked her body, hands, and hair, for glimmers of her family's bodies: where was her family evident? Where was her mother's shape reflected in her own? The quest to read on to her own body the physical markings and similarities of her family reflected a familiar tendency for me: remembering the shape of my father's hands and looking down to see his long fingers and knotted, lined knuckles in the ridges of my own. (88) Just as Wright looked for such resonances, as family members look for resemblances in their ancestral photographs, (89) I choose to see and narrate this physical similarity with my father. Those family likenesses, such as laughter (90) and body types, the similarities we read onto our own bodies and gestures, are a type of chosen inheritance. These are limited and often pleasurable reference points, depending on which family likenesses are drawn, which memory bearers still live, and thus which referents are available. They can contribute to scripting family likenesses and distinctions.

It is this sense of inheritance, in which we consider our bodies, personalities, interests, illnesses, traits, where we also embed, create and narrate the discourse of family. Our bodies become a site of meaning making for our own histories and identities. These inheritances are eclectic as they are embedded in gaps and fissures of knowledge about our own family legacies and those that we/others construct to highlight some inheritances over others. (91) As Jerrybandan demonstrates in her work in this issue, narratives can be gleaned, constructed, and sought--those deposited on us, those that we cultivate and nourish through probing and prodding, and narratives we choose to fashion on our own. Some inheritances are infused with a kind of fatalistic weight: some may narrate family histories with drug abuse, violence, or struggles with mental health selectively with trepidation as if these histories impose a certain fate for one's own life. Which narratives do we experience as most inheritable? Which do we deem mundane and which bear greater weight for identity? Some narratives also seem infused with a kind of narrative urgency, variously refraining from 'confessing' these family details for those who follow: institutionalized family members, adoption stories, stories of illicit webs of relation.

We are sometimes hyper conscious of family secrets that inspire us to craft and deposit a different type of narrative for the future. This generous orientation is evident in Goodall's work, as he wrestled to complete a narrative for his son. Wright's representation of an art installation that she published in the first volume of Family Methodology for Vitae Scholasticae (92) offers an example generative for thinking about refusals (93) and resistance to received inheritances as a form of interrupting and rescripting inheritance. As I have reflected on Wright's work, I think it is a remarkable, fully embodied encounter and representation of a feminist counter-inheritance to the script she was given. It offers an example of the range of expressions feminist in*her*itances might take. Wright created an installation from a series of physical rubbings of material components of her childhood home: chairs, a table, the stairs of the home, a bureau, a tub. Hers was a house of secrets. Her rubbings of charcoal on thin white paper capture the lines of the stairs, the tiles in the table, the grooves of the porcelain hair tub. The photographs of the artist as she worked show the physicality of her encounter with the building; she is hunched over, rubbing the paper, etching lines into it with charcoal. She describes the process as grueling embodied work, and the physical force of the rubbings and the physicality of her encounter in taking up this work--bending, stretching, complaining, rubbing wood grain and tile--acts in part as a refusal, a form of resistance, to accept the hauntings of the home.

There is a lurking aspect that also surfaces in my reading of her work that moves from resistance to creating what I see to be a feminist material inheritance through the artist's sensory engagement with the gendered material and intricate daily practices of the home. Wright refuses the inheritance of the home as given and works to fashion a new inheritance shaped by her own labor. She experiments with sticky substances of the domestic, including bacon fat, Jello, and cold cream. She experiments, labors, considers. Wright is not interested in narrative completion or unity; her work represents a feminist art practice of possibility and is aligned with feminist claims that homes are both personal and political, material and symbolic, nourishing and oppressive, enabling and limiting--and profoundly gendered. In refusing the inherited home as given, and in working in and on the home as a haunted material and symbolic site, the embodied rubbing practice leaves traces of the rubbing paper and the fibers of the home on the artist's body. In turn, her art practice as she stretches paper over objects also leaves flecks of the tracing paper and her skin cells embedded into the fibers of the home differently than in the past, imprinting and changing subtly its material structure. This dismantling and reconfiguration of the domestic materiality through art practice unleashes a profoundly feminist form of inheritance, as the artist refuses to narrate in scripted ways and mobilizes art as a method to inscribe new inheritances within a complex material site, its walls as the skin. (94)

The Incitement to "Ancestry:" Narrative Expansion and Feminist Resistance

Within two or three years, 90 percent of Americans of European descent will be identifiable from their DNA. (95)

The racial purist is the victim of a mythology. For what is 'racial inheritance'? We know roughly what heredity is from father to son. Within a family line the importance of heredity is tremendous. But heredity is an affair of family lines. Beyond that it is mythology. (96)

Recently, I have felt the urgency of, as well as resistance to, a new angle of family research--DNA genealogy--that has been unleashed through technological developments, advertisements, genealogical databases, and ancestry services that have fueled entire industries and subcultures focused on burrowing for ancestral lineages through genetic ties. (97) Commercials touting the value of ancestry databases are suffused with the pull of the myth of origin stories. For only a dab of spittle and a fee, we are invited to join the wave of people coming to know (98) their family heritage through the wonders of technological advancement. The seductive pull is palpable. Advertisements for ancestry services underscore the compelling opportunity and the value of becoming agents in crafting our own narrative inheritance. An ineffable but weighty concept in public discourse, DNA has become a site of imagination and commodification as people rush to package their bodily fluids and send them off to corporations to discover new family connections and adjust their origin stories. These developments nourish and expand family imaginaries, including the racial mapping of human relations, a phenomenon that should raise feminist concerns. As the wording in the epigraph to this section suggests, "Americans of European descent" will soon become "knowable" through their DNA.

This 'need to know' that fueled Goodall's work is woven through the enormous popularity of genealogy and genetic testing as an enterprise. It is a 'need' that fuels the industry of genetic testing (99) that awakens and concretizes familial, racial/ethnic, and place-based imaginaries about family origins. As the epigraph underscores, the 15 million people that have submitted bodily fluids for testing have created a substantial DNA database. Haraway recognized that origin stories are powerful narratives, enduring in contemporary scholarship and popular culture, driven by hunger to trace/create an inheritance that stretches into the past and across continents more robust than those narratives our immediate families can give us, if at all. In this sense, the potential of genetics to contribute to unfolding inheritances awaiting narration extends the pull of the origin story through diverse technologies into new frontiers of belonging. It becomes a commodity, marketed, sold, stored, both reflecting and fueling profound and understandable desires to expand one's inheritance in the pursuit of unity.

These industries' emotional pull and financial investments evoke webs of compelling and unsettling questions, and as the implications unfold, they offer new horizons for how our conceptions of narrative inheritances might expand in the future. As Zimmer articulates, the idea of heritage gives "us a chance at immortality." (100) Significantly, these industries have enabled important opportunities for people to forge new relationships with previously-unknown relatives that not only expand one's sense of family but expand relationships, new senses of identity, and in turn, new opportunities to narrate. To some, these possibilities offer enormous comfort. At the same time, ancestry is seductive and commodifiable and one's 'need to know' might bear a heavy price tag that is, at this stage, unknowable. As Creet details, this desire to expand one's sense of one's ancestral connections also renders people vulnerable to exploitation of the material from their very bodies. (101) We become subject to larger projects of racial mapping and origin stories, narratives that descend and take us up, whether we submit DNA or not. We cannot possibly conceptualize the implications of these developments at this historical moment. Our technological advancement outpaces our theoretical reflection. The questions that inspire these developments remain saturated with cultural ideas about family imaginaries, the lure and hauntings of origin stories, and the parameters of legitimacy. What might feminist narrative inheritance look like within these new developments?

The labor of wrestling with feminist inheritances is ongoing; as Ahmed writes, sweaty concepts require labor and invite disorientations. These inheritances include registers of affect, stories, and diverse silences. It is not just an object or entity that is bestowed, but a practice of gifting, citing, art making, delivering, revising, and resisting natural and unifying narrative scripts. Inheritances can be embodied, vibrating with sensory components and imagined connections across photographs, and they can be pressed into drawings and into fragile paper to create rubbings of an inherited family home. Significantly, inheritances can be chosen, imagined, refused, as well as commodified, and they can involve chosen companion texts, citation practices, and narratives of academic allegiances and affinities that push against prescribed norms of relation. As Christina Sharpe emphasizes in her potent essay in "The New Inquiry," the slave trade profoundly remade kinship relations in part to serve the "political project" of whiteness. She writes, "Rend the fabric of the kinship narrative. Imagine otherwise. Remake the world. Some of us have never had any other choice." (102) Sweaty feminist practices of in*her*itance must be expansive and resist unifying origin stories that map too tidily onto the notion of colonialist patriarchal lineage that have left many of us without a narrative inheritance that is intelligible in dominant accounts. But an in*her*itance, thankfully, nevertheless.


(1) Donna Haraway, "Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s," Socialist Review 80 (1985): 65-108; The reprint from which I am citing is published in Joel Weiss, Jason Nolan, Jeremy Hunsinger, and Peter Tifonas, eds., The International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments (Netherlands, Springer Press, 2006), 117-158.

(2) Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (New York: Routledge Press, 2017).

(3) Harry L. Bud Goodall, "Narrative Inheritance: A Nuclear Family with Toxic Secrets," Qualitative Inquiry 11, no. 4 (2005): 492-513.

(4) This essay includes points from earlier work that are the basis of ongoing interest in family methodology. See Lucy E. Bailey, "Necessary Betrayals," Vitae Scholasticae: The Journal of Educational Biography 26, no 1 (2009): 98-116; Lucy E. Bailey, "Epistolary Hauntings: Working 'with' and 'on' Family Letters," Education's Histories: Methodological Grist for the History of Education 3, no 1 (2016); Lucy E. Bailey, "Introduction: Methodological Entanglements in Family Research: Researching With, On, through and For Family," Vitae Scholasticae 34, no. 2 (2017): 3-12.

(5) Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life.

(6) Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 13.

(7) Sara Ahmed, "Sweaty Concepts,"

(8) Sara Ahmed, Willful Subjects (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

(9) Patti Lather uses the language "put to work" in a variety of places; Getting Smart: Feminist Research and Pedagogy with/in the Postmodern (New York: Routlcdge, 1991), 124.

(10) Ahmed refers to sticky concepts as saturated with affect; I use the term in this essay with this connotation. See Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life.

(11) Katherine Borland, "That's not what I said: Interpretative conflict in oral narrative research" in S. Berger Gluck and D. Patia (eds) Women's Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History (New York and London, Routledge, 1991), 63-75.

(12) Sara Childers, Jeung-eun Rhee, and Stephanie Daza, eds., Promiscuous Feminist Methodologies in Education: Engaging Research Beyond Gender (New York: Routledge, 2015).

(13) Thank you to Naomi Norquay for her camaraderie and collaboration on this essay.

(14) I am more interested in marking family methodology as a political place to pause and ponder than a concrete body of methodological practices. Family is such a multidimensional and powerful force that it demands continued scrutiny in research. This idea has expanded beyond my thoughts expressed in 2009, 2016, 2017.

(15) See Lucy Bailey and Naomi Norquay, Editors, "Family Methodology Volume 1", Vitae Scholasticae: The Journal of Educational Biography 34, no. 2 (2017).

(16) See Julia Creet, Director and Producer, "Data Mining the Deceased: Ancestry and the Business of Family" (HD 56 mins, 2016).

(17) Clare Hemmings, "Telling Feminist Stories," Feminist Theory 6, no. 2 (2005): 115-139, Quote page 118.

(18) Harry L. Bud Goodall, A Need to Know: The Clandestine History of a CIA family (Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek California, 2006), 23.

(19) Sarah Amira de la Garza, Robert Krizek, and Nick Trujillo, eds., Celebrating Bud: A Festschrift Honoring the Life and Work of H. L. 'Bud' Goodall Jr. (Tempe, AZ: Independent Publisher Innovative Inquiry, 2012).

(20) Goodall, Need to Know, 10.

(21) Harry L. Bud Goodall, "Writing Like a Guy in Textville: A Personal Reflection on Narrative Seduction," International Review of Qualitative Research 2, no. 1 (2009): 67.

(22) Goodall, Need to Know, 23.

(23) Walter R. Fisher, Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm: The Case of Public Moral Argument, Communication Monographs 51 (March 1984): 1-22; Goodall, "Narrative Inheritance"; Need to Know, 23.

(24) As a few examples: Melissa Wood Aleman, and Katherine W. Helfrich, "Inheriting the Narratives of Dementia: A Collaborative Tale of a Daughter and Mother," Journal of Family Communication 10, no. 1 (January, 2010): 7-23; Robert L. Ballard, "Narrative Burden: A Qualitative Investigation of Transnational, Transracial Adoptee Identity," Qualitative Communication Research 2, no. 3 (Fall, 2013): 229-254; Robert L. Ballard and Sarah J. Ballard, "From Narrative Inheritance to Narrative Momentum: Past, Present, and Future Stories in an International Adoptive Family," Journal of Family Communication 11, no. 2 (2011): 69-84; Madeline Burghardt, "He Was a Secret: Family Narratives and the Institutionalization of People with Intellectual Disabilities," Disability & Society 30, no. 7 (2015): 1071-1086; Prema Malhotra, "An Autoethnographic Journey of Intercountry Adoption," The Qualitative Report 18, no. 32 (2013): 1-13; Margaret McNay, "Absent Memory, Family Secrets, Narrative Inheritance," Qualitative Inquiry 15, no 7 (September 2009): 1178-1188; Henna Pirskanen, "Was Your Father a Problem Drinker? Challenges of Life Story Interviewing in Researching Adult Sons of Problem Drinking Fathers," Journal of Comparative Social Work, 4, no. 1. Retrieved from; Qualitative Inquiry 14, no. 7, (2008).

(25) e.g. Pirskanen, "Problem Drinker."

(26) e.g. McNay, "Absent Memory."

(27) See Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar Press, 2007).

(28) McNay, "Absent Memory."

(29) Tsianina Lomawaima, They Called it Prairie Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1994).

(30) As one example, Lucy Frith, Eric Blyth, Marilyn Crawhaw, and Olga Van den Akker, "Secrets and Disclosure in Donor Conception," Sociology of Health and Illness 40, no. 1 (2018): 188-203.

(31) Goodall, Need to Know, 23.

(32) Goodall, Need to Know, 24.

(33) I used Goodall's text in a biography class to engage with different ways of writing about the "auto" and the "bio" in methodology and educational history. See Bailey, 2015.

(34) Goodall, Need to Know, 115.

(35) Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life.

(36) Ballard, "Narrative Burden," 238.

(37) Barbara Stark, "When Genealogy Matters: Intercountry Adoption, International Human Rights, and Global Neoliberalism," Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 51 (2017), 175. Stark notes that "modern adoption is an American invention," quoting Barbara Melosh on page 165: "The emergence of modern adoption required a radically different understanding of family, one that overturned deeply held beliefs about blood and nurture, obligation and love, choice and chance. It was no accident that the United States was the crucible of this kind of adoption: in its repudiation of the past and its confidence in social engineering, adoption is quintessentially American." The original citation is in Barbara Melosh, Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 15.

(38) Ballard, "Narrative Burden," 235, emphasis added.

(39) Ballard, "Narrative Burden," 241, 247, and 245.

(40) Margaret McNay, "Absent Memory, Family Secrets, Narrative Inheritance," Qualitative Inquiry 15, no. 7 (2009): 1178-1188.

(41) Goodall, Need to Know, 26.

(42) McNay, "Absent Memory," 1181.

(43) McNay, "Absent Memory," 1181.

(44) McNay, "Absent Memory," 1182.

(45) Goodall, Need to Know, 23.

(46) McNay, "Absent Memory," 1186.

(47) Daniela Gachago, Lindsay Clowes and Janet Condy, "'Family Comes in All Forms, Blood or Not': Disrupting Dominant Narratives Around the Patriarchal Nuclear Family," Gender and Education 30, no. 8 (2018): 966-981.

(48) Burghardt, "He Was a Secret."

(49) Burghardt, "He Was a Secret," 1071.

(50) Burghardt, "He Was a Secret," 1072.

(51) Burghardt, "He Was a Secret," 1073.

(52) Burghardt, "He Was a Secret," 1072-1073.

(53) Burghardt, "He Was a Secret," 1078.

(54) Ballard, "Narrative Burden."

(55) Nancie Hudson, "When Family Narratives Conflict: An Autoethnography of my Mother's Secrets," Journal of Family Communication 15, no. 2 (2015): 113-129. Also see Sayman, this volume.

(56) See Ballard and Ballard, "From Narrative Inheritance to Narrative Momentum."

(57) Burghardt, "He Was a Secret."

(58) Pirskanen, "Problem Drinker," 9.

(59) Donna Haraway, "Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s." Socialist Review, 80 (1985): 65-108; Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (New York: Routledge, 1989); Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016).

(60) Haraway, Cyborg, reprinted in Weiss et. al, International Handbook, 118.

(61) Haraway, Cyborg, in Weiss, International Handbook, 118.

(62) Haraway, Cyborg, in Weiss, International Handbook, 123.

(63) Kalh Weston, Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship (New York: Columbia UP, 1997).

(64) Weston, Families We Choose, 4.

(65) Weston, Families We Choose, xiv.

(66) See David Schneider, A Critique of the Study of Kinship (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1984).

(67) Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought (New York: Routledge, 1990).

(68) Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 16.

(69) Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 15

(70) Hemmings, "Telling Feminist Stories."

(71) Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 15.

(72) Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 15-16.

(73) Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 16.

(74) F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925); Goodall describes his resistance to descriptions of masculinist writing in his essay, "Writing Like a Guy in Textville," 2009.

(75) Goodall, Need to Know, 11.

(76) Goodall, Need to Know, 16.

(77) Bob Batchelor, "The Enduring Influence of the Great Gatsby," The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 14 (2015): 121-126, quote, page 121.

(78) Batchelor, "Enduring Influence," 125.

(79) Batchelor, "Enduring Influence," 122.

(80) Jeffrey Louis Decker, "Gatsby's Pristine Dream: The Diminishment of the Self-Made Man in the Tribal Twenties," NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 28, no. 1 (Autumn, 1994): 52-71; Decker cites Trilling on page 54.

(81) Jeffrey Louis Decker, Gatsby's Pristine Dream: The Diminishment of the Self-Made Man in the Tribal Twenties." NOVEL: A forum on Fiction 28, 1 (Autumn, 1994), 52-71.

(82) Bert Bender, "'His Mind Aglow': The Biological Undercurrent in Fitzgerald's Gatsby and Other works" Journal of American Studies 32, no. 3 (1998): 399-420, quote on 400.

(83) Decker describes these nativist struggles.

(84) Bender, "Mind Aglow," 413.

(85) Bender, "Mind Aglow," 408-409.

(86) Carl Zimmer, She has her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity (New York: Dutton Press, 2018).

(87) Ellen Wright, "Running in the Family Body," Presentation at International Society of Educational Biography (St. Louis, IL 2010).

(88) Bailey, "Necessary Betrayals."

(89) See FamilySearch's recent on-line service, Compare-a-Face, to see which ancestors you might most resemble,

(90) Zimmer, Mother's Laugh.

(91) Bailey, "Necessary Betrayals."

(92) Ellen Wright, "Her Place and What Was Learned There: Rubbings of Inheritance, Narratives of Disinheritance," Vitae Scholasticae 34, no. 2 (2017): 43-61.

(93) Bailey, "Necessary Betrayals."

(94) Ellen Wright, Come to Your Senses, Remember Belongings: A Pedagogy of Making, Memory, and the Haptics of Home (Unpublished Dissertation, York University, 2019), 150 and 116.


(96) Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (New York, First Mariner Books, 1934), 15.

(97) Julia Creet, Director and Producer, "Data Mining the Deceased: Ancestry and the Business of Family" (HD 56 mins, 2016).

(98) Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 (New York: Random House, 1988).

(99) For example,;

(100) Zimmer, Mother's Laugh, 6; my emphasis.

(101) Greet, "Data Mining the Deceased".

(102) Christina Sharpe, "Lose Your Kin," The New Inquiry (November 16, 2016)

Lucy E. Bailey

Oklahoma State University
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Author:Bailey, Lucy E.
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Date:Sep 22, 2018
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