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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Bartkowski's Public Lecture

Date: 17 March 2009

Time: 5.30pm

Venue: Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College

Title: In Praise of Mixing

This talk will take up the questions surrounding contemporary ideas of kinship. How in times of constantly expanding knowledge from the biological sciences, neurosciences, and genetics do we continue to determine in our daily lives those whom we invest with intimacy? Who counts as our kin? What are the forms of care to which we commit ourselves? What about our relations with our pets, or companion animals, as some suggest we call them?

The history of human cultures is founded on mixing: we are enjoined to go forth and multiply. To do so we must encounter difference-the tribe must increase. Why is it that this same injunction leads some to patrol the borders of difference with a kind of vigilance that may lead to forms of discipline and punishment as severe as death when the differences courted exceed unstated boundaries?

When our new American president gave his first press conference full of promises to deal with our currently depressing global conditions, a last question was posed by a reporter about what kind of dog the first family would be choosing. Obama's reply gave me much to contemplate as he said: the family favored a shelter or rescued dog, but his daughter's allergies would require certain breeds of dogs. Shelter dogs, he said, tend to be "mutts like me," directly addressing his mixed race identity.

It is the history of our mixing with others and the powerful potions of difference that surround us today that I want to address in this talk about the many borderlines crossed by current conditions of kinship, intimacy, proximity.

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