Generally speaking, then, in our society, marriage is no longer the act that founds the couple.
Networks of related families exist and continue to lend* support to their members, beyond the boundaries of their birth or conjugal* families, especially in times of economic recession or youth unemployment. But these networks are beginning to shrink, contracting* around the axes of direct descent, and increasingly excluding close or distant collaterals*.
What are the forces that have modified the forms and practices of kinship in Western societies since the mid twentieth century?
The first is the emphasis on the right to freely choose the other with whom to found a couple.
The second force helping to reshape kinship relations arose out of changes in gender relations and the increasing social pressure for greater equality between the sexes in all areas of social and personal life.
The third force that gradually affected the field of kinship and the family was the progressive valorization* of the child and childhood, whereby the child was no longer seen as a being more or less ‘incapable of reasoning’ but as already a person, one whose arrival* in the family was no longer endured but rather desired and even, thanks to medical progress, programmed*.
All of these changes are borne along by a deeper current that did not arise in the field of kinship but witch flows through it and continuously acts within it, just as it courses* through all areas of social life and acts on them. It is the current that propels promotion of the individual as such, independently of his or her initial attachments to family or social group, that lends value to autonomous* behavior and the capacity* to take the initiative, to accept responsibilities, and that enables the individual to rise within the public and private institutions that constitute the economic and political structure of our societies.
It has become harder to be a parent, and we are now seeing many families undergoing a profound crisis of parental authority, one that affects the father more than the mother in so far as* he was traditionally the one who embodied* the law and authority. We thus sometimes find, when the parents separate or divorce, a veritable dissolution* of the father figure.
If the father and/or the mother remarry, the children find themselves in families composed of fragments of former families.
In short, pulled hither and thither by these opposing and even contradictory* currents, the family at the dawn of the twenty-first century certainly no longer looks like the stable basis or keystone of society, if it ever was. And the increasing numbers of homosexual couples demanding the right to raise children they themselves did not engender add new uncertainties about the future of parenthood, the family and marriage.
Globally, and with hindsight*, all of the changes that have recently occurred in the family appear to be in keeping with the overall evolution of Western democratic societies, witch favour individual initiatives and interests, and which therefore in principle reject despotic* forms of public – but also private – authority.
No one foresaw this evolution when it began to emerge some ten years after the Second World War, and no one today knows exactly where it will lead.
To say that the evolution of the family is linked to the global evolution of society as a whole amounts to viewing many pronouncements on marriage, the family, love and desire as so many ideological manifestos.
It seems obvious that, between the demonization of today’s society and its ‘angelization’, there is room for another attitude that consists in* conducting a detailed inventory* of actual situations and practices before making a judgement. This attitude implies setting aside* theoretical assumptions and listening to what people have to say about themselves and others, about their past and their present, and trying to confront discourse with actual practice. To be sure, these discourses and practices must be placed in much longer time frame than that of an individual’s personal memories and references: this time frame is that of the modern history of European societies.
Such an attitude entails combining various approaches and methods from the social sciences, first among which are those used by historians, who try to bring to life a past more often unknown than forgotten or invented, and those used by anthropologists, whose profession demands long immersion in a contemporary society and its observation, at a remove*, as it were, but also from within. What does the anthropologist have to say about this evolution?
Let us imagine someone who knows little of the latest developments in anthropology but who is knowledgeable* about the social sciences and is now seeking quickly to discover what has become of kinship studies.
Without necessarily returning to the founding fathers of anthropology (in particular L. H. Morgan, who in 1871 published his huge Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family), the mere mention of a few of the great names in the discipline – Pitt-Rivers, Kroeber, Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard, Fortes, Murdock, Lévi-Strauss, Lounsbury, Dumont, Needham – all of whom owe something of their renown* to their contribution to kinship studies, should be enough to reassure the non-specialist that kinship is indeed an area in which anthropology excels and an object whose study is more or less its specialty.
Our reader would therefore probably be astonished*, as she scrolls through the various available sources on the computer screen, to discover that the study of kinship has practically disappeared from the course lists of numerous American university anthropology departments as well as a certain number in Europe who have followed suit*.
In the space of forty years, kinship – which seemed to have come out rather well in the many tough battles through which competing generations of anthropologists sought to define or redefine the object, its principles and (biological and/or social) foundations – had finally dissolved* of its own record*.
In reality, as the rest of the present work intends to show, this apparent absence stems from* the fact that, far from having vanished, the object ‘kinship’ has emigrated to other areas of anthropology where it is being refashioned and linked to new questions. In other words, the analysis of kinship has simply deserted* those places where anthropology had been running in circles for decades, bogged down* in insoluble* problems by false principles. The blanks left by this desertion are not necessarily a sign that the announced death has occurred.
But let us begin at the beginning.
MORGAN, THE FOUNDER
Why begin with the American Lewis Henry Morgan? Because epitomizes* the contradictions facing anthropology from the start. At the same time, he also shows the conditions under which fieldwork and the interpretations anthropologists propose of what they have observed can slowly acquire a scientific character and constitute a new type of knowledge of the other and oneself, one that no longer merely projects onto this other the prejudices of the anthropologists and his or her culture, garbed in discourse borrowed from the exact sciences.
※最後のgarbed in discourse borrowed from the exact sciencesがどこを修飾しているのかがわからない。
By way of a reminder, let us recall that, in Morgan’s time (1818-81), the paradigm of scientific explanation was Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species. It was in this context that Morgan became fascinated by Indian customs and decided to devote his life to their study.
While doing fieldwork among the Seneca, a tribe of the Iroquois confederation, Morgan discovered that their kinship relations displayed a logic of their own that was very different from that of the European and American-European systems.
When he extended his study to other North American Indian tribes with different languages and cultures, he discovered that had the same structure as that of the Seneca.
Confronted with this diversity but also these convergences, Morgan decided to launch a worldwide survey of kinship terminologies and marriage rules.
Thanks to their replies, Morgan was the first person in history to dispose of such a quantity and diversity of information on kinship practices in societies dispersed widely over the face of the earth.
We thus see how Morgan endowed anthropology with one of its objects of study (kinship), with a method for studying it (the genealogical questionnaires), and with a first batch of findings including the discovery of some of the rules non-European societies had chosen to organize ties of descent and alliance between the individuals and the groups that make up these societies.
But all this was possible only because of Morgan’s remarkable and persistent effort to decentre his thinking with respect to the categories of his own (Euro-American) society and culture.
Morgan’s approach thus marked a profound rupture with the spontaneous ethnography practiced by missionaries, military officers, colonial administrators, traders and other representatives of the Western world, all of whom had been striving since the sixteenth century to improve their knowledge of the customs of the populations they were trying to convert, control or administer, and who had, in certain cases, set down their observations in letters, reports or accounts of their travels.
THE INCOMPLETE DECENTRING
But there is another side to Morgan’s work. As soon as his Systems was published, he turned to the task of marshalling* all his data and analyses with a view to* reconstructing, as so many were attempting at the time, the evolution of humankind.
In short, the same man who had managed to decentre his own thinking with regard to Western categories and had engendered a new discipline, this time around harnessed* his findings to a speculative* ideological version of history that – once again, though now with new arguments – made Europe and America the mirror in which humankind could at once contemplate* its origins and measure its evolution, in a process that had left a great number of peoples far behind.
In the end, by presenting the Western nuclear – and monogamous – family as the most rational form of family, as that form in which the ‘blood’ ties connecting a child to his or her (real) father and to his or her (real) mother were finally visible, Morgan, despite his efforts to decentre his thinking with regard to the values and representations of his own society, was never able to treat the Western way of organizing kinship, the family and marriage as merely one cultural model among others, a model that was just as ethnocentric and therefore equally as ‘rational’ or ‘irrational’ as the others.
For decades following Morgan, hundreds of field surveys confirmed the importance of kinship relations in the functioning of these societies.
LÉVI-STRAUSS AND HIS CRITICS
Morgan : had made the exclusion of incest the driving force behind the changes in the family and in kinship relations, and one of the conditions of human progress.
Lévi-Strauss was implicitly in agreement with Freud.
Once kinship ties began to appear as the very basis of these societies, their study was regarded as providing the key to understanding the way societies worked.
This in turn resulted in a proliferation* of studies on the subject, including works by some of the biggest names in anthropology, making kinship studies the lynchpin of the new social science.
Lévi-Strauss changed the scope of kinship studies by postulating that the incest taboo had been the primary condition both for the emergence of kinship relations and for the appearance of ‘genuine’ human society, henceforth separate from the animal-like state and pursuing its development in another world, a man-made one, the world of culture.
The goal thus singularly outstripped the standard theoretical ambitions and limits of anthropology, and of the other social sciences taken separately.
Yet, in The Elementary Structures of Kinship, Lévi-Strauss paid scant attention to the fact that Freud had based kinship relations on the exchange of women and had made this exchange the consequence of the incest taboo.
With Lévi-Strauss, it was possible to believe that the study of kinship, thus elevated, had a considerable future and that its importance would no longer be contested.
But the edifice was already cracking under the strain of criticism from various parts. Feminist anthropologists, for instance.
Leach, for his part, having greeted Lévi-Strauss’ ideas with interest and introduced them in Great Britain, later undertook a critique.
Leach’s iconoclastic blow was to be followed by many others, and they came from the two British temples of anthropology of kinship: Cambridge and Oxford. One after another, the concepts of kinship, marriage, incest and descent, together with Meyer Fortes’ notion of complementary filiation, prescription or preference in the choice of a spouse in elementary systems, were dissected and confronted with various facts that contradicted the accepted definitions.