EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


The theory and practice of European kinship

Location Queens Design
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Gertraud Seiser (University of Vienna) email
Patrick Heady (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email
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Short Abstract

Interest in kinship remains vigorous, enlivened by recent critiques. We aim to investigate links between different aspects of kinship using data from contemporary Europe.

Long Abstract

The death of kinship has often been announced, but interest in the topic remains vigorous. The aim of this workshop is to examine the classical themes of kinship studies – descent and affinity, kinship terminologies, spiritual kinship, property and inheritance, production and reproduction, solidarity and social security – using data from contemporary Europe. Papers on any of these themes are welcomed, particularly papers that propose links between different themes. We would also welcome papers that transcend kinship by placing it in a wider frame of social relationships, and papers that criticise or support theories of regionally specific kinship cultures – whether the regional comparison is between Europe and other parts of the world, or between different regions within Europe.


Darwin and cousin marriage in England

Author: Adam Kuper (Boston University)  email
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Long Abstract

Charles Darwin married a first cousin but came to believe in the evolutionary advantages of 'cross-fertilisation' and commissioned his son George Darwin to undertake a study of the incidence of cousin marriage in Britain. Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, developed another theory of marriage and evolution, under the label of 'eugenics'. They participated in anthropological debates on marriage but far from reflecting only on exotic practices they were concerned with marriage policies for Britain. Yet while cousin marriage was a key strategy of the Victorian bourgeoisie, they ignored its sociological implications.

The quest for a family: kinship and relatedness in the age of assisted reproductive technology

Author: Bernhard Hadolt (University of Vienna)  email
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Long Abstract

Among the kinds of social relatedness affected through assisted reproductive technology (ART) anthropologists and other social scientists have primarily focused on child-parent relationships, in particular on motherhood. Far less attention has been paid to child-father relations and the relationships between the partners seeking infertility treatment.

Drawing on the notion of relatedness proposed by J. Carsten and others I look at how the relationship between Austrian spouses undergoing infertility treatment shapes the treatment process and how in turn it is shaped by it. My presentation thus is about child-parent-relatedness, however only insofar as in the context of ART it becomes meaningful and operative for the sense and practices of relatedness between spouses. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Austria it explores ART as a family building technology in the sense that - irrespective of succeeding in actually having a baby in the end or not - infertility treatment becomes employed to create the imagination of a family. As the intended parents conjointly pursue the quest for a child which they have together they strive for the actualisation of this imagination - modelled on an ideology of the "nuclear" family consisting of father, mother and children and living together in mutual love and care. In this connection ART is highlighted as a social practice of relatedness, which in the configuration of the family, brings together the relatedness of child-parent and the relatedness of spouse-spouse. It is shown that putting ART into clinical practice entails not only "kinship work", but also "partnership work".

Naming invisible lines: relatedness and the constitution of the person in contemporary Iceland

Author: Adriënne Heijnen (Aarhus University)  email
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Long Abstract

If there is one hot topic in Iceland, it is the notion of kin. The famous Icelandic sagas have nurtured the idea that Icelandic society is about kin groups who struggle for territory and power, and, recently, the so-called Icelandic Biogenetic project, initiated by the company deCode Genetics, has brought the ancestors even closer. The Icelandic fondness of kin relations has generated classical discussions on kinship terminology among anthropologists working on Iceland in the 1970s and 1980s, and inspired in the late 20th and beginning of the 21st century to anthropological analyses of the ideology of kinship within the context of biotechnology.

A topic of debate in these studies is how to correspond the tension between two extremes existing in Iceland: a strong notion of individualism and an excessive interest in kin relations. Ann Pinson argued in 1979 that patrilineal principles of social organisation have persisted in modern Iceland and that the lack of friendship in the society confirms this. Her studies have been criticised by others who insist that the Icelandic kinship system has changed from a unilineal to a bilateral orientation and that it functions as an individual resource, whereby the boundaries of kin-based networks are determined by the intersection of individual interests. Gísli Pálsson argued recently that DNA analyses and molecular biology has given genetic relatedness a renewed supreme status in Iceland, and in Europe in general, allowing little room for culture and social constructions of relatedness.

My paper will approach these debates from a detailed ethnographic account of practices of name giving and the constitution of the person in contemporary Iceland. Lining up with the recent anthropological concept of relatedness, I will show how genetic relatedness and 'socially constructed' relatedness interact in contemporary Iceland and how names reveal and generate connections between people who are not related through DNA.

Kinship, welfare and the state: researching the connection in 20th and 21st century Europe

Author: Hannes Grandits (University of Graz)  email
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Long Abstract

The relationship between kinship organisation, economic change and state institutions is a classic theme of social anthropological writing from Morgan to Godelier - as well as being central to the discipline of family history. It is also a prominent theme of contemporary policy discourse, put there by the impact of demographic change, by attempts to reduce the welfare state (and its virtual collapse in parts of eastern Europe), and by efforts to unify the welfare regimes in different parts of the European Union.

The EU-funded comparative research project on "Kinship and Social Security" (KASS) in Western, Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe looks at this theme from both historical and ethnographic perspectives, and from various theoretical viewpoints. In this paper we describe the overall design of the project, and present some of the historical findings (e.g. the impact of the establishment of state welfare systems for the elderly on intergenerational helping relations, the changing assumptions underlying family law, recent development of family/kinship oriented "proximity" residence structures in many parts of Europe, and the degree to which contemporary relations between state and family reflect pre-industrial patterns). Finally we review the significance of these findings - both for the ethnographic phase of KASS and, more widely, for kinship (and welfare state) research in Europe.

The roles of kin: practical help, social contact and ritual

Author: Patrick Heady (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper will focus on a paradox that emerges from the quantitative data collected by the KASS project. In most of the communities studied, social contacts and participation in life cycle rituals seem to be much more frequent than acts of practical help, in relationships between all but the closest kin. This suggests that practical concerns are not the main drivers of kinship (as opposed to immediate family) relationships. On the other hand, in communities where social and ritual contacts are frequent, the level of practical help is relatively high as well. I will draw on analyses of the comparative data provided by the kinship network questionnaire to explore the connections between the practical, ritual and social sides of kinship.

Who is kin? Relatedness in a community that highly values self-reliance

Author: Gertraud Seiser (University of Vienna)  email
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Long Abstract

"In a way, of course, they belong to us", an old woman proudly told me replying to my somewhat irritated question whether she really thinks that the grandparents of the new girl-friend of her grandson should be included

in her family tree.

Within the scope of the KASS (Kinship and Social Security) project we drew up family trees or maps of relevant kin in an Austrian rural setting. A great number of huge maps with up to three hundred related persons were the result. These huge maps are not due to genealogical depth but are rather an outcome of the inclusion of in-laws in the group of kin. At the same time, self-reliance is highly valued, and the old woman mentioned above would prefer staying at home rather than asking her son or her daughter in-law for

a ride.

In my paper I will try to trace and discuss possible reasons for the construction of these huge kin-groups within the theoretical framework of reciprocity and social capital.

Kinship groups and the devolution of family businesses

Author: Céline Bessiere (CMH-ETT/Ecole Normale Supérieure)  email
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Long Abstract

Co-author: Sibylle Gollac, EHESS

This paper presents the results of two long-term ethnographic studies on family businesses in modern day France (vine-growing farms in the Cognac region, and craft industry small firms). The devolution of family businesses through generations is three-dimensional. It consists of the conveyance of an estate (which implies to share it between children) ; the transfer of the status of company head to a successor, who has acquired occupational qualifications (in particular entrepreneurial skills). The study of these devolutions leads us to examine the links between different kinship groups : households (gift of real estate can serve to bring the residences of family member close together in line with occupational and household demand), « descent groups » (family members have more or less an interest in maintaining and conveying a joint estate) and conjugal relationships. Therefore, this paper throws light on economic, legal and affective issues at stake in family businesses. It questions also the use of classical kinship terminologies to analyse contemporary families in France.

Kinship as shared experience: on relatedness and social survival in rural Namibia and elsewhere

Author: Julia Pauli (Universität Hamburg )  email
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Long Abstract

Over the course of a century, meaning and practice of kinship among the Damara and Nama people of Northwest Namibia have been heavily altered by colonial powers. For a number of historic-demographic reasons, half-siblings are very common and full-siblings are rare. Most women (and men) have consecutively children with four, five or even more different partners. Male and female parallel cousins are also classified as brothers and sisters. The total amount of people an individual can refer to as "brothers" and "sisters" is consequently quite large. For the individual it is not possible to relate to all of these brothers and sisters in an emotional rich, supporting and trusting manner. But whom to relate to and whom to avoid or ignore? There is no explicit cultural rule to select certain kinds of siblings (e.g. the eldest brother or sister), nor is the mother always the connecting focal point. The concept of "growing up together", kai //are, is of utmost relevance for creating an individual's network of relatedness. Kai //are encompasses different dimensions of relatedness. Sharing emotional laden experiences, such as hunger and violence, are among the most important of these.

Although the emergence of recombinant or patchwork families in Western Europe clearly differs form the Namibian situation there are nevertheless some interesting parallels. Marilyn Strathern (2005) recently observed that recombinant families and families based on new reproductive technology offer a range of potential kinship ties from which people actively choose. Similar to the Namibian findings above one may ask who is and who is not chosen. As psychological research indicates shared experiences are fundamental for the creation of kinship bonds within recombinant families, especially among step-siblings.