Poly Economics—Capitalism, Class, and Polyamory

Abstract

Academic research and popular writing on nonmonogamy and polyamory has so far paid insufficient attention to class divisions and questions of political economy. This is striking since research indicates the significance of class and race privilege within many polyamorous communities. This structure of privilege is mirrored in the exclusivist construction of these communities. The article aims to fill the gap created by the silence on class by suggesting a research agenda which is attentive to class and socioeconomic inequality. The paper addresses relevant research questions in the areas of intimacy and care, household formation, and spaces and institutions and advances an intersectional perspective which incorporates class as nondispensable core category. The author suggests that critical research in the field can stimulate critical self-reflexive practice on the level of community relations and activism. He further points to the critical relevance of Marxist and Postmarxist theories as important resources for the study of polyamory and calls for the study of the contradictions within poly culture from a materialist point of view.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Christian polygynists in the USA and Canada usually distinguish their agenda from that of polyamory communities. The latter, too, tend to emphasise differences between the approaches (Stacey and Meadow 2009). However, in comments to the debate on legal marriage reform, conservative journalists have frequently conflated the concepts. The most common argument is that the legislation of same-sex marriage will lead—in a slippery slope—to the cultural acceptance of multiple marriage of both polyamorous and polygynous kinds. If same-sex marriage has not yet done it already, this will finally undermine the traditional values of marriage (see, for example, Kurtz 2005; for a similar argument in a different context, see Duncan 2010). In many cases, these arguments are presented with an explicitly racist slant, conjuring up the spectre of hyperpatriarchal Muslim polygyny at the heart of a nation defined as Christian (Denike 2010; Rambukkana 2013).

  2. 2.

    The term lesbigay is used for example by Carrington (1999) and Sheff (2011).

  3. 3.

    BDSM stands for Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission and Sadomasochism.

  4. 4.

    These are the degree categories used in Weber’s (2002) survey.

  5. 5.

    Hall suggests that race and class need to be examined in their interconnections, but rightly assumes the relative autonomy of each division: “combined and uneven relations between class and race are historically more pertinent than their simple correspondence” (1980, p. 339). Yet he insists that race is the “modality in which class is ‘lived,’ the medium through which class relations are experienced, the form in which it is appropriated and ‘fought through’” (p. 342).

  6. 6.

    Some media articles talk of 17 children, however, the judge referred to 18 in court (Philpott jailed for life 2013).

  7. 7.

    This does not mean to argue that domestic violence does not take place in poly relationships and families. Yet it highlights that the problem in the Philpott case was domestic violence and not polygamy or polyamory.

  8. 8.

    On a deeper level, envy and contempt may—paradoxically—also meet. A good example is the role of straight envy in the culture of homophobia. Bronski (1999) argues that gay men are frequently hated not only because they are allegedly immoral and perverted, but also because they are believed to have a lot of pleasure and unrestrained sex.

  9. 9.

    Neoliberal urban regeneration has gone hand in hand with processes of desexualisation in some settings (such as, for example, gentrification programmes in New York throughout the 1990s), but not in others (such as, for example, development in the London Vauxhall area in the new millennium), where capital has provided for a strongly commercialised club-based public sex culture (see Andersson 2011; Warner 1999).

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Chiara Addis, Jon Binnie, and Susie Jacobs, who have given me important feedback and stimulating ideas after reading previous drafts of this article.

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Correspondence to Christian Klesse.

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Klesse, C. Poly Economics—Capitalism, Class, and Polyamory. Int J Polit Cult Soc 27, 203–220 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-013-9157-4

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Keywords

  • Polyamory
  • Nonmonogamy
  • Intimacy
  • Households
  • Class
  • Capitalism