February 01, 2006

Lets study kinship!

I was just thinking about the difference between British stuctural-functionalist and Lévi-Strauss' theories on kinship - as our systems professor Manuela pointed out the French referent of kinship, parenté includes not only descent but also alliance, no wonder Lévi-Strauss paid much more attention to marriage than his British colleagues - and then my mom sends me a family tree she received from her cousin that traces a part of our family to the early 19th century Austria. My parents have become really interested in doing research into our family over the past few months, but what I think is especially fascinating about this new project of theirs is the discoveries they, and me as well, have found the most exciting, not who we are descended from, even though the occasional bastard aristocrat has merited attention, but the wide range of connections we appear to have over the world and to different artistic and scientific persona. As my mom wrote to me today in reference to the family tree she sent: "Aren't we an international bunch!". Last week she sent me the link to a wikipedia article in German she'd found on my great-grandfather, Felix Bryk, who turns out was an Austrian Jewish ethnologist and entomologist who wrote books on African Voodoo, and Circumcision (amazingly the books are available through Amazon). I guess I know now whose foot-steps I'm following. Of course all the discoveries are not as fun, we were all shocked to find out that Felix's physicist and chemist brothers were killed in the Nazi concentration camps. Before hearing about this the only direct connection I knew my mom's side of the family to have had with Hitler's Reich were my grandmother's stories of how she got lost in Berlin as a young girl because she was part of the Finnish gymnastic team in the 1936 olympic games.

As my fellow-classmates in Systems have been complaining anthropological studies on kinship seem so old-fashioned when you read through them; their attempts to draw up systematic rules and laws for who is supposed to marry whom or who one holds political allegiance to, seem to be so distanced from reality, both that of their respective societies and contemporary anthropology. I used to think the same when I was forced to sit through tedious hours of classes on kinship systems in introductory classes on anthropology. But now I'm not sure. Perhaps Radcliffe-Brown's, Evans-Pritchard's, and Lévi-Strauss' approaches may be out of date, but I don't think kinship as a central trope has gone anywhere. Who of you doesnt have someone in your family doing some kind of family research, or at least someone interested in knowing where your family comes from? Go Anthropology of Kinship!


Blogger Emblem Parade said...

I agree entirely. Here's a useful introduction to/reference for kinship.

2/01/2006 6:14 PM  
Blogger Elina said...

Cool! Thanks! It looks really helpful.
So, how was your evening? Wonderful, I hope.
I've been spending mine reading Malinowski and baking bread, yum!

2/02/2006 12:01 AM  

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