Reconnecting State and Kinship

By Tatjana Thelen; Erdmute Alber | Go to book overview

Reconnecting State and Kinship
Temporalities, Scales, Classifications

TATJANA THELEN AND ERDMUTE ALBER

Kinship and statehood are central categories for describing and classifying social organization. They have accompanied the disciplinary development of anthropology since its formative years in the nineteenth century and also facilitated a general division of labor within the social sciences. Correspondingly, the study of allegedly traditional societies characterized by kinship in either stateless forms of political organization or hereditary power (e.g., kingship) was to be the primary focus of social anthropology. In contrast, the political sciences and sociology were conceptualized as disciplines invested in the study of the “modern” state, envisaged as political order without kinship epitomizing the Weberian notion of rationalized bureaucracy. The juxtaposition of kinship and the (modern) state as mutually exclusive is thus so deeply ingrained in the Western worldview and in processes of knowledge production that decoding their coproduction poses a considerable challenge. Untangling this separation is fundamental to understanding contemporary processes of social organization, including boundary making that leads to diverse forms of marginalization.

The conceptual and geographical distinction, or even opposition, between a supposedly modern Western state and a premodern political organization elsewhere was further mapped onto scalar and temporal axes. This resonated with other binary distinctions, such as public-private, small-big, and individualistic-communitarian, that continue to powerfully influence worldviews and public discourses outside of academia. Whereas large modern or developed societies were imagined as being constituted by

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