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Introduction

Emerging Kinship in a Changing Middle East

Soraya Tremayne

The introduction to this issue has two strands. First, it contextualises the articles, which address kinship from varied perspectives, and situates them in their broader cultural context. Second, it adopts a comparative perspective by differentiating between the present articles with those published a decade earlier on the same themes in this journal, to examine whether, how and to what extent kinship has changed in the face of modernity, globalisation, wars, migrations and political change. It concludes that, compared with a decade ago, kinship has not only not weakened, but it has revived further and penetrated other institutions beyond family, or called upon to ensure and protect the continuity of cultural norms and values, from the threats paused by modernity and by the global, cultural and political invasions.

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Women and Gender in Short Stories by Rabindranath Tagore

An Anthropological Introspection on Kinship and Family

Nandini Sen

This article examines female protagonists in Rabindranath Tagore’s stories and novellas – specifically Charu (A Broken Nest, 1901), Mrinal (The Wife’s Letter, 1914), Kamala (Musalmani, 1941), Anila (House Number 1, 1917), Chandara (Punishment, 1893) and Boshtomi (Devotee, 1916) – from a social anthropological viewpoint, focusing on gender and time-based kinship relations. Here, kinship is defined as an extension of familial relationships to the community (common ethnic-social life, locality and religion) in such a way as to achieve progressively higher levels of social integration and extensive social networks through marriage alliances and lines of descent. Studying how the characters placed the universality of family and kinship structures into question, I argue that parameters of kinship organisation need to be redefined, with plurality and difference as the basis of inquiry rather than universality.

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Azim Malikov

The Kazakhs, Turkmens, Tajiks, Uyghurs and Uzbeks in Central Asia share some distinct religious elite groups – Xojas – some lineages of which appear in two or more of them. The Xoja group is a patrilineage, which traces kinship through blood relationships. Endogamous marriages prevail among the Uzbekspeaking Xoja contrary to descendants of nomadic, Kazakh-speaking Xojas. In this article I compare the kinship systems of the Uzbek-speaking Xoja of the Uzbek people and the Kazakh-speaking Xoja of the Kazakh people and analyse their transformation in the twentieth century. The analysis shows that interpretation of differences in kinship terminology is situational: in some cases it is interpreted as an example of adaptation to different cultures, and in other instances it may serve as a symbol of belonging.

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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.

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Morgan Clarke

Anthropological debates on kinship in the Middle East have centred on the 'problems' of patriparallel cousin marriage and milk kinship. A focus on Middle Eastern reactions to assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation allows a fresh perspective on the study of kinship in the region. My own research has investigated Islamic legal reactions to assisted reproductive technologies and the practice of assisted reproduction in Lebanon. Islamic legal reaction is diverse, as are the uses made of these techniques by non-specialist Muslims. Considerations of propriety and public reputation remain uppermost, although matters of kinship are debated and new patterns and ideologies of relatedness are potentially emerging.

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Ghost Mothers

Kinship Relationships in Thai Spirit Cults

Andrew Alan Johnson

This article examines the process of building kinship relations between Thai spirit devotees and violent spirits. I examine three spirit shrines on the outskirts of Bangkok: a shrine to the ghost of a woman killed in childbirth, a shrine to a cobra spirit that causes accidents along a busy highway, and a household shrine to an aborted fetus. The devotees to whom I spoke actively sought out such places known for death in order to ‘adopt’ or ‘become adopted by’ the spirits in those locations—an action that, I argue, allowed for a renegotiation of the devotees’ position vis-à-vis accident and trauma. I suggest that becoming a spirit’s ‘child’ forms a mutually dependent relationship that allows for the domestication of forces outside of oneself.

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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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From the mouth of God

Divine kinship and popular democratic politics

Alice Forbess and Lucia Michelutti

This article proposes “divine kinship” as an analytical tool with which to explore the relation between the divine, “the people”, and their political leaders and advance an ethnographically led comparative anthropology of democracy. More specifically, using the political ethnographies of five localities—North India, Venezuela, Montenegro, Russia, and Nepal—we discuss lived understandings of popular sovereignty, electoral representation, and political hope. We argue that charismatic kinship is crucial to understanding the processes by which political leaders and elected representatives become the embodiment of “the people”, and highlight the processes through which “ordinary people” are transformed into “extraordinary people” with royal/divine/democratic qualities.

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From the 'Unseen' to the Visible

Transformations in Women's Kinship Practices among the Urban Middle Class in Fes, Morocco

Rachel Newcomb

For the middle class of Fes, Morocco, the traditional resources provided by kinship practices remain an important form of economic and social support in an increasingly globalised world. Women's significance in kinship networks not only highlights women's changing role in the Moroccan public sphere, but also indicates the flexibility of kinship principles once applied primarily to men. As more women have entered the public sphere for reasons of economics and education, the possibilities for their social networks have widened to include both relatives and non-kin.

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Finding a Place to Sit

How Qatari Women Combine Cultural and Kinship Capital in the Home Majlis

Rehenuma Asmi

As Qatari women attend and graduate from institutions of higher education and many enter the work force, their mobility and visibility increasingly juxtaposes their roles in the family and tribe with their new roles as partners in the creation of a nation. I utilise ethnographic data from fieldwork in two Qatari home majâles (sitting rooms) to understand how Qatari women negotiate their new roles in society. Qatari women have increasing forms of cultural capital in one arena but also have recourse to kinship capital, where gender segregation and family name protect women’s social status. I argue that Qatari women combine the different forms of capital available to them in order to ‘find a place to sit’ in the new Qatari nation.