ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

Ordinary crisis: kinship and other relations of conflict
Location Room 3
Date and Start Time 14 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 2


  • Koreen Reece (University of Edinburgh) email

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Short Abstract

Can crisis and conflict create or sustain social relations? This panel explores the analytic and ethnographic potential of conflict and crisis in tracing theoretical symbioses between kinship, politics, economy, and religion; and the ethical implications of our entanglements in intimacies of crisis.

Long Abstract

In the discursive proliferation of crisis - political, public health, economic, environmental, religious, personal, or otherwise - the most urgent crises are often framed in terms of their adverse effects upon, or (worse) origination in, the ideally-harmonious home. And yet our expectations of family stability are often closely linked to shared experiences of negotiating misunderstanding, conflict, and crisis with kin.

In what ways might conflict or crisis create and sustain social relations, rather than simply disrupt them? Can the ordinary crises of kinship provide perspective on larger socio-political crises, and vice versa? How do discourses around the nature of crisis shape intervention in the family on the part of the state, the church, the corporation, or the humanitarian organisation - and the family's responses? And finally, what are the methodological and ethical implications of anthropologists' entanglements in the intimacies of crisis, whether in families, organisations, or the lives of informants?

Drawing on McKinnon and Cannell (2013), this panel seeks to examine the enduring and yet obscured symbioses of kinship with political, economic, and religious relations - in both their ethnographic and theorised forms. We invite papers that explore these interdependencies specifically through the lens of crisis and conflict, understood as dynamics that may be intrinsic to and constitutive of social relations.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Re-imagining "ethnic" coups in Fiji: problematising narratives of rupture

Author: Jas Kaur (SOAS)  email

Short Abstract

Against the supposed ontological quality of ethnic conflict in Fiji, I compare live (often auto-) ethnography and informant memories of the past "ethnic" coups to argue that crisis, rather than peace, creates conditions for the constitution of positive and not simply disruptive social relations.

Long Abstract

In 1987and 2000, Fiji experienced so-called "ethnic" coups. This led to talk of Fiji's culture of coups. Before leaving for fieldwork in 2002, I imagined myself researching in the shadow of a presumed ontological ethnic conflict between the country's Fijians and Indo-Fijians. Entangled in life in Suva, the capital city, my research opened up two ethnographic windows on to the intimacies of crisis in Fiji: on one hand, my presence and embodiment as a presumed Indo-Fijian seemed indexical of the subtleties of ethnic conflict; on the other hand, listening to my informants talk of the 1987 and 2000 coups I became aware of how crisis dynamises social relations in ways that might otherwise remain unexplored, unimagined, unperformed and therefore ethnographically absent. In this paper, I use the collusion and collision of different ethnographic presents in my research, bringing together informant memories of the 1987 and 2000 coups in Fiji alongside my own live and partly auto-ethnography, to re-imagine the epistemologies of conflict that animate academic analysis as well as national politics in Fiji. It has become fashionable to speak of crisis and violence in terms of rupture, fear, loss and phenomenological reorientation of the worst kind. I argue in this paper that socio-political conflicts manifesting as (ethnic) coups create intimacies of crisis in which narratives of conflict give way to spaces of social action, and that it is when conflict transforms from discourse to performance that the dynamics of positive social relations emerge most fully.

The Ordinary Crisis of Kinship in Botswana's Time of AIDS

Author: Koreen Reece (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the ‘crisis of care’ provoked by Botswana’s AIDS epidemic. It argues that crisis is in fact constitutive of kinship, and that families are uniquely well-placed to absorb the effects of AIDS; but that government and NGO intervention in families disrupts this adaptive capacity.

Long Abstract

Botswana struggles with one of the world's worst AIDS epidemics, frequently cast as a 'crisis of care', an 'orphan crisis', an economic crisis, and even a threat to national survival. Catastrophic family breakdown is taken as both cause and effect of these crises. In response, government and non-governmental organisations have prioritised substantial interventionist programming in families; yet rates of infection remain unchanged, and programmes are beset by frustration and failure.

This paper argues that conflict, crisis and its irresolution are in fact constitutive dynamics of kinship for the Tswana. It shows that the crises generated by AIDS map closely on to these ordinary crises of kinship - suggesting that families are especially well-equipped to cope with the problems posed by the epidemic. Finally, it argues that agencies seeking to alleviate the effects of AIDS often assume very different attitudes towards the dynamics of conflict in kinship, thereby creating new crises of their own - and threatening to refigure kinship practice in a much more enduring, problematic way than the epidemic itself.

Politics of parenting in the socio-economic crisis of Detroit

Author: Francesca Nicola (Università Milano Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

Through an ethnographic case study, my paper shows how in crisis contexts such as Detroit, the privatization of the public school system, presented as a natural consequence of the economic emergency, is depoliticized by framing parents as the key factor of chidren's success in school.

Long Abstract

With a long-term debt of more than eighteen billion dollars, Detroit is the largest american city to have ever declared its bankruptcy. Its economic collapse led to what Agamben (2005) defined a "state of exception", where questions of citizenship and individual rights are diminished, superseded and rejected in the process of claiming an extension of power by the government.

Following the everyday life of Teresa and her son Cisco between September 2011 and December 2013, I focus on the educational reforms implemented in Detroit, stressing both their rhetoric and their consequences. Crafted on the school reforms tested in New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane, the educational model applied in Detroit relies on the privatization of public schools. Through the story of Cisco, diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) at the age of 8, I highlight some of the negative consequences of this "charter school model", especially of parents of children with "special needs". These children, unwelcome to charter schools, are put in the increasingly crowded classrooms of the public school system with less access to the services they would need. Using a paternalistic language, these reforms remove their long-term results from the public debate framing the academic achievements of Detroit's students in moral terms as a matter of parental involvement. The "intensive parenting" they advocate for can thus be seen as an ideology (in its marxist meaning) that conceals the contradictions between the appearance and essence of society, serving the economic interests behind the privatization of schools.

Weakening and strengthening in Neoliberal Kinship: Ethnographic Reflections from a North Italian Urban Case

Authors: Paola Sacchi (University of Turin)  email
Pier Paolo Viazzo (Università di Torino)  email
Javier Gonzalez Diez (University of Turin)  email
Carlo Capello (University of Turin)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores kinship networks unsettled by economic crisis in Mirafiori, a working-class area in Turin (Italy) affected by post-Fordist transformations. Our hypothesis is that the strengthening and weakening of kinship ties are dialectically divergent tendencies of a new “neoliberal kinship”.

Long Abstract

One major issue in the anthropological and sociological discourse today concerns the effects the long transition to Post-Fordism exerts on the social life of working and middle classes. The main effect is a growth of real and perceived insecurity with many consequences on social and kinship networks. In Italy this has been made painfully evident by the current economic crisis, all the more so since the so-called Second Demographic Transition is entailing a passage from ascribed kinship roles to more negotiated and "flexible" but still ill-defined forms of relatedness.

Our hypothesis is that a dialectic between two divergent tendencies is at work. On the one side, the feeling of insecurity strengthens family and kinship ties as sources of moral and practical help. On the other, such unsettling effects of the crisis as unemployment or the reduction of public welfare entitlements put these same ties under stress and enhance the risks of dissolution.

Within the Southern European context, characterized by a familistic welfare state and by a culture of strong family ties, Mirafiori - the working-class area in Turin grown besides the greatest Fordist factory in Europe, now largely dismantled - provides a good case-study. This area, so deeply affected by post-Fordist transformations, is the perfect field to observe the dialectic of strengthening and weakening of social and kinship ties.

In this paper we propose to present the first results of an ethnographic investigation we are conducting there, with the aim of understanding the configuration of this new "neoliberal kinship".

A Glorious Future

Author: Mette My Madsen (UCPH)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I explore the correlation between strategy, time and social relations amongst a group of well off Japanese people in Tokyo. My aim is to show how personal life crisis can create unexpected social relations and networks that allow for alternative forms of strategies.

Long Abstract

In this paper I explore the correlation between strategy, time and social relations amongst a group of Japanese people in Tokyo. My aim is to show how personal life crisis can create unexpected social relations and networks that allow for alternative forms of strategies.

The people concerning are defined as a group by being around 30 years old, having academic or otherwise extensive educations, well paid jobs, and coming from financially and socially good families and in that way well off. However they all suffered from a specific form of personal life crisis: they did not want the kind of lives that they felt their family, education, social level and general socio-political expectations of society had put them in.

In this paper I show how they acted to simultaneously satisfy the expectations of their families, keeping good relations, and break with these expectations pursuing their own ideas of a glorious future. These ways of acting I call non-linear strategies.

I analyse episodes of my informants' everyday lives to show how they transformed them from part of a stable, upwards path in society into being unpredictable. In this paper I especially focus on how they shattered directionality by creating their social networks as terrains of misunderstandings.

My point is that through creating these specific kinds of social relations could they perform the non-linear strategy needed to pursue their own ideas of life and keeping good relations with their families and society at large.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Pentecostal movements and reconfiguration of social relationships in favelas (Brazil).

Author: Laura Petracchi (Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

The aim of my paper is to analyze the relation between the Pentecostal understanding of kinship and the reconfiguration of social, political and economic network in some favelas of the city of Rio de Janeiro. The work explores this relationship through the lens of subjectivity and violence.

Long Abstract

The present speech illustrates how the Pentecostal understanding of kinship helps us to reflect upon the ways in which subjects experience everyday crisis and disorders in a context of endless violence and insecurity. The presentation is based on my two-years ethnographic research carried out in some favelas of the city of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) between 2013 and 2014.

The paper analyzes how discourses on kinship and family produced by the emergent Pentecostal Brazilian Churches influence the way in which people try to create new senses to their own lives. Through the narration of some stories of conversion, the paper explores when and how these discourses are practiced and enable new kind of social, political and economic networks and conflicts.

The believers of each Pentecostal Church, by calling themselves as brothers and sisters and spending almost all their free time together, create a new model of "sacred family" and draw new meanings to reformulate almost all their relationships. Social and domestic networks which are often made vulnerable and changeable by a continuum of violence and social suffering.

The aim of the paper is thus to explore how the Pentecostal discourse on kinship is used by subjects to struggle, even if temporary, with the possibilities and the risks of the everyday life.

Finally, the presentation aspires to dialogue with the anthropological literature focused on subjectivity as framing-device for exploring the most intimate form of everyday life in relation to political and social processes.

Mediating conflict, mediating love: navigating hierarchy in kinship and religion

Author: Diego Maria Malara (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores notions of hierarchy amongst Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. It suggests that conflict resolution must understood in the context of asymmetrical understanding of love and mediation exemplified by relationships with saints and people as well as between parents and children.

Long Abstract

This paper offers a critical exploration of notions of hierarchy amongst Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in Addis Abeba. It attempts to map different dynamics of conflict resolution set in motion by various types of conflicts arising within families characterized by deeply hierarchical social arrangements. It will be suggested that tactics of conflict resolution must be understood in the context of asymmetrical understanding of love and mediation exemplified by relationships with saints and people as well as between parents and children.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.