In response to the often-deafening debates concerning the marriage equality movement in the US, clandestine polygamous marriages in Italy, transnational adoptions, and expanding global access to medicalized reproduction, this Curated Collection draws together five recent essays to be published by Cultural Anthropology which critically examine the topic of kinships. Through an array of methodological, theoretical, and textual approaches, the essays in this issue focus attention on less familiar, though equally instructive, practices, and imaginaries of kinship. We offer these essays as a challenge to reflect on the perpetual motion of the politics of kinship, as well as an invitiation to explore the rich archive on the topic to be found in Cultural Anthropology.
In its 20 year history, Cultural Anthropology has published cutting edge scholarship on topics ranging from incest to genetics. Despite the penetrating analyses that many of these studies offer, the pages of Cultural Anthropology also reflect the wavering significance of the study of kinship to anthropological scholarship. For although attention to kinship is evident from the earliest issues of the journal, for example, Sherry Errington's 1987 article "Incestuous Twins and the House Societies of Insular Southeast Asia", the journal was relatively silent on the topic of kinship for nearly a decade after the publication of Errington's essay until the posthumous publicaiton of David Schneider's notes on alternative kinship formations. Schneider's article, "The Power of Culture: Notes on Some Aspects of Gay and Lesbian Kinship in America Today", inaugurated a debate that brought 'homosexual kinship' into the spotlight and drew comment from Marilyn Strathern, Richard K. Herrell, and Ramon A. Gutierrez.
The topic of kinship remained unexamined in these pages for another decade with the exception of Susan McKinnon's article, "Domestic Exceptions: Evans-Pritchard and the Creation of Nuer Patrilineality and Equality". McKinnon's article offers an interrogation of the theoretical underpinnings of the work of one of the most influential anthropologists in the discipline of anthropology: Sir Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard. McKinnon's close reading of Evans-Pritchard's corpus on the Nuer (i.e., Naath) highlights the 'situatedness and cultural specificity of the theoretical frameworks' that were in use at the time of its composition. This approach enables McKinnon to reveal the presence of a tripartite division between the domestic, the political, and the religious spheres undergirding Evans-Pritchard's depiciton of Nuer everyday life. Consequently, McKinnon argues that Evans-Pritchard's presentation of the Nuer as egalitarian and patrilineal not only obsures the existence of alternative models of kinship and affiliation amongst the Nuer, but also reinforces his onto-epistemological orienations.
Eight years after McKinnon's essay, Cultural Anthropology revisited the topic of kinships with the publication of two articles in its November 2008 issue: "We Were Dancing in the Club, Not on the Berlin Wall: Black Bodies, Street Bureaucrats, and Exclusionary Incorporation into the New Europe" by Damani James Partridge and "Runaway Stories: The Underground Micromovements of Filipina Oyomesan in Rural Japan" by Lieba Faier. Not only do these articles share a focus on the manifest diversity in kinship formations, but their authors also both attend to how those formations are inflected by local, transnational, and global forces. Partridge's essay isolates a complex that he refers to as "exclusionary incorporation" in the post-Wall moment in Germany whereby "white" female, German citizens exercise judgment and discretion in their relations with their "black" sexual partners, effecting the legal regime of the state at the level of the nightclub encounter. Partridge argues that deliberations by these women over the possibility of marriage to their "black" partners reflects German immigration and asylum laws, refracted through the lens of desire for the hypersexualized black male body, reiterating the dynamics of the Nazi genocide and German guilt as well as the celebration of African-American culture in the post-Cold War capitalist moment.
Immigration policies also undergird Faier's essay where she attends to the experiences of immigrant Filipina women (Oyomesan) married to Japanese men, many of whom initially arrived to Japan as employees in rural hostess bars. In interviews with these women, Faier detects the frequency of the invocation of a strategic tactic of "running away" from their less than ideal domestic conditions. Faier understands the practice and imaginary of "running away" as a "micromovement" that enables these women to "negotiatate the disappointing gaps that emerge between their dreams and expectations for their lives abroad and the demands and constraints that they expereince." Consequently, "running away" as both practiced and imagined, provided these women with the prospect of an extradomestic space where the vulnerabilities that Japanese immigration policies in concert with the political economic relations between Japan, the Phillipines, and the United States could be mitigated.
A renewed interest in the complexities of kinship formations is increasingly evident in more recent issues of Cultural Anthropology. In the February 2009 issue, "Fathers, Sons, and the State: Discipline and Punishment in a Wolof Hinterland", Donna Perry reflects on three "breach cases" of intergenerational conflict in rural Senegal whereby elder males enlist the services of state police forces to discipline rebellious youth. Perry asks: "Why do Wolof farmers seek recourse with the absolute Other (the state) to solve domestic disputes?" Her analysis suggests that a dichotomization between public (the state police) and private (the rural Senegalese household) are actually in collaboration in the enforcement of a "biased vision of the public good." Although this version of the public good is inflected by neoliberal reform and free market fundamentalism, and the household is caught up in a dynamic struggle for control over resources, fathers selectively engage state agents to perpetuate a model of the "good" Wolof family.
Subsequently, in a May 2009 article, "Mediating Kinship: Country, Family, and Radio in Northern Australia", Daniel Fisher analyzes the articulation of radio broadcasts with idioms of kinship in postcolonial Northern Australia, simultaneously outlining the socio-historical contexts of Aboriginal personhood and identity. Fisher examines the importance of kinship for an Aboriginal Australian social imaginary wherein personal, familial, and communal links have been broken by decades of loss, geographic dispersal, and incarceration. He argues that Indigenous radio request programs, largely the products of cultural activists, animate two domains of mediated social life: the networking faciliatated by and through communicative technologies, on the one hand, and the normative reckoning of kin, on the other. The 'back-and-forth movement' between these networked orders ultimately 'secures the value of each domain.'
We hope that this collection of essays challenges our readers to reflect on the vital contributions that anthropological inquiry continues to offer on the steadfast complexities of kinship. Please join us in our Discussion Forum to discuss this Curated Collection as well as explore the complete list of essays on Kinships from Cultural Anthropology's archive.