A Critique of the Study of Kinship

February 4, 2018 | Author: Zhifang Song | Category: Kinship, Ethnography, Theory, English Language, Perception
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David M. Schneider A Critique of the Study of


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David M. Schneider

Schneider challenges the a s s u m p t i o n s on which anthropology has depended for the last century by showing that one of the major categories in t e r m s of which social life h a s been understood is largely untenable. The idea of kinship is subjected to penetrating scrutiny. Unlike the proverbial Emperor, it is not that kinship has no clothes. The question is whether there is anything at all underneath t h o s e clothes. And even the clothes appear to be s h r e d s and p a t c h e s held together by a web of illusions. The critique u s e s a novel device in that the s a m e set of ethnographic "facts" are looked at through different theories. This reveals a good deal about the different theories. By the s a m e token, of course, the critique g o e s into the question of what a "fact" of "kinship" might be and how to recognize one either at h o m e or in the field. Schneider's critique also u s e s history to raise cogent q u e s tions about how kinship h a s been studied. But it is not a s 2 0 / 2 0 hindsight that history is u s e d . Due respect is paid to the climate of the time, a s well a s the climatic c h a n g e s and the ways in which t h e s e helped to create the emperor's clothes. Right, wrong, or indifferent, Schneider's study of how the emperor "kinship" w a s d r e s s e d a n d t h e n r e d r e s s e d a s t h e winds of c h a n g e threatened disarray, proves challenging to the theories by which anthropology lives, a s well a s to the specially privileged domain of "kinship." The implications of this study for a wide range of problems within theoretical anthropology are striking.

The author of American Kinship: A Cultural Account and, with R. T. Smith, Class Differences and Sex Roles in American Kinship and Family Structure among many other books and articles, David M. Schneider is emeritus William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago.



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