EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Rethinking ritual kinship

Location Wills 3.23
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Cristian Alvarado Leyton email
Peter Parkes (University of Kent) email
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Short Abstract

The workshop invites a critical reconsideration of social practices of ritual kinship from comparative historical and ethnographic perspectives.

Long Abstract

The anthropology of kinship is currently being expanded to encompass many kinds of familial and inter-familial connections previously excluded by its traditional focus on natal consanguinity and marital affinity. What was once marginalised as a residual category of fictive kinship or artificial kinship (even pseudo-kinship) is increasingly becoming a focal domain of contemporary kinship studies, including relations by adoption, fostering, nursing and spiritual sponsorship, and by other kinds of ritual or informal association. Christian godparenthood has long provided a privileged forum for examining such alternative kinds of kinship, ever since Mintz and Wolf's pioneering 1950 essay on compadrazgo or spiritual compaternity in Europe and Latin America. This workshop intends to elaborate their comparative ethnographic and historical perspectives by considering a broad range of elective and adoptive kinship. We are interested in rethinking the subjective and analytical status of ritual kinship in social anthropology, as well as reconsidering its structural and ideological connections with changing patterns of natal kinship and marital (or other partnership) practices, treated from the comparative ethnographic and historical perspectives that Mintz and Wolf established. We invite contributions that may explore the diagnostic significance of such alternative kinds of kinship in mediating social and political change, particularly relations of power and inequality.


Towards a comparative study of ritual and mimetic kinship

Author: Cristian Alvarado Leyton  email
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Long Abstract

The comparative study of "fictive kinship" is barely existent. Setting the field of kinship studies in a quandary, Schneider's critique offers an explanation. I propose to extend Lévi-Strauss's notion of alliance in which the concept of "artificial kinship", i. e. affinal relations, is central. Albeit vague on other "fictive" kinship forms, such as godparenthood, it enables us to establish a theoretical assumption beyond biological reasoning to understand any kinship form as an alliance practice ultimately resting on converged power interests. Therefore, Lévi-Strauss's emphasis on the intended construction of kinship opens up a significant perspective for critical social research and emancipates ritual and mimetic kinship from their traditional anthropological treatment.

Servants or kin? The ambiguities of informal child fostering in coastal Ecuador

Author: Emily Walmsley (Keele University)  email
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Long Abstract

Recent attempts to broaden the concept of kinship in anthropology have focused attention onto a wide range of non-consanguineal ties of relatedness in diverse societies (eg Carsten 2000, Franklin and McKinnon 2001). Following this lead this paper analyses the significance of informal child fostering practices in the city of Esmeraldas, Ecuador. It considers not only the potential for building ties of fictive kinship in this context but also, importantly, its limitations. In Esmeraldas, a large proportion of households take in 'hijos criados' ('raised sons/daughters') and bring them up alongside the children born into those homes. In some cases the hijos criados come to embody the role of sons or daughters; in other cases they are treated as servants and denied the opportunities afforded their peers. What, then, are the factors determining the treatment of these children? Why are some incorporated into the kin network of the household and others not? Drawing on in-depth narratives of individuals raised in this way, and of those who raised them, the paper considers how relatedness between hijos criados and their families de crianza is created or resisted, and how this process is shaped by race, class and gender relations within the local society.

The new 'best man' in Moldova: godparenthood reconceptualised

Author: Hulya Demirdirek (CEİD)  email
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Long Abstract

As a precursor to a longer research project that will document the genealogy of godparenthood relations in a Gagauz village in Moldova over at least 30 years, my goal here is to approach godparenthood as an institution through which postsocialist change can better be understood. While Mintz and Wolf explored the conditions which led to the disappearance of "compadrazgo" in areas that experienced industrial capitalism, my focus is on the post-Soviet era. During the heyday of socialism it was common to break the chain of godparents (inherited from one's parents) in order to have a "best man" with a high status in state structures. Nowadays, the preference is moving towards well-off businessmen. This trend is not limited to Gagauz villagers, and is also commonly found among other ethnic groups in Moldova. The shift in the preferred "best man" is only one dimension of a change which has been accompanied by newer forms of interdomestic allegiance and tributary governance together with the related consumption behaviour etc. If godparenthood is a kind of reciprocal kinship system that touches economic and political dimensions of social life closely - and juridical aspects loosely - can it be approached as a "total social fact"? How is this to be done and does it help us to rethink ritual kinship?

Ties of milk and the grammar of closeness in Muslim contexts

Author: Edouard Conte (University of Bern)  email
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Long Abstract

Co-author: Saskia Walentowitz, University of Bern

In recent years, issues related to 'milk kinship' in settings in which Islam plays a notable role have been singled out for close study by social scientists. In contrast, the articulations of milk ties, the embodiment of the person and the construction of social relatedness in Muslim contexts are but partially explored. The approaches of 'milk kinship' hitherto adopted are foremost philological-historical, relativist and structuralist. In this presentation, we will argue that relatedness through milk, defined in its cultural and historical variability, may not be artificially isolated from the wider, gendered fields of social proximity, law, politics and cosmology. No single explanation or theory accounts for all these facets and variants. Yet, each society in which ties of milk are deemed significant refers to a grammar of proximity through which 'substance' is defined in terms of relationality rather than categories. Thus, variations of milk bonds and their implications may be meaningfully differentiated and compared in anthropological perspective.

The modernity of milk kinship: Islamic legal reactions to new reproductive technology

Author: Morgan Clarke (University of Oxford)  email
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Long Abstract

Anthropological studies of Middle Eastern kinship follow Islamic historiography in positing a pre-Islamic Arabian kinship system rich in 'elective' kinship. This was brought to an end under Islam, which prohibited adoption and other, allied practices. However, one such possibility for creating kinship, breast-feeding instituting 'milk kinship' (ridâ'), was instituted in Islamic law.

My own research has focused on 'new kinship' in the region, investigating Islamic legal reactions to new reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation and the practice of such techniques among Muslim communities in Lebanon. I found many examples of the chosen, mutable and non-biogenetic relations stressed in recent debates on kinship cross-culturally. Donor sperm and eggs are employed, along with, albeit rarely, surrogacy arrangements. Adoption is also common, despite its nominal prohibition for Muslims. However, these practical options are kept secret 'in front of the neighbours', in favour of an ideology of immutable relations given by birth, and in response to the demands of social propriety, especially a code of sexual morality centred on female sexual continence.

Not all these relations are 'fictive'. A whole domain of Islamic legal discourse has arisen around such practices, drawing heavily on the antecedents of Islam's rich legal heritage: 'milk kinship' provides one way of thinking through the ethical dilemmas of the use of donor eggs and surrogacy, for example. Such techniques offer invaluable solutions for stigmatised infertile couples, especially women who might otherwise be divorced or whose husbands might take another wife. Some Shiite authorities have proposed legal means of conferring legitimacy upon children issuing from such practices, rethinking and revitalising 'ritual kinship' within the context of globalised medical technology and ethical frameworks. In this paper, I present examples of these debates and their consequences for contemporary Muslim kinship in Lebanon.

Adoptive affinities: reconstructing fosterage and clientage in Eurasia and beyond

Author: Peter Parkes (University of Kent)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper builds on a series of historical surveys of fosterage and adoptive kinship in western Eurasia, published in "Comparative Studies in Society and History" and in "Social Anthropology" over the past five years.*

*Parkes, P. 2001. Alternative Social Structures and Foster Relations in the Hindu Kush: Milk Kinship Allegiance in Former Mountain Kingdoms of Northern Pakistan. Comparative Studies in Society and History 43: 4-36.

----- 2003. Fostering Fealty: A Comparative Analysis of Tributary Allegiances of Adoptive Kinship. Comparative Studies in Society and History 45: 741-82.

----- 2004a. Fosterage, Kinship, and Legend: When Milk was Thicker than Blood? Comparative Studies in Society and History 46: 587-615.

----- 2004b. Milk Kinship in Southeast Europe. Alternative Social Structures and Foster Relations in the Caucasus and the Balkans. Social Anthropology 12: 341-58.

----- 2005. Milk Kinship in Islam. Substance, Structure, History. Social Anthropology 13: 307-29.

----- 2006. Celtic Fosterage: Adoptive Kinship and Clientage in Northwest Europe. Comparative Studies in Society and History 48, 2.

The brothers of the king: kinship, state and history in Northern Laos

Author: Guido Sprenger (Heidelberg University)  email
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Long Abstract

The kinship system of the Rmeet (Lamet) in Laos forms a tight system with ritual roles and social structure. It is dominated by patrilineal descent groups and asymmetric marriage alliance. But some of the notions that are operative within village society are also used for constructing relationships beyond it. The relation between the Rmeet and the Lao kingdom until 1975 was conceived in terms of patriline. The Lao king was said to be of Rmeet descent, a discursive strategy not uncommon to the region. This claim was connected to a set of myths that appear as incongruent and contradictory, thereby demonstrating the situational and communicative use of such a construction. Thereby, the Rmeet negotiated the difference between village society and kingdom, that is infused by the power hierarchy between aristocratic centers and upland peripheries common in the region. The way kinship terminology was used allowed the expression of the relation in local terms and the recognition of a difference at the same time. Although the relation with the present-day, Socialist government is not couched in explicit terms of kinship, notions of kinship still pervade the conceptions of power and nation-state.

Dimension 'pactuelle' et parentés électives, tribu des Aït Khebbach (Sud-Est marocain)

Author: Marie-Luce Gélard (Université de la Méditerranée)  email
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Long Abstract

L’importance des pactes au sein des sociétés berbères est déjà relevée par Ibn Khaldun, dans les Prolégomènes, lorsqu’il définit deux éléments inhérents et constitutifs de la société, les liens de parenté (nasab) et les pactes. Cette problématique d’une homologie entre relations de parenté de sang (principe généalogique qualifié de « communauté de sang ») et pactes établis entre groupes, a peu retenu l’attention des anthropologues au Maghreb. Pourtant, cette concordance de deux traits distinctifs des formations sociales berbérophones est conséquente puisque les pactes, d’alliance, de protection ou de colactation, ne sont pas moins déterminants que les relations engendrées par le phalanstère de sang.

L’instauration d’une relation de protection entre groupes aboutit à l’établissement de liens de parenté « électifs ». L’examen attentif de l’usage fait de ces différents rituels d’affiliation, qui instrumentalisent le sang (sacrifice sanglant) et le lait (colactation collective), éclaire les représentations et illustre la manière dont les individus perçoivent, caractérisent et utilisent la relation de parenté. L’importance de la colactation conduit à interroger cette dimension « pactuelle » de la parenté. Pactes et contrats sont les formes visibles de l’échange entre groupes. La force de cohésion qu’ils réalisent est tout aussi déterminante que les alliances matrimoniales. Mais l’anthropologie maghrébine post-coloniale a partiellement occulté l’incidence de ces formes de parenté choisies. La majorité des études consacrées à l’analyse des structures de la parenté a été aveuglée par « les liens du sang » et a rejeté le discours du groupe sur lui-même.

L’étude de la parenté de lait depuis les écrits pionniers de Soraya Altorki (1980), s’est orientée sur la position structurale de la parenté de lait face à la parenté consanguine et sur les changements de modalités d’adoption dans l’Islam. Or, ces interrogations ont été posées avec pour seul support les traités juridiques et les textes coraniques sans s’attacher à la description des pratiques et des représentations symboliques. À ce titre, l’examen de la théorie juridique du laban al-fahl, comparé aux données et observations faites dans le Sud-Est marocain permet d’illustrer une autre manière d’appréhender la parenté de lait.