The Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of Modernity

Advanced Seminar

March 21–25, 2010

The Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of ModernityThe Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of ModernityAdvanced Seminar Co-chaired by Fenella Cannell, Reader in Social Anthropology, LSE, Department of Social Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science and Susan McKinnon, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia. March 21–25, 2010The Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of ModernityAdvanced Seminar Co-chaired by Fenella Cannell, Reader in Social Anthropology, LSE, Department of Social Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science and Susan McKinnon, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia. March 21–25, 2010

What can kinship tell us about the development and organization of one of the largest state petroleum companies in the world and its subsequent privatization? How can attention to kinship sentiments inform our understandings of the transnational movements of people, capital, and production that are at the core of contemporary globalization? Can an understanding of kinship and marriage help us comprehend the meanings and limits of nationality and citizenship or the expansion of one of the fastest-growing religions in the world? These are some of the many questions that were the subjects of vibrant discussions during the advanced seminar “The Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of Modernization.”

Co-chairs Fenella Cannell and Susan McKinnon brought together 10 experts on kinship—a topic long at the core of anthropological inquiry—to challenge 150 years’ worth of received wisdom concerning the role of kinship in “modern” societies. Fundamental to a wide range of theories across the social sciences—including those addressing social evolution, development, and modernization—is a distinction between societies based on kinship and societies based on territory, contracts, and the state. In the former, economics, politics, and religion are understood to be inextricably embedded in kinship relations. In the latter, these domains are conceptualized as functionally separate, with kinship disembedded from political and economic relations and relegated to the domestic sphere.

The Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of ModernityThe Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of ModernityThe Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of Modernity“The seminar had three central goals,” said the co-chairs: “to understand the historical emergence and the social and theoretical consequences of this distinction; to reassess ethnographically the role of kinship in ‘modern’ societies; and to lay the foundation for a new approach that will allow scholars to investigate, and not simply presuppose, the connections between kinship, politics, economics, and religion in contemporary societies.”

Cannell and McKinnon convened a group of scholars who have been at the forefront of recent innovations in the study of kinship and who have long been engaged with explorations of kinship across the world—from Indonesia and the Philippines to Africa and Madagascar, from the United States and Mexico to India and China, and from Native America to Europe and Latin America. They contributed richly detailed ethnographic accounts of the relevance of kinship to the structures and dynamics of contemporary economics, politics, and religion.

Participants investigated the nineteenth-century emergence of the idea that modernity is necessarily marked by the disembedding of both kinship and religion from politics and economics. They traced the complex affinities between kinship, morality, and religion at the center of supposedly secular concerns as diverse as global economics and global warming. They asked how ideas of kinship and marriage have been essential to the demarcation of the boundaries of nation and citizenship as well as to migrations of people within and across national borders. The Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of ModernityThe Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of ModernityThe Difference Kinship Makes: Rethinking the Ideologies of ModernityThey examined the vital importance of kinship in the organization of capital and production as Indian workers build steel ships for a Norwegian corporation, as Italian family firms outsource silk manufacturing to China, as Argentina develops its national oil production in Patagonia, and as clinicians process blood samples in a high-tech pathology lab in Penang, Malaysia.

“In a powerful way,” said the co-chairs, “this advanced seminar made ethnographically visible what both social theory and cultural narratives have too long made invisible—the critical difference kinship makes to the comprehension of the complexities of ‘modern’ societies and their global political, economic, and religious entanglements.”

Fenella Cannell, Chair Reader in Social Anthropology, LSE, Department of Social Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science The Re-enhancement of Kinship
Susan McKinnon, Chair Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia Kinship Within and Beyond the “Movement of Progressive Societies”
Laura Bear Lecturer, Department of Social Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science “E Shorir, Amar Shorir” (this body is our body): The Productive Powers of Viswakarma and Ranna Puja in Corporated Shipyard Private Ltd.
Barbara Bodenhorn Newton Trust Lecturer, Pembroke College On the Road Again: Migration, Marriage, Mestizaje: the Race of Kinship?
Janet Carsten Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Social Anthropology, School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh Ghosts, Commensality, and Scuba Diving: Tracing Kinship and Sociality in Clinical Pathology Labs and Blood Banks in Penang
Gillian Feeley-Harnik Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor The Genealogist’s Task: Placing the Dead in 19th Century America: Genealogy-making, Cemetery-making, City-making (and Life/death-making?)
Michael Lambek Professor and Canada Research Chair, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto Kinship, Modernity, and the Immodern
Danilyn Rutherford Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago Kinship and Compulsion: Global Warming and the Rhetoric of Descent
Elana Shever Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Union College “I Am a Petroleum Product”: Kinship and Sentiment in the Argentine Oil Fields
Sylvia J. Yanagisako Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University Transnational Family Capitalism

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