CfP : Doing politics – making kinship

Doing politics – making kinship

Back Towards a Future Anthropology of Social Organisation and Belonging

Organisers: Erdmute Alber (University of Bayreuth) and Tatjana Thelen (University of Vienna)

Venue: Humboldt University Berlin, IGK Work and Human Life Cycle in Global History (re:work), Georgenstr. 23, 10117 Berlin

Politics and kinship were at one point dealt with together in anthropology. A hundred years ago social anthropology saw as one of its main tasks the conceptualisation of kinship as the basis for social organisation and belonging in small so-called traditional societies. In the absence of broader state organisation, kinship was thought to cover political organisation and therefore understood as being at the heart of the social processes that interested anthropologists.
Around the mid-20th century, with the publishing of African political systems by Meyer Fortes and Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard and their famous division between states and state-less societies (1940), politics started to become a field of discussion in its own right. This development resulted in the emergence of the then new sub-discipline of political anthropology, which distanced itself more and more from the anthropology of kinship. In combination with ever more specialised terminology debates, this process of bifurcation contributed to the loss of centrality of kinship within social anthropology. However, for some time to come both anthropologies remained similar in their emphasis on supposedly non-state, kin-based societies as opposed to state societies, which were seen as being politics based.
It was only after sharp criticism of the Eurocentrist hegemonism in anthropology, that both sub-disciplines once again became more obviously closer. To some extent both overcame the dichotomy between the state-driven “west” and the stateless societies in the “rest” of the world. At the end of the 20th century political anthropology as well as the anthropology of kinship re-defined their topics in a somewhat parallel way. Both approached their topics in a more actor-centred, processual and situative way and (re-)discovered old themes: political anthropology became again interested in the state as an empirical phenomenon to be researched and kinship studies looked again empirically at the establishment of parenthood (i.e. descent). And, last but not least, in this process belonging emerged as a key term producing rich theoretical discussions in political anthropology as well as in the new kinship studies.
This parallel development and its significance for social anthropology as a whole, however, went largely unnoticed. One tentative explanation could be that despite the new ideas both remained in their traditional fields: the “new” anthropology of the state defines its subject in typical anthropological settings on the margins and outside of Europe with an eye on the repressive modes of state rule. Similarly, the bulk of “new” kinship studies focuses on the making of kin through practices of feeding, naming and commensality in the realm of relations that have always made up the realm of kinship and family. In short, with some noteworthy exceptions both fields of inquiry remained surprisingly separate despite substantial theoretical intersections.
Our workshop aims at bringing the two sub disciplines into closer communication, thus enabling a new holism in the anthropology of social organisation and belonging. We anticipate that this approach will produce synergies that lead to new insights in both kinship and politics as well as their interrelatedness. We welcome empirically-inspired case studies that offer new ethnographic viewpoints and methodological approaches as well as theoretical contributions that address the following fields:
– Making and breaking kin by politics: citizenship, new modes of reproduction, global negotiations of belonging
– Making and breaking politics by kin: kinsmen, friends and patrons
– Modes of belonging as bridging kinship and politics
– Caring as a practice of making political and kin relations
– Boundary work: mutual delineation of state and kinship

Key Note Speakers: Janet Carsten (Edinburgh), Michael Herzfeld (Harvard)

Discussant: Shalini Randeria (Geneva)

Please send an abstract (200-300 words) of your proposed paper by the latest 31. August 2013 to:

Erdmute Alber ( or:

Tatjana Thelen (

The selection of speakers for the conference will be made by the end of September.

Travel expenses will be refunded to invited speakers, who are expected to submit a draft paper by 15th of December in order to allow the commentators time to prepare their response and to facilitate lively discussion. We expect finalised papers for publication within three months of the conference.

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