ZiF Research Group
Kinship and Politics:
Rethinking a Conceptual Split and its Epistemic Implications in the Social Sciences
Convenors: Erdmute Alber (Bayreuth, GER), David Warren Sabean (Los Angeles, USA), Simon Teuscher (Zürich, SUI), Tatjana Thelen (Wien, AUT)
ZiF Research Group Summer School
Undoing the Boundaries between Kinship and Politics
3 - 7 July 2017
Organisers: Erdmute Alber (Bayreuth, GER), Jennifer Rasell (Bielefeld, GER), David Warren Sabean (Los Angeles, USA), Simon Teuscher (Zurich, SUI), Tatjana Thelen (Vienna, AUT)
The summer school revolved around two core theoretical perspectives: (a) kinship and family as analytical categories and (b) uses of kinship in political practice. Its demands on the 20 doctoral students and early career scholars were high-22 papers to be read in advance and presenting the paper of someone from a different discipline. The sessions paired papers that sometimes at first sight seemed far apart, such as assisted reproduction in Georgia and pregnancy in the European Middle Ages, to great effect. It was eye opening to see how a different discipline-anthropology, geography, history, sociology-reads one's work. The regional scope of the summer school was no less broad with fruitful cross-discussions of the politics of kinship in post-socialist Serbia and in Bangladesh, or family spaces in the Middle East and patriarchy in the Dutch Revolt.
On the first day of the summer school David Sabean-one of the four convenors of the research group-was asked for a definition of kinship. In a first evasive step he highlighted the usefulness of concepts that are not clearly defined that allow a range of questions to be asked. On being further pushed he offered as a definition
the relationships between people who see themselves as related through one relational process or another, be it through substance, marriage, adoption, etc. Another way is to look at what we mean conceptually by kinship when we domain it as public/private, suggested Susan McKinnon, who is a fellow of the research group. Kinship as a universal concept was invented in the 19th century, reminded us co-convenor Simon Teuscher. The idea that kinship was always there has prevented investigation of its intellectual development. As the concept we use today it was invented at a time when kinship was already seen as something belonging to Europe's past and Teuscher drew attention to the temporal assumptions that we export with us when we start to use the term.
In her lecture on
More than Kinship: Political Belonging Through Care, co-convenor Tatjana Thelen showed through examples from Serbia, Romania, Austria and (East)Germany the importance of care for the (re)production of diverse forms of membership, ranging from kinship to citizenship. Such forms of belonging are often ordered along temporal ideas-as reciprocity along the individual life span and as a way to rank societies-and both feed into the production of political belonging but also exclusion. With her Serbian example Thelen specifically demonstrated the constant boundary work entailed in upholding the division between kinship and the state. She described how intimate state elderly care fulfilled duties usually associated with a loving family and how this contradiction between
warm practices and images of the
cold state was overcome by kinning between clients and state care workers:
And so I became kin to the child [state carer] as though she were my own.Kinning erases the state from these relationships and keeps the conceptual separation between kinship and the state intact. Thelen suggested that the concept of care collapses domains-kinship and the state, private and public-in ways that are productive for social analysis as a whole.
The personal highlights of the summer school for co-convenor Erdmute Alber was the term
administrative orphaning in the paper by Roii Ball; the example of a wedding with an absent groom in the paper by Leonardo Barleta; and the lecture by Michaela Hohkamp-another of our fellows-on disciplinary particularities through a cross-reading of two genealogical trees. All three insights came from historians, while Alber herself is a social anthropologist. She felt the exchange with other disciplines was highly productive as it brings you back to your own work and where you are standing-a sentiment shared by all the summer school participants and discussants.