ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

Ambiguous, ambivalent, and contingent kinship: the generative slipperiness of relations and 'being together'
Location Room 4
Date and Start Time 16 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 2


  • Bethany Honeysett (University of Edinburgh) email
  • Siobhan Magee (University of Edinburgh) email

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Short Abstract

We probe slippery kin relations as instances of co-existence with the potential for risk, commensality and mutuality within the contingent circumstances of social change. We ask what is generative about ambivalent, ambiguous, multigenerational and gendered ideas, practices and configurations of kin.

Long Abstract

The relentless contingency of relations both enlivens and threatens anthropological projects. Studying relations makes anthropologists sensitive to the 'relations between relations': those slippery ambiguities where the terms of newness-oldness and oneness-otherness are continuously renegotiated through processes of birth and death, growing-up and aging. Within families, households, kin-networks, and indeed, within and between academic disciplines, relations compete with and complement one another, at times placing each other 'at risk'. Yet risk and contingency are often the essence of lived kinship and engender new and emergent decisions, experimentations and solutions. This panel asks: what is generative about ambivalent and ambiguous ideas of kin? And what role do slippery multigenerational or gendered configurations play in the reproductive, productive, consumptive and radical intersections of kin? How, for example, might relations provide succour in times of precarity, shifting living arrangements, responsibilities, and lifecourse liminality, while becoming particularly tense as a result of these? We invoke ethnography on kin practices as an anthropological resource to help us understand symbiotic relations, extending methodologically from the commensality of the shared meal and the mutualisms of kinship negotiations. The generative terms of futurity are up for grabs within contingent relations such as these so how are decisions made in the presence of those who will bear their consequences? Moreover, how might ambivalent, ambiguous and slippery kinships produce togetherness and generative futures?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Children of Gods: candomblé kinship relations in action

Author: Hannah Lesshafft (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines kinship relations between Candomblé followers and gods (orixás). Within the socio-historical Brazilian context, these relationships are established through ritual, social and bodily action. They blur distinctions between profane and divine, past and present, and self and other.

Long Abstract

When kinship terms are applied to relationships that are not legitimized by blood or law, they are often addressed as metaphorical or symbolic. But are they necessarily less 'real' than other family relations? In the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé kin relations with gods (orixás) are essential for the construction of the self and the religious group. These relations are defined in the oracle and are strengthened through rituals, shared food, and recognition of common personality traits.

This paper argues that the identification with the orixás goes beyond a symbolic bond. By relating to their orixás as mothers and fathers, Candomblé followers create a stable network of kinship relations that shapes their experience of being in the world. In the Brazilian context the intimate relationship with the orixás can be understood as a way to restore dignity and to re-establish a link with African ancestors that has been systematically destroyed by colonial violence. Moreover, the construction of self as a child of orixás simultaneously shapes social relations as well as bodily experiences. The father and mother orixás are inscribed in the human body by way of ritual, and they can become present through their children's bodies in trance. Hence, concepts of spiritual and biological kinship turn out to be peculiarly entangled.

In conclusion, through ritual action, social structure and bodily involvement, kinship relations with orixás are established as real, rather than metaphorical, in a Candomblé community. The experience of kinship ties with orixás simultaneously define and blur distinctions between profane and divine, past and present, and self and other.

Relative property: kinship and land-development in an unauthorised neighbourhood of Delhi

Author: Mohammad Sayeed (Delhi University)  email

Short Abstract

How kinship network of a Muslim caste has not only been instrumental in claiming the land for a neighbourhood, in absence of unambiguous legal status of the land, but has also variously reinvented itself in the process.

Long Abstract

This paper looks at the processes of acquiring, developing and maintaining land property in Jamianagar, a neighborhood in Delhi. In what is officially termed as 'unauthorized' settlement due to absence of unambiguous legal ownership, residents employ complex mechanisms and techniques to sustain claim over the land that they inhabit today.

In this struggle around land, both the residents and the state cannot be treated as singular and consistent entities having ownership or entitlement to control land developments. They both rely on the various networks to serve particular purposes. Residents rely on kinship networks, which add up as numerical strength and at the same time works as effacement, diffusing the control and culpability by subdivision of the property.

It is equally difficult to find the singular face of the state despite it being present on every step. State appears in many guises, from planners to authorities responsible for various amenities. The coordination and cooperation between these agencies and at places its lack makes it difficult to discuss about the State as a unified entity.

In this context, this paper attempts to explore role of kinship relations of Pathans, a Muslim caste. This kinship network has not only been instrumental in claiming the land for the neighborhood but has also variously reinvented itself in the process. I further argue that the state mirrored these techniques of effacement in its response, to defuse its actions as well as achieve greater impact.

De facto family businesses in Poland

Author: Siobhan Magee (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I seek to explain how the notion of ‘family business’ can extend beyond family-owned companies and into the recollective and economic repertoires that people use to trace between their own employment contexts and aspirations and those of kin.

Long Abstract

The relationships between business and kinship are usually unpacked through exegeses of outfits passed through generations. As is exemplified by Sylvia Junko Yanagisako's work on family firms in Italy, such outfits present ethnographic opportunities to unpack life under capitalism through lens of gender and generation. Particularly conspicuous in Yanagisako's research is that establishing oneself in a family business can involve a delicate mixture of perpetuating familial-corporate 'origin stories' and making oneself indispensible as an individual.

Through analysis of fieldwork carried out in Poland between 2009 and 2011, in this paper I seek to explain how the notion of 'family business' can extend beyond family-owned companies and into the recollective and economic repertoires that people use to trace between their own employment contexts and aspirations and those of kin.

Focusing upon the opinions and situations of young people, the paper explores how those seeking work, or hoping to change career, frequently link both the opportunities and injustices perceived to constitute life under capitalism - and their personal responses to them- to the working lives of kin. Even when working in quite different industries or professions, and in different times, the skills, desire, and materials that give that unify working lives give the impression of families as de facto family businesses.

Towards an anthropology of care: the co-constitution of cancer treatments and familial experiences in the everyday life

Author: Ignacia Arteaga (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

By drawing on an Anthropology of care, my aim in this paper is to illuminate the unfolding of relationships, knowledges and moral worlds in which cancer care practices are enmeshed within kin networks.

Long Abstract

Anthropology has approached cancer either as individual experiences with an emphasis in the narratives and subjectivities of patients, or as institutional arrangements that frame how the knowledge about treatments and prognosis eventually shapes individuals' experiences. It has left at the side the familial implications and repercussions of cancer, or in other words, the ways in which both families as primary care collectives and experiences of cancer treatments are co-constituted in the everyday life.

My argument is that co-constitutive process is made up through care practices. That is what I will try to show by putting together two sorts of arguments: The first refers to the family work as a clinical reality that give form to the illness experience of the patients through care practices, while the second is the symmetrical reflect of the first; namely, that illness experiences may be read in the repercussions it has for the members involved in that clinical reality.

By drawing on an Anthropology of care, my aim in this paper is to illuminate the unfolding of relationships, knowledges and moral worlds in which cancer care practices are enmeshed within kin networks. Specifically, by unpacking the generative creativity of care collectives in negotiating compromises, temporalities and collective identities in cancer care, I will show how relatedness in the family is made and re-made through the performance of care practices.

"But I do wish better for my kids": parenthood and parental estrangement in England

Author: Ryan Davey (London School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the consequences for parenthood of a contemporary concentration of multiple forms of power in and through parent-child relations. It finds various and co-resonating forms and affects of parental estrangement.

Long Abstract

"Parenting", increasingly seen in Britain as the source of and solution to social problems, is an object of intensified governance and a channel for the moralisation of social class (Allen and Osgood, 2009; Faircloth et al., 2013); the corroborating invocation of "the Child" in public culture is said to mandate a principle of heterosexual reproductive futurism (Edelman, 2004). Yet the consequences of all this for parenthood itself are so far understudied. In this paper, based on ethnographic fieldwork on a "deprived" housing estate in England, I argue that working-class parents' intermittent alienation from the terms in which "good" and "bad" parenting was evaluated resonated with multiple other forms of parental estrangement. The capacity of social services to remove children from their parents, for instance, was a frequent preoccupation, yet even without such interference, parenthood comprised - "naturally" - a painstaking negotiation of holding on and letting go. Thus what disturbed the parent-child relation was sometimes indistinguishable from that relation itself. In accounting for this, I draw on contemporary Christmas practices to suggest that parents encountered their children as figures of enchantment, who evoked not only their own future but also the figural Child of reproductive futurism. Aspirational parenting in an area of "deprivation" - whereby "betterment" was pursued transgenerationally - accommodated the political discourse of reproductive futurism in exemplary fashion, since it cemented the parent's self-negating assimilation to "good parenting", and so facilitated this double vision of child and Child. Parenthood, consequently, comprised both devotion and thraldom, and an uncanny form of alienation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.