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Kinship and Beyond

The Genealogical Model Reconsidered

Edited by Sandra Bamford and James Leach

300 pages, 21 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-422-7 $99.00/£60.00 Hb Published (March 2009)

ISBN  978-0-85745-639-7 $29.95/£19.50 Pb Published (March 2012)

eISBN 978-1-84545-896-6 eBook


Hb Pb
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This collection of ten essays is the latest major work to call for renewed attention to the topic [of kinship], especially with respect to contemporary questions of how cultures relate to nature…[It] is a welcome addition to the ongoing revival of kinship, and will stimulate further debate among its many participants.”  ·  Ethnobiology Letters

The genealogical model has a long-standing history in Western thought. The contributors to this volume consider the ways in which assumptions about the genealogical model—in particular, ideas concerning sequence, essence, and transmission—structure other modes of practice and knowledge-making in domains well beyond what is normally labeled “kinship.” The detailed ethnographic work and analysis included in this text explores how these assumptions have been built into our understandings of race, personhood, ethnicity, property relations, and the relationship between human beings and non-human species. The authors explore the influences of the genealogical model of kinship in wider social theory and examine anthropology’s ability to provide a unique framework capable of bridging the “social” and “natural” sciences. In doing so, this volume brings fresh new perspectives to bear on contemporary theories concerning biotechnology and its effect upon social life.

Sandra Bamford is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on Papua New Guinea and the West, with an emphasis on kinship, gender, landscape, environmentalism, globalization, and biotechnology. In addition to having authored several journal articles and book chapters, her most recent publications include: Biology Unmoored: Melanesian Reflections on Life and Biotechnology (University of California Press, 2006) and Embodying Modernity and Postmodernity: Ritual, Praxis and Social Change in Melanesia (Carolina Academic Press, 2007).

James Leach is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. Published works include Creative Land: Place and Procreation on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea (2003), Reite Plants: An Ethnobotanical Study in Tok Pisin and English (2010, with Porer Nombo), and Recognising and Translating Knowledge, 2012 Anthropological Forum Special Issue, ed with R. Davis).

Series: Volume 15, Fertility, Reproduction and Sexuality


LC: GN486.5 .K56 2009

BL: YC.2012.a.16117

BISAC: SOC002000 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Anthropology/General; SCI029000 SCIENCE/Life Sciences/Genetics & Genomics; SOC000000 SOCIAL SCIENCE/General

BIC: PSXM Medical anthropology


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Table of Contents (Free download)

Arborescent Culture

Writing and Not Writing Racehorse Pedigrees

In this chapter I want to explore some of the implications of pedigree thinking that, it has been argued, were part of the social repertoire on which the genealogical method drew (Bouquet 1993). More importantly, this chapter is an argument for suspicion of any kind of genealogy constructed without consideration of the particular way of knowing it might produce. As I will show through a discussion of nineteenth-century Bedouin and English thoroughbred horse breeding practices, merely producing a written pedigree trans forms the manner in which knowledge about people (and horses) is envisaged. The recent creation of a cloned horse, the first in the world, has also provided a pertinent thought experiment for the current producers of the thoroughbred racehorse: what happens when pedigree stands still? What principles embodied by the pedigree (and by the genealogical model) are violated when descent is displaced by replication?

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When Blood Matters

Making Kinship in Colonial Kenya

In the last decade we have seen a revival of interest in the study of kinship that has been fuelled, in large part, by a critical reassessment of many of our most cherished anthropological notions of the nature of kinship. Many of those works that have reflected on, and sought to transform, the anthropological perspective on kinship were informed by David Schneider's (1968, 1972, 1984) influential argument that, with respect to the study of kinship, we must first determine the conceptual scheme, or the meanings and their configurations, that inform a cultural understanding of kinship, both at home and in a cross-cultural perspective (1984: 199).

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The Web of Kin

An Online Genealogical Machine

Drawing upon recent writings by historians of science, I argue in this chapter that digital genealogies, a by-product of experimental biomedical projects, can be usefully regarded as machines, as vehicles for generating connections and histories and for changing existing notions of kinship and belonging. I shall focus on the so-called Book of Icelanders, an extensive computerized database on Icelandic family histories that was made available on the Web in January 2003. Earlier, the database was made accessible in an encrypted form to the biomedical researchers of the company deCODE genetics. The genealogical database, then, has a dual role as both a public resource and an essential ingredient of biomedical research. As we will see, it has an aura of science fiction, combining elements of the cumbersome hypertext of late-medieval ancestral albums and the rhizo matic kinship of artificial life (see Helmreich 2001) – and yet it is ethnographically salient, a part of the everyday world of Icelanders.

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Genes, Mobilities, and the Enclosures of Capital

Contesting Ancestry in Its Applicators in Iceland

Technological advances and new discoveries in the field of molecular biology are perhaps among the most significant historical and cultural developments to emerge in the last two decades. They have already radically altered, for example, the ways in which humans can produce food, identify genetically linked diseases, and potentially prevent and cure these diseases. In addition to advances in agriculture, pharmaceuticals and medicine, however, biotechnology has also generated a powerful cultural imagery. As the authors Dorothy Nelkin and Susan Lindee observed in their book The DNA Mystique (1995), 'the gene' plays an increasingly important role in popular culture, in understandings of what constitutes human variation and behavior, in discussions about families and bearing children, and in expectations of what the future holds for human health and well-being. Scholars such as Nelkin and Lindee contend that genetic imagery has become so pervasive in North America that the gene itself has become 'iconic' and, as such, is profoundly reshaping cultural consciousness in the twenty-first century.

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Skipping a Generation and Assisting Conception

In this chapter, I focus on the way in which genealogy informs and is informed by relationships forged through 'new reproductive technologies' (NRT). I have argued elsewhere that residents of a town in the northwest of England, which for present purposes I call Alltown, explore the implications of technological or medical assistance of conception through their understanding of kinship, that is, through what they know about the making and breaking of intimate social relations and the growing of 'proper' persons (e.g., Edwards 1999, 2000; Edwards et al. 1999). They also explore innovative techniques of conception by way of what they know about the town, its people and its past, and also by way of what they know about the wider political and economic worlds in which they live (and see Edwards and Strathern 2000). They connect disparate and diverse elements of social life (which include genealogies) and in so doing map out a range of possible futures. This chapter centres on the connections that Alltown people make and the things they enlist in their focus on NRT. They draw on pasts and predict futures and, as Lisa Malkki writes, if histories and futures are different, 'it is not because one is real and the other imagined – both are imaginative constructions built out of people's perceived realities' (2001: 328). My interest is in the way in which a genealogical model is mobilized to narrate connections forged in novel forms of conception. I am also interested in the limits of the model and in the way in which the 'trickiness', as one Alltown woman put it, of actual and lived relationships cuts across it.

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'Family Trees' among the Kamea of Papua New Guinea

A Non-Genealogical Approach to Imagining Relatedness

In this paper, I explore the contours of an alternative cultural logic. Drawing upon research carried out with the Kamea of Papua New Guinea, I describe a world in which a genealogical framework ceases to be culturally relevant. In contrast to Europeans and North Americans, Kamea do not rely on physiological reproduction as a means of tracking social relationships through time. Despite my repeated efforts to ground intergenerational relations in a procreative bond, Kamea were quite insistent on the fact that neither a mother nor a father shares substance in common with their offspring. Instead, the parent-child tie is imagined as an inherently disembodied one. This shift in perspective carries with it a number of important 160 Sandra Bamford implications. As we shall see, 'crossing' species boundaries and forming intimate relations with the nonhuman world does not threaten the existing social and moral order for Kamea; instead, it is constitutive of it. In this paper, I use Kamea conceptions as a counterreflexive voice through which to consider several unexamined assumptions that accompany a genealogical framework. In particular, I highlight the extent to which a genealogical model has structured – both implicitly and explicitly – Euro-American understandings of the relationship between human beings and other constituents of the organic world.

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Knowledge as Kinship

Mutable Essence and the Significance of Transmission of the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea

I look to use ethnographic material to complement Bamford's contribution in the previous chapter and give evidence of an alternative to this generative system. I come on to expose some of the consequences of these formulations for the way we are able to understand humans' relations to each other and to their surroundings. To that end, I focus upon knowledge, and its role of connecting people as a social relation that is also an essential connection on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea. The point here is that although knowledge is vital and connects people, it is mutable, changing and open. People therefore are mutable, changeable, and open to the interventions and agency of others through a radically different set of tech - nologies than those of contemporary techno-science. These tech nologies are things we might otherwise call ritual, or art, or exchange cycles, but that are also correctly described as instruments through which the reality of another mode of existence is brought into being.

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Stories against Classification

Transport, Wayfaring and the Integration of Knowledge

Human beings are supremely knowledgeable creatures. That much is obvious. It is not so obvious, however, how they come to know what they do. By all accounts, without such knowledge they would be helpless. Nonhuman animals seem to know instinctively what to do in any circumstances they would normally encounter. But human beings are apparently born with a deficit, a gap – as Clifford Geertz once put it – 'between what our body tells us and what we have to know in order to function' (1973: 50). This gap, Geertz goes on to tell us, is filled by culture, a corpus of information containing all the essential guidelines for a certain way to live and distinguished by the fact that it is passed on from one generation to the next by some mechanism other than genetic replication. It is, in other words, acquired rather than innate. This is not to say that by comparison with its human cousins, the nonhuman animal learns nothing. Every organism lives and grows in an environment, and at any stage of development, environmental impacts can prompt it to follow one course rather than another. The animal's learning could be described as the developmental outcome of a series of responses to such prompts. It is in this sense – to adopt Peter Medawar's terms (1960: 90–94) – an 'elective' process. The acquisition of culture, by contrast, is 'instructive'. That is to say, it is a matter not of the environmental steering of development along one of a number of possible routes, but of the installation of those programmes without which normal development could not take place at all (Ingold 1986: 357–59).

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Revealing and Obscuring River's Pedigrees

Biological Inheritance and Kinship in Madagascar

One of the most serious charges that can be directed against fellow anthropologists is that their theoretical assumptions distort and impair their understanding of the people they study. The field of kinship studies is arguably where this charge has been made most frequently and harshly. For example, Edmund Leach judged some of the central distinctions used in the comparative study of kinship systems by his contemporaries to be a harmful 'straitjacket of thought' (Leach 1961: 4). In his view, apparently obvious and innocuous category oppositions such as patrilineal/matrilineal were in fact responsible for ethnocentric biases, tautology and circularity. In the same vein, he castigated Malinowski for a number of tendentious assumptions on which he based his interpretation of the Trobriand word tabu (that kinship terms refer to individuals, and that their primary meaning stems from the nuclear family), which pushed him into a maze of anomalies and forced him to adopt desperate analytical expedients (1958: 143).

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The Gift and the Given

Three Nano-essays on Kinship and Magic

This chapter attempts to relate three anthropological arguments about kinship. Each concerns the thorny problem of how to bypass our all-enveloping cosmology of nature and culture when describing the very province of human experience on which this dualism is supposed to be ultimately grounded. In the modern West - ern tradition, as we know, kinship is the primal arena for the confrontation of biological nature and cultural nurture, animal instincts and human institutions, bodily substances and spiritual relations, real facts and legal fictions, and so on. Indeed, this has been so, supposedly, ever since humans became what they are, for this divisive predicament is precisely, we are asked to believe, what makes humans into what they are: Homo sapiens (Linnaeus) is Homo duplex (Durkheim).

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List of Figures (Free download)

Introduction (Free download)

List of Contributors (Free download)

Index (Free download)