From Mono-Normative to Poly-Normative? Reflections on queer relational projects and (non-)monogamies


jump to the audio recordings and PowerPoints of the talks here

(II European Geographies of Sexualities Conference, Lisbon, September 5th – 7th)

Convened by: Daniel Cardoso (Media and Journalism Research Center, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences – New University of Lisbon; Lusophone University of Humanities and Technology)


Although the history of polyamory-as-identity is as recent as early 1990s (Cardoso, 2011), there is already considerable theoretical and activist impetus towards moving beyond it. Wilkinson (2010) gives a consistent critique of how non-monogamies have been meticulously appropriated into neo-liberalism, and Pepper Mint (2007) has argued that we should not necessarily conflate queer and polyamorous communities. And although mainstream media visibility of polyamory is growing, it is selective in what it portrays (Zanin, 2013). Furthermore, whilst there have been advancements in formal LGBT rights, polyamory is sometimes framed as being a hindrance to the process (Vale de Almeida, 2008). In this context polynormativity remains an ever-open possibility, where even vocal communities seem to be reticent to battle for formal legal changes (Aviram, 2008).

Responding to Barker and Langdridge’s (2010) call for “more attention to diversities of meanings and practices, […] and the troubling of dichotomous understandings”, this panel seeks to understand the varied geo-temporalities of mononormativity and polynormativity, and the ways in which these concepts interact with individualism, capitalism, feminism, queer theory, queer/LGBT activism, politics, law, and also personal accounts of discrimination and privilege.

As such, we invite empirical and/or theoretical papers that critically and contextually analyze the tensions and (re)productions of normativities as it pertains to (non-) monogamies. Interesting topics might be, but are not limited to:

-          (Non-)monogamies, normativity and LGBT activism;

-          Coupledom as (macro and micro-)social expectation

-          Media representations of (non-)monogamies

-          Queer politics and (non-)monogamies

-          Future projects for polyamory/consensual non-monogamies activism

-          Everyday life, (non-)monogamies and discrimination

-          Geo-historically contextualizing mono and poly normativities

-          (Romantic) Intimacies and normativity

-          Femininities, masculinities and (non-)monogamies

-          Neoliberal/capitalist appropriation: methods and resistance

-          ‘Race’ and non-western experiences of consensual (non-)monogamies



Compulsory Coupledom and Multiple Belongings: Minoritised Women Speak Back!

Ana Cristina Santos, Centre for Social Studies (CES) -University of Coimbra

Despite significant changes regarding intimacy and family life in Portugal in recent decades, the dominant culture has retained much of its former conservative features, pushing non-normative intimate biographies to a place of tension, resistance and ambivalence. One powerful example of the legacy of tradition is offered by the cultural expectations around coupledom in adult life, which remain strong and, to a large extent, unquestioned.

Drawing on material gathered in two different research projects, this paper is inspired by the voices of women across a range of diversities: disability, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, age group, formal education, social class, marital status. Despite many levels of belonging and difference, these women share a common legacy linked to the experience of being minoritised in the dominant context of (collectively imagined as white, able-bodied, heterosexual) Portuguese people.

The narratives of women in this paper also speak about facing dominant cultural expectations around coupledom at some point in their intimate biographical timeline. They highlight how coupledom is equated with standard relationality, at the same time that they capture both the discomfort and the possibilities for challenging and undoing the ‘couple norm’ (Roseneil et al 2013, forthcoming). In so doing, many of the topics and arguments that characterize the feminist critique of normativity/ies can be found in the discourses of these women.

Audio Recording

PowerPoint Presentation

My Spivak is bigger than yours: (Mis-)representations of polyamory in the Portuguese LGBT movement and mononormative rhetorics

Daniel Cardoso, Media and Journalism Research Center, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences – New University of Lisbon; Lusophone University of Humanities and Technology

Although alternative or subjugated sexual and intimate identities are sometimes viewed as part of a whole (just like the LGBT acronym makes clear), in fact there are multiple concurrent strategies and modes of social or political engagement at any given time. These strategies can sometimes involve what Spivak called “strategic essentialism” to unite different views around a given goal. But Spivak herself has of late sought to distance herself from how this strategic essentialism has been deployed and interpreted – in a way that promotes the active silencing and/or mis-representation of groups/identities that are not aligned with a given social or political goal or are framed as harmful to that goal.

In this presentation, I seek to contextualize the fight for the (already accomplished) legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Portugal within the wider frame of LGBT activism in this country (Cascais, 2006), and in the interplay of several differently positioned activists. Within this frame, I will analyze how the theoretical work of Miguel Vale de Almeida (2008), in seeking to legitimize the fight for same-sex marriage, seems to have engaged in identitary othering and misrepresentation vis-à-vis polyamory. Such misrepresentation is contingent to the non-fundamented confounding of polyamory and polygamy, along with the essentializing of gendered dynamics in intimate relationships, and the erasure of lesbian and gay ethical non-monogamous relationships. Thus, by deploying similar straw-men fallacies as those used by conservatives to fight against LGBT rights, polyamory is (apparently) successfully critiqued and shown to have to subsume or silence itself to the strategic essentialism required for passing legislation in favor of same-sex marriage.

The presentation concludes with a reflection of the (political) dangers of petitioning for silence of othered identities, and how such petitions are based on the same identitary violence and disciplining that LGBT movements have been trying to fight for decades; in alternative, the idea of “queer multitudes” (Preciado, 2004) is offered as an alternative where ethical activism can only be understood as activism that opens up the discursive space to more, rather than less, alternatives.

Audio Recording

PowerPoint Presentation


Bisexual polynormativity in post-socialist Hungarian life narratives

Katalin Turai, Gender Studies Department, Central European University

My presentation will show how bisexual polynormativity works in a post-socialist country, Hungary. Upon narrative interviews made with people who had parallel relationships with women and men, I will contextualize their related experiences and ideas. First, the fall of socialism in 1989 brought about a change in sexual opportunities and strategies: same-sex partnerships becoming more accessible meant an end to heterosexual relationships for many, including “down low” men. Yet, some interviewees reported maintaining heterosexual partnerships, often based on openness and honesty (even if the term “polyamory” is not widespread in Hungary). These changes are usually framed in a normative, developmental context between states of backwardness and democratic progress (see Watkins 2009).

Secondly, the increasing engagement in global capitalism allows homo- and bisexual polynormativity – and the reproduction of gender normativity as well, especially for young women in heterosexual settings (see Baer 2005). Consequently, my analysis will also touch upon how my interviewees conceptualize gender (others’ and their own) when they give account of the place men and women have in their lives. I argue that parallel relationships with women and men are often justified by a reference to them as belonging to “separate categories”. However, other factors than gender (age, intimacy) are also important for polynormative people, and many bisexually identified people reject non-monogamy. Illustrated by interview excerpts, my presentation will focus on how social discourses about gender and fidelity – prevalent in both global LGBT and current Hungarian politics – are reflected and contested in these narratives.

Audio Recording

Prezi Presentation

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Around consensual non-monogamies – assessing attitudes toward non-exclusive relationships and motivation to participate in them in four countries

Katarzyna Grunt-Mejer, University of Zielona Góra

Katarzyna Peichert, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona

Christine Campbell, St Mary's University College

Antón Castellanos Usigli, World Association of Sexual Health

Polyamory, swinging and other forms of sexually or emotionally open relationships attract increasing interest in the world, both scientifically and in popular representations. Despite it we still lack research about cultural differences regarding the topic. Our study was conducted to fill this gap with a special attention to cultural, historical, religious and political differences, potentially influencing people's interests in the range of non-monogamous forms. Four countries participated in the research: Poland, the United Kingdom, Spain and Mexico. In order to obtain comparable results, studied groups were similar in terms of age and educational background. Three areas were explored: knowledge about concepts of responsible non-monogamy, attitudes toward it (i.e. negative or positive mental associations with described lifestyles: polyamory, swinging and other forms of sexually open relationships) and willingness to participate in them. Both inter- and intracultural differences and correlates among different attitudes, knowledge and intentions to participate in CNM are discussed.

Audio Recording

PowerPoint Presentation

This is a post-presentation version of the PowerPoint, already corrected in regards to what can be heard in the audio recording of the presentation.