Kinshipology: Blood and Kinship in Anthropological Fieldwork


As part of the Hartwick College Cultural Anthropology 2016 course, this is a comment page for two readings regarding the general theme of “kinshipology”:

  • Bowen, pp.116-155 in Return to Laughter.
  • Welsch & Vivanco, chapter 10, “Kinship, Marriage, and the Family” (184-201) in their Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

This class began by tracking a few things:

  • Perceptions of space (see Brian’s comment and Otelia’s comment on Bowen:52) and Perceptions of time (compare Bowen:68-69 with Welsch & Vivanco:50). These are part of the findings of fieldwork. As discussed in the previous class on fieldwork, these are findings which can’t be made from a distance.
  • Comparing explanations of Structural Functionalism (Welsch & Vivanco:146) with what we learned from Trouillot about global flows. Indeed, while the findings were very important, anthropologists often reinforced ideas of cultural wholes and isolates.
  • Compare Bowen’s statement “Here the important ties were between blood relatives” (131) with what she discovered on 126-127. I’ve posted about this and other elements of the novel as “Fieldwork and Kinshipology.” Class covered many of these aspects.
  • Also want to keep our eyes on Marzipan’s comment regarding the idea that “I comprehended for the first time that it is morally impossible to refuse help which it is in one’s power to give” (35-36). This will be important again when we finish the novel.

At the end of class, began to turn to Ariana’s comment about understanding the world into which this book was launched. Part of the answer had to do with the way in which the US valued nuclear kinship in the new subdivisions, as discussed in Welsch & Vivanco:186, John and Ariana below.

So in many ways, when anthropologists brought back the great diversity of kinship and marriage arrangements, they may have done so under the idea of relativizing our outlook.

However, what Welsch & Vivanco do not discuss is how very white most of these subdivisions were. Turned to a couple of sources, like the excellent Race and Suburban Homogeneity: The Flanner House Homes and Post-Urban African America by archaeologist Paul Mullins and also Black Family Challenges Racial Barriers in Suburb.

I then showed the class what I think is the original cover from the first edition of Return to Laughter (and I hesitate to reproduce here):
Return to Laughter - Kinshipology
In the context of Black Americans attempting to move into White suburbs, what effect do such books have?

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