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Repaying the Debts of the Dead

Kinship, Microfinance, and Mortuary Practice on the Paraguayan Frontier

Caroline E. Schuster

Microcredit loans—most famously systems of group-based borrowing—are a key tool in global economic development frameworks. Building outward from microcredit programs in Paraguay, I explore the discontinuous materialities of both kin- and debt-based obligations, especially at their intersection. I argue that borrowers feel the life span of debts most acutely when mortuary practices anchored in kinship ties are bound up with the task of taking on the financial obligations of the dead. This analysis shows how the bonds between kinship, death, and indebtedness go beyond analogy, for collective debt is not ‘like’ a kinship relationship. Instead, microcredit social collateral provides a means for people to deal with the broader issues affecting the life span of individuals, objects, and commitments, as well as the human stakes involved with obligation.

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Introduction

(De)materializing Kinship—Holding Together Mutuality and Difference

Kathryn E. Goldfarb and Caroline E. Schuster

Although kinship studies have traditionally focused on ‘solidarity’ and ‘mutuality’, dis-alignment, exclusion, and difference are equally crucial foci for analysis. In this introduction, we explore articulations of mutuality and difference through the lens of materiality, particularly the matter of politics and value and the semiotics of material life. We suggest that non-mutuality and exclusion are especially apparent in contexts where kinship intersects with the consolidation of economic and human capital. We then draw attention to the ways in which material signs are productive forces of relatedness in day-to-day interactions between humans, non-humans, and other material things. By examining the gaps and fissures within kinship through the lens of material practice, the contributors to this special section uncover new opportunities for critical engagement with theories of difference, semiotics, and value.