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Capitalism, Kinship, and Fraud

The Case of Bernie Madoff

Sherry B. Ortner

Investment broker Bernie Madoff ran what is still considered the largest Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding thousands of investors over a 20-year period of more than $20 billion. He worked his game almost entirely through kinship connections—relatives, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends. The relationship between kinship and capitalism has drawn renewed attention by anthropologists, part of a broader effort to rethink capitalism not as a free-standing ‘economy’ but as deeply embedded in a wide range of social relations. In this article I use the Madoff case to illustrate, and develop further, several aspects of the kinship/capitalism connection. I also consider briefly the boundary between fraud and ‘legitimate’ capitalism, which many economic historians consider a fuzzy boundary at best.

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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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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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Paul Clough

This article argues that the moral dimensions of the term 'culture' have been under-theorized in anthropology. The argument stems from a particular reading of the Western philosophy of ethics. Based in economic anthropology, I explore how an understanding of the moral imperative can illuminate differences in processes of accumulation. After a discussion of the concept of morality in philosophy and in recent anthropology, I go on to examine the principles of altruism and reciprocal utility in the light of theories of kinship and of rational choice. I then outline an argument concerning the general form of moral reasoning. According to this argument, kinship classifications function logically to synthesize variable distributions in different societies of two interconnected principles—altruism and reciprocal utility.

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Fictitious Kinship

Intimacy, Relatedness and Boundaries in the Life of Hanoi's Migrant Domestic Workers

Minh T. N. Nguyen

This article argues that migrant domestic workers in Hanoi practise a form of fictitious kinship to carve out personal spaces away from their rural home. Biographical narratives of domestic workers who are unusually devoted to forging emotional ties with their employers indicate that they tend to have problematic private lives. Beyond emotional labour, the performance of fictitious kinship entails significant personal investment on the part of women, at times generating mutual feelings and relationships between them and certain members of the employers' household. These relationships are crucial to their personal transformations, helping them construct new identities and opening up possibilities for challenging the power hierarchy in their home. Yet such constructed kinship is treacherous and uncertain, not just because of its foundation is their commodified labour, subject to the rules of the market, but also due to the dangers of intimate encounters in the private sphere.

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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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Kinship among the Ġorbat of Babol

How an Anthropology of Childhood Reveals Kinship Structure

Mitra Asfari

The Ġorbat are one of the peripatetic groups in Iran known colloquially as Kowli (Gypsy). In scientific literature, we notice a lack of knowledge about this group. The only image of Ġorbats for urban Iranians consists of begging children at crossroads. As the Ġorbat child plays a crucial role in the social division of tasks, the present study approaches this group from the perspective of the anthropology of childhood. Analysis of childcare practices, the status of children in the group and their duties towards adults reveal specific models of kinship among Ġorbats. In addition, child circulation within the lineage reveals certain invariables in the Ġorbat’s structure of kinship. Thus, we can explain new modifications in the group’s task division and the underlying logics of child labour.

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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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‘Coming to Look Alike’

Materializing Affinity in Japanese Foster and Adoptive Care

Kathryn E. Goldfarb

In contemporary Japan, non-biological family ties are not easily legible as kinship. This article examines how parents of adopted and fostered children in Japan mobilize material similarity to represent their kinship relationships as existing objectively in the world, untainted by socially suspect desires. Material resemblance is taken up as a semiotic framework through which people self-reflexively interpret the signs that are understood as relatedness, what I call ‘kinship technologies’. Focusing on two local categories used to conceptualize non-biological kinship (kizuna and en), this article explores how long-lasting relational ties are embodied through caring proximity and physical similarity. However, difference always lingers within similarity: the borderlines between family and non-family; made connections or inherent, ineffable ties; and observable markers of otherness, such as race and ethnicity.

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Conflicting Notions of Continuity and Belonging

Assisted Reproduction, Law, and Practices in Norway

Marit Melhuus

This article explores the interface between law, technology, and practices. More specifically, it addresses how biotechnologies—in particular, reproductive technologies—move people in different ways. Taking as its point of departure certain restrictions in the Norwegian biotechnology law, it explores changes in procreative practices and their implications for understandings of notions of belonging. This is tied to a gradual shift in meaning of the concepts of paternity and maternity, which in turn has ramifications for kinship and hence fundamental ideas of relatedness. Two premises underpin the arguments: first, that law is a cultural artifact productive of meaning, and, second, that as a social phenomenon, biotechnologies bring to the fore fundamental moral dilemmas.