Anthropology of kinship


Anthropology of kinship

Kinship refers to relations between individuals who are in relationships either by descent or marriage (and in some occasions fictive kinship).A field that is now ignored by researchers and scholars, despite it's use for areas like gender studies.

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Software for kinship relationships 5 Replies

Hi all, I am doing some work on historical documents and I am looking around for an appropriate application to create a genealogical database. I have looked at the Ingres database, which looks…Continue

Started by Aris Anagnostopoulos. Last reply by Alejandro Reig May 25, 2011.

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Comment by Alice C. Linsley on November 18, 2009 at 1:31am
Miruna, Thanks for starting this group. Kinship is an exciting field of anthropology and I'm looking forward to some interesting discussions here. Best wishes to you.
Comment by Keith Hart on November 21, 2009 at 8:17pm
I was trained at Cambridge by some of the greatest specialists in kinship that the world has seen. I have since become an economic anthropologist, but I never lost sight of the centrality of kinship in economy. If coping with the world at large requires each of us to be highly self-reliant, we enter it as members of households and base our most intimate and long-term strategies for life on them. Meyer Fortes, who more than any anthropologist insisted on this fact, preferred to talk about the ‘development cycle of domestic groups’ (Goody 1958) rather than households or families. But the idea that social structures are reproduced through ordinary human outcomes of birth, copulation and death reinforces a focus on the ‘householding’ dimension of economic order.
Comment by Miruna Rolea on November 21, 2009 at 8:53pm
In my country the area of kinship is undeveloped. It is so underdeveloped that there is only one professor who actually teaches this. So it's useless to say the limited access to resources.
But someone has to start somehwere at one moment, i believe.
Also I have been told by many people (more or less Romanian) that kinship is a dead subject and it will get my nowhere. My opinion is a bit different from theirs, but still I would like to know what you feel about this.
Comment by Keith Hart on November 21, 2009 at 9:03pm
Kinship is still vital to understanding society, but it is often called something else, like gender, ethnicity, identity, social mobility. Concern with the "disappeared" in Argentina, Cyprus, Vietnam or Ruanda is one example of how the political consequences of kinship resurface in forms that the traditional study of kinship might have missed. Romanian mothers who leave their children behind in order to look after Italian grandmothers abandoned by their own families and the 'third sector' of voluntary help, offer a vivid example of how kinship is becoming international. This is not to dismiss the traditional specialisms of the anthropology of kinship, but just to suggest that they have to be connected to contemporary social realities in order to live again.
Comment by Alice C. Linsley on November 21, 2009 at 11:16pm
I'm interesting in identifying kinship patterns among the rulers listed in Genesis. Here we find a unqiue pattern, rather like a social signature. Once the pattern is identified, I look for where in the world today this pattern might still be observed. It is interesting also how resistant to change kinship pattern can be.
Comment by Jacob Lee on November 23, 2009 at 2:17am
Kinship is not dead. I'll repeat it as many times as is necessary. I'll respectfully disagree with Keith Hart here, and assert that kinship in itself is an interesting and open problem for study.

I think it is unfortunate that so many anthropologists dismiss formal and cognitive analyses of kinship as if the old problems of kinship have just gone away or have been solved.
Comment by Alice C. Linsley on November 23, 2009 at 2:25pm
Formal kinship analysis does indeed have an important place in cultural anthropology. It certainly is NOT dead, although it can be used to do gender and identity studies, as Keith says. However, the real payoff comes when we can connect people groups that have common ancestors yet are now geographically separated. When oral tradition and kinship patterns align we have an indication that seemingly unrelated peoples have a common origin. I think of the Inadan of Niger. Their chiefs have a marriage pattern like that found among the rulers of Abraham's people. When asked about their connections to biblical people, the Inadan claim to be related to the House of David. We might dismiss this claim or ignore it, but the parallels between the marriage pattern of Inadan chiefs and that of the rulers of Abraham's people nudges us to investigate further.
Comment by Keith Hart on November 23, 2009 at 2:50pm
My point was not to rule out formal kinship analysis, but to reconnect to what made it originally exciting before it became a way of asserting professional authority. Human life is in its nature highly unstable and the arrangements we make for living together likewise. But Morgan found that kin terms changed very slowly, if at all. A focus on terminology thus became a way of identifying features of a society that somehow persisted through the turmoil of human lives. Meyer Fortes, in his Morgan lectures (1969), Kinship and the Social Order, pushed this connection further than anyone. I don't doubt that anthropologists still get interesting results from formal kinship analysis, but the claim that kinship is dead refers to a kind of sterile detachment from anything that matters in contemporary society. In order to reconnect a new generation of students and researchers to the importance of kinship for anthropology, we need to show that many of the things that interest us are in fact kinship by another name. It's a pedagogical point really, not a way of selling kinship to people who have already found its professional value.
Comment by Sabina Rossignoli on November 23, 2009 at 11:05pm
I agree with Keith in that kinship still represents a considerable topic for anthropologists but under alternative forms. Certainly classical approaches to kinship have often frightened me at uni for their complexity. Kinship often appears as an important dimension of anthropological analysis in texts that don't necessarily follow the conceptual framework of classical kinship theory. Hutchinson has worked among Evans-Pritchard's Nuer during the ethnic conflicts taking place in the 1980s. She has shown how kinship and more generally gender relations have changed since EP's time as a consequence of ongoing ethnic violence. A completely different approach from EP's analysis of patrilineal descent, and it shows well how the conceptualisation of kinship has changed within the discipline. In his fantastic book on crack dealers in New York, Philippe Bourgois has analysed how kinship structures have been negotiated among first generation Puerto Ricans in East Harlem. Notions of pride and masculinity associated with endemic unemployment have, according to Bourgois, led to the often tragic redefinition of household economies.
Comment by Miruna Rolea on November 24, 2009 at 1:50pm
Thank you so much for your comments. I do not believe either that kinship is an old-fashioned subject (because this was actually my problem), and also I do not think that kinship can stand alone, isolated from other areas.
My thesis focuses on marriage alliances and marriage transactions in North India. (these two go hand in hand). The subject can be integrated in economical anthropology as well, but it is useless without kinship analysis. Because, for example, what matters first here is the family background when chosing a partner for one's child (I am talking about arranged marriages, which are the norm).
Also in all the literature I've read, people focus on the consequences/causes of the dowry in India, not on the dowry process itself. And I came to realize that term "dowry" describes only a small part of what is actually happening there. Because it is inclusive and exclusive at the same time. What is actually happening is by far more complex than what can be described through "dowry".


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