Dylan Spencer-Davidson: Every Touch is a Modified Blow: Questioning Contemporary Tools for Mapping Intimate Relations


Thesis Advisor: Ghalya Saadawi 

June 2022


This thesis originated in an interest in how we are navigating and discussing consent and boundary-setting within queer, polyamorous, kinky communities and discourses around therapy, care, community, harm and abuse. Then an underlying question came into focus, about the often nebulous concept of the boundary itself, and how this concept is a map/technology that is shaping the territory of intimate relations and sexuality.

The essay focuses on three specific practices that have emerged central to the discourse in recent years: “setting boundaries,” consent, and the construction of non-normative relationship contracts. All three involve applying ordering systems to relationships. All three call for new modes of relationality, vulnerability and interdependence. What is at stake when we engage in these practices is a politics of kinship, or to put it simply: how to be together. I consider them technologies in the Heideggerian sense, and as such they enframe the world and risk obscuring it. As tools for intimate relations they have repercussions for questions concerning governmentality and community. They also involve inherited assumptions about risk, security and order that require investigation. The essay asks whether these technologies might be reinforcing legalistic, paranoid and actuarial (risk-calculating) ways of thinking. Although many of these tools are being used for anti-normative, harm-preventative purposes, are they perpetuating ideas about control, rights, the rule of law inherited from the early days of liberalism, or can they be used to open out onto what might lie beyond?