General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
Warren Shapiro edited Focality and extension in kinship: essays in memory of Harold W. Scheffler, A primary claim by Scheffler purports that procreative (unfortunately referred to in the book blurb as biology) ties are everywhere semantically central, i.e. focal … from which other kinship ties are extended”. ‘Performative’ kinship (the term given to non-procreative, non-marital ties) is, according to the claim, not semantically on a par with kinship established through procreation and marriage.
I contend that focusing on ‘focality’ reduces the issue to primacy of some kinship relations over others, thus leading to the same trap nurturists fell into, and referring to some kinship ties as performative denies them a criterial exclusivity, since all kinship ties can be characterized as performative.
Instead, I propose to shift analytic focus from primacy to the structural dynamics of an integrated kinship -- an approach shown to be empirically sound and theoretically inclusive of ties established through three pathways: birth, marital tie, and suckling (a practice that in Arabia produces ties that are both culturally recognized and analytically sound).
My analysis is grounded in systematically gathered field data on Arabian Gulf kinship. It shows kinship to be a bounded set of relations, procreative, incorporative, and transformative. Ethnography demonstrates how kin share corporateness, is bound by generational continuity and, significantly, by rules of incest prohibitions extending horizontally and vertically. Kinship relations are identified by having a formal terminology for kin positions. These criteria, together and uniquely, are necessary and sufficient to characterize relations as kinship.