Beyond Kinship: Social and Material Reproduction in House Societies

Beyond Kinship: Social and Material Reproduction in House Societies

Beyond Kinship: Social and Material Reproduction in House Societies

Beyond Kinship: Social and Material Reproduction in House Societies

Synopsis

Levi-Strauss's latter-day thinking on houses and house societies offers an antikinship kinship theory that puts a new slant on time, family, and hierarchy. Skillfully edited by Joyce and Gillespie, the volume

Excerpt

Clark E. Cunningham

My first research in eastern Indonesia, on Timor in the late 1950s and early 1960s, involved demonstrating, in a modest fashion, the relationship between the house as a physical, symbolic, and social model of order and the system of kinship and marriage in that society (Cunningham 1964). For that reason I was particularly pleased to serve as a discussant at a symposium, “Opening up the House: a Dialogue Across the Discipline,” organized by my colleague at the University of Illinois, Susan Gillespie (an ethnohistorian), and one of our former students, Rosemary Joyce (an archaeologist), and held at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting in 1996. and I am very glad that they were able to build upon that nicely integrated symposium to prepare this creative book which brings together archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, and ethnohistorians to consider, from their various perspectives, the usefulness and complex meanings which might be attached to the notion of the “house society” as introduced by Claude Lévi-Strauss (1984).

One might say that for some decades now the focus in cultural anthropology has been on “words” rather than “things.” This book is an excellent contribution to a recently returning concern with the study of material things in all their complexity, one which I applaud, and the book is unique in the way in which it brings together specialists in these three approaches to anthropology to focus upon a single topic.

Some forty years ago, in spring 1958, at the end of my first year of study at the Institute of Social Anthropology at Oxford University, our written examination included an item on which we were to write an essay. It was a simple quotation from Emile Durkheim: “Society is people and things.” British social anthropology has often been viewed as highly sociological in nature, but our training then also included learning about “things” and understanding them in their cultural and technological contexts. Durkheim’s comment was taken . . .

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