Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Constitutive Knowledge: Tracing Trajectories of Information in New Contexts of Relatedness

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Constitutive Knowledge: Tracing Trajectories of Information in New Contexts of Relatedness

Article excerpt

Abstract

One much-commented upon feature of globalization is an increased access to information. If new kinds of information, and a new speed of access to it, characterize the so-called "global society, " then how do new kinds of kinship information and kinship knowledge affect Western practices of kinship, or a Western "sense of self?" Examining the place of certain kinds of knowledge in Western idioms and practices of relatedness and personhood, this paper explores the effects of new kinds of information upon family ties. The role of information and knowledge in pre-natal testing, in adoptive kinship, in the searches undertaken by adoptees for their birth kin, and in transfers of bodily substance infertility treatment, provide some specific contexts to understand the way that kinship knowledge contributes to people's sense of connectedness to their relatives, and to their own sense of identity. Rather than assuming a clear trajectory from a world of ascribed ties to one in which such ties are achieved, I highlight some of the more complex processes which people put to work when they constitute themselves through their various kinds of relations. A web of intertwinings, separations, and rejoinings between what is apparently inherited from the past, and what is created anew can be discerned as central to Western kinship practices. [Keywords: globalization; kinship; personhood; prenatal testing; adoption]

This paper is an exploration of the place of certain kinds of knowledge in Western idioms and practices of relatedness and personhood.1 Drawing extensively on published work by Marilyn Strathern (1992a, 1992b, 1999, 2005), Rayna Rapp (1999), Jeanette Edwards (2000), Monica Konrad (2003; 2005) and others, as well as interviews that I conducted in the late 1990s with adult adoptees in Scotland, I look at the way that kinship knowledge contributes to people's sense of connectedness to their relatives, and to their own sense of identity. One of my themes is the effects of increased access to information-and here what I have to say touches upon the larger theme of globalization and how we think about family ties. If new kinds of information, and a new speed of access to it, are features of the so-called "global society," then how do new kinds of kinship information and kinship knowledge affect the way we "do kinship," or our sense of self? A characterisation of the "global society" as founded on relations that are made rather than given (see, for example, Giddens 1994:106-7) is, I suggest, an oversimplification. Instead, some complex intertwinings, separations, and rejoinings between what is apparently inherited from the past and what seems to be created anew are at the heart of Western kinship practices. But to presume a clear trajectory from a world of ascribed ties to one in which they are achieved, obscures some of the more interesting processes which people put to work when they constitute themselves through their various kinds of relations.

Trying to sketch out some of these processes of intertwining and separation between the made and the given involves unpicking the paths between knowing and being in personhood and relatedness. In order to avoid some of the pitfalls of abstraction in this paper, I ground my speculations in some rather particular ethnography of kinship. I look at the role of information and knowledge in prenatal testing, in adoptive kinship and in the searches undertaken by adoptees for their birth kin, and in transfers of bodily substance in fertility treatment.

Over a number of years, the work of Marilyn Strathern has been central in illuminating the multiple significance of different levels of kinship knowledge, from the governmental to the individual, and the intricate work that goes into the kinds of separations and recombinations which concern me here. It therefore seems appropriate that I have structured this paper around an essay which I have found particularly thought-provoking, "Refusing Information" (Strathern 1999). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.