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Polyamory politics in Canada: Problems and possibilities

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Author: Poole, Lisa
As a non-normative relationship structure, polyamorous behaviour sparks considerable curiosity and commentary but polyamory as a social movement receives less attention. I address this lacuna by focusing on polyamory politics in Canada through the lens of sexual citizenship. I locate sexual citizenship within citizenship studies more broadly to consider the implications of seeking rights to recognition and inclusion within the context of monogamy as a normative institution tied to broader relations of inequality and processes of social control. I conclude with an assessment of the transformative potential of polyamory politics. This dissertation is based on 32 in-depth, qualitative interviews with polyamorous individuals, members of local polyamory groups, and the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association. I also analysed literature and documentation including court records and polyamory organizations' social media forums and websites. Polyamorous people are navigating tensions between the desire for inclusion and belonging with a desire for social-political change in three significantly different ways. First, there are polyamorous people who prioritize recognition and normalization via the cultural sphere by seeking acceptance and inclusion that is dependent on the exclusion of other "sexual deviants." I categorize these polyam folks – and the organizational initiatives they participate in – under the theme, "here we are." Second, some polyamorous people struggle to be "left alone" regarding the Canadian anti-polygamy law and this takes the form of fighting to be excluded from the scope of the law by differentiating polyamory from polygamy. The first two approaches are based in "respectability politics," represent an attempt to assimilate into dominant values and behaviour, fail to produce structural change, and risk reinforcing exclusions and subsuming diversity within polyamory. When it comes to marriage, rights, and "wanting in," however, I discovered that some polyamorous folks do not deeply desire these things. Instead, they advocate for the rights of all those who need them. This third approach is less likely to engage in discourses of respectability and identity politics, reaching instead toward a vision of universal rights, the deinstitutionalization of marriage, and expanded ideas of intimacy beyond monogamy. In other words, their politics hold transformational possibility.
265 pages.
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Thesis advisor: Travers
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