Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

INTRODUCTION: About Time

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

INTRODUCTION: About Time

Article excerpt

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Kinship: it's about time. It's about time for kinship's revival as a legitimate topic of anthropological inquiry. That much seems clear. David Schneider's (1984) critique never effectively eliminated anthropologists' interest in the topic (see also Schneider 1980). Almost as soon as the ink on Schneider's diatribe was dry, his students and others were picking up their pens and writing fascinating analyses of the work this thing once called kinship was still doing in the bedrooms of lesbian couples (Hayden 1995), in the clinics of fertility specialists (Cussins 1998), in the laboratories and on the computers of biologists (Strathern 1992, Helmreich 2000), and in the logic of the liberal state (Povinelli 2002, 2006; see also Franklin and McKinnon 2001). Like so many of our anthropological concepts, kinship has a "sinister pedigree."1 And yet, somehow, we can't stop talking about it, even when we avoid using the word. The authors featured in this special collection belong to a growing group of scholars who have taken up the challenge of reimagining kinship as an analytic concept.2 Taken together, these essays support a simple assertion: it's not only about time for kinship, kinship is about time.

Of course, the time of kinship is not simple. No one's time is. Philosophical debates on the topic have been long and torturous.3 The essays featured here follow the best in this tradition in treating temporality-the lived experience of time-with both precision and care. The finely honed instrument these authors bring to this project is the "chronotope," a term famously coined by the Russian critic Mikhael Bakhtin (1981) for the spatiotemporal horizons evoked in literary works. Bakhtin wrote of the "chronotope of the road," one that captures the experience of travel from one destination to another, with events surprising the hero and heroine as they progress through the plot. Reading Bakhtin alongside the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, these essays' authors direct us to the question of how sign users bring other times and places into relevance as they interact. By mobilizing the indexical powers of discourse-what Peirce described as the capacity of semiotic practices to model and point-sign users conjure spatiotemporal envelopes that tether a sense of "there-then" to a "here-now" that is framed in a particular way as a result (see Silverstein 2004; see also Goffman 1974). When someone says, "Meeting called to order," we have a sense that we are at the beginning of a particular kind of event, which will end (hopefully!) after a particular stretch of time. Sign users use utterances as lofty as "Four score and seven years ago" or as trivial as "Time's up" to perform this interactional work. What is happening here-now finds its significance, which is to say its consequentiality, through the creation of two points of reference: an origin (the start of this story) and a telos (a sense of where and when it will end). This approach to discourse allows us to understand how a context or a set of circumstances might appear from the perspective of participants in an event. They appear as the greater story in which the event is occurring, a story that could take the form of a journey, including the path someone might walk emotionally or intellectually even while standing in place.

As a model of and for behavior and identity, as these essays show us, kinship is inherently chronotopic. On the one hand, kinship exists in time: one becomes kin through the tracing of relationships. The memory of particular pasts and the anticipation of particular futures shape our understandings of what kin are and what they should do. On the other hand, as a set of practices, kinship produces time as that aporetic knot into which careful thinking about temporality always leads us. It's hard to fathom how time could be emergent in time, and yet we have no choice but to presume that this is the case. …

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