Domestic Exceptions: Evans-Pritchard and the Creation of Nuer Patrilineality and Equality

Editorial Overview

In this February 2000 article, University of Virginia anthropologist Susan McKinnon revisits The Nuer, a classic monograph published by British social anthropologist Edward Evans-Pritchard in 1940. While undeniably a classic in the field, The Nuer has met with extensive criticism. McKinnon's article examines the work of Evans-Pritchard and that of his critics to provide a nuanced challenge to the 'analytic domaining' that engenders Evans-Pritchard's ever problematic, though highly provactive, study of Nilotic kinship. McKinnon writes that her close reading of Evans-Pritchard ethnographic corpus on the Nuer (i.e., Naath) does not aim to shed light on the contemporary crises in Sudan, rather it is meant to highlight the 'situatedness and cultural specificity of the theoretical frameworks' that were in use at the time of its production. This effort enables McKinnon to demonstrate Evans-Pritchard's--following Meyer Fortes--tripartite division of social life: the domestic, the political, and the religious. Consequently, this heuristic failed to allow Evans-Pritchard to apprehend a number of important facets of Nuer social life (e.g. agnation, feuds, female linkages), yet enabled a depiction of the Nuer as egalitarian and patrilineal. Ultimately, McKinnon marshalls evidence to place the tenability of a division between the political, the domestic, and the religious into question which she understands as a form of 'analytic domaining.' Furthermore, she demonstrates how this division has engendered a legacy of scholarship in which the 'really real' and the 'ideal' of Nuer logic and practice has been bracketed in order to preserve the analysts' onto-epistemological orientations.

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E. Evans-Pritchard, "The Nuer." November 19, 2012.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published an array of essays that interrogate notions of kinship. See Sherry Errington's "Incestuous Twins and the House Societies of Insular Southeast Asia" (1987), Corinne P. Hayden's "Gender, Genetics, and Generation: Reformulating Biology in Lesbian Kinship" (1995), David M. Schneider's "The Power of Culture: Notes on Some Aspects of Gay and Lesbian Kinship in America Today" (1997), and most recently, Daniel Fisher's "Mediating Kinship: Country, Family, and Radio in Northern Australia" (2009).

Cultural Anthropology has also published an expansive corpus of work on anthropological epistemologies since its inaugural issue in 1986. See Edward M. Bruner's "Anthropology and Human Studies" (1986), Paul Dresch's "Segmentation: Its Roots in Arabia and Its Flowering Elsewhere" (1988), Pierre Bourdieu's "The Scholastic Point of View" (1990), and more recently, Michael M.J. Fischer's "Four Genealogies for a Recombinant Anthropology of Science and Technology" (2007).

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E. Evans-Pritchard, "Segmentation." November 19, 2012 via The Nuer, Oxford University Press.

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E. Evans-Pritchard, "Nuer Clans." November 19, 2012 via The Nuer, Oxford University Press.

About the Author

Susan McKinnon is Professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of Virginia. Her research interests are situated at the intersection of gender, kinship, and anthropological theory. Her work more broadly understood interrogates "the ways in which particular cultural understandings are transformed into authoritative representations of the "nature" of the world."

Other Works by Susan McKinnon

1991. From a shattered sun: hierarchy, gender, and alliance in the Tanimbar Islands. Madison : University of Wisconsin Press.

1995a. "American kinship/American incest: asymmetries in a scientific discourse", in S. Yanagisako C. Delaney (eds.), Naturalizing power: essays in feminist cultural analysis, 25–46. New York: Routledge.

1995b. "Houses and hierarchy: the view from a South Moluccan society", in J. Carsten S. Hugh-Jones (eds.), About the house: Levi-Strauss and beyond, 170–88. Cambridge: University Press.

2001. "The economies in kinship and the paternity of culture: origin stories in kinship theory", in S. Franklin S. McKinnon (eds.), Relative values: reconfiguring kinship studies, 277–301. Durham: Duke University Press.

2005a. Neo-liberal genetics: the myths and moral tales of evolutionary psychology. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

2005b. "On kinship and marriage: a critique of the genetic and gender calculus of evolutionary psychology", in S. McKinnon S. Silverman (eds.), Complexities: beyond nature and nurture, 106–31. Chicago : University of Chicago Pres.

Key References

Dumont, Louis. 1980. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1940. The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

___________. 1951 Kinship and Marriage among the Nuer. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

___________. 1956 Nuer Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kuper, Adam. 1982. 'Lineage theory: a critical retrospect', Annual Review of Anthropology 11: 71–95.

Sahlins, Marshall D. 1961. "The Segmentary Lineages: An Organization of Predatory Expansion." American Anthropologist 63(2):322-345.

Southall, Aidan. 1986 "The Illusion of Nath Agnation." Ethnology 25(1):1-20.

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