This workshop reconsiders the status of the conjugal relationship in kinship systems, as distinct from both affinal and consanguinal ties, by studying the prescriptions applied to surviving spouses in the course of mortuary rituals.
As early as 1908, Van Gennep observed that during periods of mourning, "the living and the dead constitute a special society, situated between the world of the living and the world of the dead, from which the living leave more or less quickly according to how closely they are related to the deceased". He further remarks that, in all cases, "as it should be", the widow or the widower "belongs longest to this special world". For Van Gennep, the distinct nature of the deceased's spouse's status is thus taken for granted. This "obvious" fact needs to be reconsidered. While marriage partners may be classified as affines prior to marriage, it would appear that the physical intimacy they share assigns them to another category, yet different from that of consanguinal kin such as siblings and children, such that, in the course of mourning, they are subjected to more stringent prescriptions. This relationship of acquired intimacy between spouses, surely linked with the prolonged status occupied by the surviving spouse as intermediary between the living and the dead, may well constitute a pivotal feature in the organisation of kinship systems. In this respect, the management of the surviving spouses' emotional reactions would seem to be of crucial importance for the community's future. This workshop aims to reconsider the status of the conjugal relationship by linking together features pertaining to kinship systems and to mortuary rites in various ethnographic settings.