Kinship, Law and the Unexpected: Relatives are Always a Surprise

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Viveiros de Castro, Fausto, and Strathern Her stay away from Cambridge these years meant that upon their return in she had a fresh encounter with a number of schools of thought and intellectual sensibilities that had taken off during this time, including Marxist anthropology and feminism. As she has sometimes commented, her disengagement from these debates up to that point enabled her to enter these conversations from an original perspective of partial detachment ibid: Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The Invention of Culture. During her time as an undergraduate student in Cambridge, Strathern was one of a batch of students enlisted by Audrey Richards to collect family histories and genealogies in the village of Elmdon as part of their training in field methods. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. These two books — Women in Between and Kinship at the Core — lay out some of the central concerns that have stayed with Strathern over the years. Studies in Melanesian Anthropology.

Kinship, Law and the Unexpected

Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, Carsten and Strathern : in the first case in response to developments in feminist scholarship in the late s and early s; and in the second case in light of the cultural shifts propitiated by the entrepreneurial ethos of Thatcherite Britain. Manchester: Manchester University Press. London: Routledge. Edwards et al. European Association of Social Anthropologists.

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Wantage: Sean Kingston Publishing. Strathern a. The Relation: Issues in Complexity and Scale. Prickly Pear Pamphlets. Cambridge: Prickly Pear Press. New York: Cambridge University Press. Relations: An Anthropological Exposition. Forthcoming , her latest book, sees Strathern further develop her interest in the relation by exploring its historical and epistemological flights, examining in particular the expositional strategies that have enabled relations to expand the anthropological imagination.

Street and Copeman Ashley Lebner trad. Holbraad and Pedersen , during which time they display their singular but also many-faceted potentialities, only to thereafter trigger an accelerating and exhilarating flight of interpretative effects. Gell Whilst the identification of three Strathernian personas offers me, indeed, grounds for hesitation, the triangulation between cultural criticism, the anthropological canon, and the flights of a meta-anthropology, seems, on the other hand, quite a productive space for enabling descriptive suspension.

What follows, then, takes such triangulation as a point of departure. The straight anthropologist, as Gell calls her, would be Strathern the Melanesian ethnographer and fieldworker, as well as Strathern the student and analyst of contemporary kinship formations. Strathern is widely recognized today as one of the most sophisticated interpreters of Melanesian social and symbolic practices.

The Gender of the Gift , hereafter GOG is undoubtedly the work that set Strathern apart as a magisterial analyst of Melanesian ethnographic materials. Josephides Prior to the publication of GOG Strathern had already an established reputation as an interpreter of Melanesian ethnographic materials. There are two aspects of that early work that I would like to emphasize here: her writings on the sociology of women, including early interventions in the famous inequality and gender debates of the late s, and her interests in aesthetics and form.

They were twice outside and therefore in-between. Van Baal of a complex kinship tension, and it did so steeped in empirical data. Women of Value, Men of Renown. Austin, Texas: University Press. Carsten and Strathern New Guinea Research Bulletin, The young urban migrant is in a structural position analogous to the woman in-between. Self-Decoration in Mount Hagen.

Nature, Culture and Gender. MacCormack and Strathern The book quickly became a source of inspiration for feminist scholarship, whose approach to the sex-gender complex had until that day been very much bogged down by the comparative and structural study of cultural formations. Self-decoration in Mount Hagen is perhaps her best-known work in this respect.

Learning to See in Melanesia. Hau Master Class Series, 2. Partial Connections. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press. Strathern b []: Analysis, in other words, as the tactical rediscovery of display. Mair In it Strathern revisited the field notes on kinship ties that Audrey Richards and her Cambridge undergraduate students had produced between and as part of their university fieldwork methods course in the village of Elmdon, Essex. In other words, how kinship had become a central operator of modernity: a device for making intelligible the contrast between tradition and change.

Kinship at the Core developed an analytical sensibility that Strathern would later refine into a wholesale anthropological technology: the way anthropologists use social relationships to uncover analytical relationships. The relationships of kinship became a tool for eliciting descriptive and conceptual relations for analysis.


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Strathern 7 and passim , allowed her to explore the cultural shifts of late-twentieth-century English culture from a radically novel position. Published in , After Nature testifies to the radical originality of the anthropological technology discovered by Strathern: a book that uncovers the role of kinship as perhaps the most powerful tool available to twentieth century English society for conceptualizing and reconceptualizing its historical predicaments.


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Moreover, After Nature further delineated a paradigm shift brought about by the arrival of new reproductive technologies, in particular the way they undermined the merographic function played by kinship. No longer just a cultural enabler of overlapping pluralities, kinship has also become now an option for plural choices: when to have children, with what genetic make-up, etc.

MacCormack, and Marilyn Strathern eds. Reflecting on Melanesian symbolic and relational practices Strathern manoeuvred to turn Euro-American theoretical reflections inside-out as symbolic conventions.

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Strathern and passim of Melanesian and Euro-American knowledge practices would become over time one of her analytical trademarks. Strathern b: 2.


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Strathern emphasis added. Our analytical equipment, therefore, presupposes already a theory of relations and actions between domains and concepts. Strathern I can hardly do justice to the wealth of provocations and insights that the book opened-up for anthropology and for social theory at large. Gewertz Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues.

Our bodies are divided by, but also sustained through, the relations we have we others. They are relational forms. Similarly, persons do not have gender either; gender is modulated and made concrete in male, female or otherwise forms through the different claims or impositions that we make on others and others make on us. We are constantly divided by these appearances and demands. As such, the role that division plays as a radical constant in social life challenges many of the sociological categories — say, labour, property or exchange — that we traditionally resort to for understanding how bodies and capacities act on one another.

Thus, Strathern outlines a model of Melanesian sociality where social efficacy is premised upon the aesthetic elicitation of relations — a model that stands on its own accord as an original theory of social action. GOG unsettled the very foundations of both the anthropological project and, more narrowly, the descriptive artifices of Melanesian ethnography.

It was not a book likely to go unnoticed, and it did of course provoke heated debates and reactions. Foster History and Tradition in Melanesian Anthropology. Carrier a and its occidentalisation of Euro-America e. Carrier b. Rather, as we have seen, Strathern set out to contrive an analogy between Melanesian and Euro-American symbolic and practical knowledge-systems in order to uncover the epistemological artifices — say, comparison, scale or contextualisation — through which social theory is organized as a technology of interpretation.

Strathern b []: 35, 38, 54 : where orders or domains of knowledge are not made commensurable but analogous to one another. One can zoom-in into a problem—say, by moving from country to region, or city, or household—but such operations will never reduce the order of complexity we encounter at any one level, which will simply recompose to remain constant throughout.

Somatechnics, Sep 2018, vo. 8, No. 2 : pp. 195-211

Such fractal qualities of knowledge require us abandoning any hope for comparability comparisons between countries, say, or between households and search instead for a working model of compatibility. There is no point trying to seek for an external reference point from where to judge the fitness of an intellectual judgment. Rather, judgments seem to work by way of the partiality of connections — the capacity to produce analogies — through which they fit themselves to action.

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In parallel to this latter interest in the institutionalisation of knowledge-forms, Strathern has developed also an interest in the cultural asymmetries between intellectual property law regimes and indigenous claims to traditional knowledge. In Strathern edited Audit Cultures, which examined the travels of enterprise into the academy and in particular its institutionalisation in ethics boards and administrative regimes of accountability. The book itself opened up new fields of inquiry in the anthropology of organisations, including innovative ethnographic studies on interdisciplinarity or science-society collaborations.