Annotation: Tsing, Anna. & Yanagisako, Sylvia. 1983. Feminism and Kinship Theory

Tsing, Anna. & Yanagisako, Sylvia. 1983. Feminism and Kinship Theory. Current Anthropology 24(4):551-516

The article summarizes the proceedings of a 1982 conference on feminism and kinship theory that focused on three analytical strategies: 1) attention to the symbolic identity of gender; 2) investigation of gender in the context of power and inequality, and; 3) investigation of historical transformations in gender systems. As the authors write, “Questions about gender and kinship have been closely linked, and the centrality of kinship in anthropological inquiry places the feminist reexamination of gender at the hear of the discipline” (511). The papers presented under this three strategies suggest to look at kinship as an analytical tool, and at gender as a principle of social organization (516). Through these strategies, the conference participants propose a feminist analysis in which the the interrelationships of gender are “understood as embedded in particular cultural, economic, and political systems” (511). The attention to the specificities in the organization of gender as shown in various ethnographic cases presented at the conference, argues against the universality of kinship concepts such as “patrilineality,” one the ideas that I would like to explore in my paper. An example of a study on the “historical transformations” approach, in which gendered kinship ties are understood to acquire new meanings within the context of certain historical periods. In Tswana for instance, John Comaroff, argues that agnatic ties must be understood according to the different contexts during the pre-capitalist and agrarian capitalist periods. Also of interest is Rayna Rapp’s study of the continuity of notions of kinship despite physical separation from the family through rural to urban migration. These examples of research provide ethnographic evidence that questions the universality of the male/female and public/domestic divide.

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