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Everybody’s Family Romance

Reading Incest in Neoliberal America

2009
Author:

Gillian Harkins

Everybody’s Family Romance

Posits the late twentieth-century increase in incest literature against political and economic changes of the era

Gillian Harkins places the proliferation of incest literature at the center of transformations in the political and economic climate of the late twentieth century. In contrast to recent claims that incest narratives eclipse broader frameworks of political and economic power, Harkins argues that their emergence exposes changing structural relations between the family and the nation and, in doing so, transforms the analyses of American familial sexual violence.

Everybody’s Family Romance is an ambitious work that subtly and intelligently unpicks how debates over incest and child sexual abuse have been reconfigured over the past few decades. A marvelous achievement.

Vikki Bell, Goldsmiths, University of London

In the 1990s, a boom in autobiographical novels and memoirs about incest emerged, making incest one of the hottest topics to connect daytime TV talk shows, the self-help industry, and the literary publishing circuit. In Everybody’s Family Romance, Gillian Harkins places this proliferation of incest literature at the center of transformations in the political and economic climate of the late twentieth century.

Harkins’s interdisciplinary approach reveals how women’s narratives about incest were co-opted by—and yet retained resistant strains against—the cultural logics of the neoliberal state. Across chapters examining legal cases on recovered memory, popular journalism, and novels and memoirs by Dorothy Allison, Carolivia Herron, Kathryn Harrison, and Sapphire, Harkins demonstrates that incest narratives look backward into the past. In these accounts, images of incest forge links between U.S. chattel slavery and the distributive impasses of the welfare state and between decades-distant childhoods and emergent memories of the present.

In contrast to recent claims that incest narratives eclipse broader frameworks of political and economic power, Harkins argues that their emergence exposes changing structural relations between the family and the nation and, in doing so, transforms the analyses of American familial sexual violence.

Everybody’s Family Romance

Gillian Harkins is associate professor of English at the University of Washington, where she is a member of the graduate faculty in critical theory in comparative literature as well as adjunct assistant professor in women’s studies.

Everybody’s Family Romance

Everybody’s Family Romance is an ambitious work that subtly and intelligently unpicks how debates over incest and child sexual abuse have been reconfigured over the past few decades. A marvelous achievement.

Vikki Bell, Goldsmiths, University of London

Everybody’s Family Romance attempts to brush the more mainstream incest discourse of the 1990s against the grain, the better to locate and release its radical potential and situate it as a backdrop for... grassroots efforts.

Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature

Everybody’s Family Romance is a rich and useful text that has plenty to offer for students and scholars across multiple disciplines. Her ambitious undertaking and careful research paves a way for understanding how moralizing sexual freedom, even when feminists are behind the moralization, may do more harm than good.

Journal of International Women’s Studies

Everybody’s Family Romance is a signal achievement, one with which feminist and queer theory, trauma studies, and Marxism will long need to reckon.

Modern Language Quarterly

Engages discussion, through its specific sites of interrogation, about social movement work on violence in a neoliberal context of politics, economics, and culture; how it is limited or co-opted; and where it is able to recuperate and sustain commitments to justice.

WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly