All in the Family

On Community and Incommensurability

All in the Family

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: Published: June 2012

Author: Kennan Ferguson

Cultural Studies, Politics > Political Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

Western political philosophers since Plato have used the family as a model for harmonious political and social relations. Yet, far from being an uncontentious domain for shared interests and common values, the family is often the scene of intense interpersonal conflict and disagreement. In All in the Family, the political theorist Kennan Ferguson reconsiders the family, in its varied forms, as an exemplar of democratic politics and suggests how real rather than idealized family dynamics can help us to better understand and navigate political conflict.

By closely observing the attachments that arise in families despite profound disagreements and incommensurabilities, Ferguson argues, we can imagine a political engagement that accommodates radical differences without sacrificing community. After examining how the concept of the family has been deployed and misused in political philosophy, Ferguson turns to the ways in which families actually operate: the macropolitical significance of family coping strategies such as silence and the impact that disability and caregiving have on conceptions of spatiality, sameness, and disparity. He also considers the emotional attachment between humans and their pets as an acknowledgment that compassion and community can exist even under conditions of profound difference.


“Ferguson sets out to provide a new conceptual framework for community, and he does do that very well. Ferguson's contribution lies in his conceptual analysis of what a community is, and in this regard his book serves as a contribution to social and political philosophy.” — Karin Brown, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

“Among the many strengths of this book, the greatest might be the way Ferguson uses the perspective of family life to pull together and explore an uncommon variety of ideas about politics and community… But it is to Ferguson’s immense credit as a thinker and writer that he allows his argument to range across such a breadth of ideas within social and political theory without ever leaving the reader confused or disoriented.” — Brian Duff, Theory & Event

"Are you tired of shopworn stories about the interdependence of family and politics? With their suspect notions of organic harmony, typically joined to attacks on the plural families of today? Well, then, this is the book for you. Kennan Ferguson addresses the variable intensities, blunted communications across fissures, silences, multiple disabilities, and negotiations across these lines that constitute family life. Now, he says, we are in a position to think about the complexities of family life and politics together, allowing each to illuminate the other. An impressive achievement!" — William E. Connolly, author of A World of Becoming

"When political theorists want to show us what community, authority, and other elusive political goods look like, they often have recourse to examples drawn from family life. Yet as Kennan Ferguson argues, the family relationships imagined by political theorists are too good to be true: real families are riven by conflict, mistrust, and opaqueness, just as political communities are. With an eye for illuminating details, an uncommonly creative theoretical imagination, and a gift for cutting to the heart of a political issue, Ferguson shows us how political theory could profit from attending to the aspects of family life that have been obscured in the rush to make the family signify an extraordinary communal solidarity. All in the Family is an outstanding contribution to contemporary political thinking." — Patchen Markell, author of Bound by Recognition


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kennan Ferguson is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and the author of William James: Politics in the Pluriverse and The Politics of Judgment: Aesthetics, Identity, and Political Theory.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

1. Familial Intensities 1

2. The Functioning Family 13

3. Communities against Politics 33

4. Silence: A Politics 63

5. I [Heart] My Dog 83

6. The Spaces of Disability 107

7. Familiar Languages 125

Notes 153

Bibliography 179

Index 193
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5190-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5176-4
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