Patrilateral Parallel Cousin Marriage Definition Essay


Cross-cousin marriage (i.e., marriage with the offspring of a parent’s opposite-sex sibling) is the most common preferred marriage arrangement across cultures. Despite intense investigation, the origin and adaptive function of this marriage prescription have not been resolved. An analysis of the fitness consequences of marriages in the Yanomamö—a tribal society in the Amazon—shows that parents and brothers achieve higher fitness outcomes when their respective children and sisters marry more closely related individuals. Meanwhile, the spouses and offspring produced by these unions have lower fitness. These findings suggest that cross-cousin marriage prescriptions and taboos against marrying parallel cousins owe their origin to parent–offspring conflict through parental control of marriage and competition between same-sex siblings.

Keywords: cross-cousin marriage, inbreeding, local mate competition, parent–offspring conflict, Yanomamö


Marriage in many traditional societies often concerns the institutionalized exchange of reproductive partners among groups of kin. Such exchanges most often involve cross-cousins—marriage with the child of a parent’s opposite-sex sibling—but it is unclear who benefits from these exchanges. Here we analyze the fitness consequences of marrying relatives among the Yanomamö from the Amazon. When individuals marry close kin, we find that (i) both husbands and wives have slightly lower fertility; (ii) offspring suffer from inbreeding depression; (iii) parents have more grandchildren; and (iv) siblings, especially brothers, benefit when their opposite-sex siblings marry relatives but not when their same-sex siblings do. Therefore, individuals seem to benefit when their children or opposite-sex siblings marry relatives but suffer costs when they, their parents, or same-sex siblings do. These asymmetric fitness outcomes suggest conflicts between parents and offspring and among siblings over optimal mating strategies. Parental control of marriages is reinforced by cultural norms prescribing cross-cousin marriage. We posit that local mate competition combined with parental control over marriages may escalate conflict between same-sex siblings who compete over mates, while simultaneously forging alliances between opposite-sex siblings. If these relationships are carried forward to subsequent generations, they may drive bilateral cross-cousin marriage rules. This study provides insights into the evolutionary importance of how kinship and reciprocity underlie conflicts over who controls mate choice and the origins of cross-cousin marriage prescriptions.

Parental Control of Mate Choice Generates Parent–Offspring Conflict

Human mating is unique because parents often exert considerable control over the mate choices of their offspring (9). For example, a cross-cultural survey of hunting and gathering societies found that parents have a strong influence over the marriages of their sons and daughters (10). The basic properties of arranged marriages are (i) the spouses have high exchange value [females are likely to have higher value than males as measured by bride prices, bride service (bride service—sometimes called groom service—is the service rendered by the bridegroom to a bride’s family as a bride price), and “marriage by capture” in egalitarian societies like the Yanomamö] (6); (ii) the individuals doing the arranging and those whose marriages are being arranged are close kin; (iii) the arrangers are usually older and therefore typically have more social and political power; and (iv) the arranger (e.g., parent or sibling) and spouse become in-laws who maintain long-lasting ties that are often driven by contingent reciprocity [i.e., reciprocal altruism (8)] (1, 9, 11). An analysis of hunter-gatherer marriage practices using mitochondrial DNA suggests a long history of marriages based on reciprocity between the families of the spouses (12).

Exchanges of children—especially daughters—by kin groups forms one of the most basic structures of arranged marriages (5). (Marriage “exchanges” are not always reciprocal transactions of offspring and are often exchanges of offspring for political support, bride price, or bride service.) This system is likely to have emerged from a combination of parental control over mate choice and contingent reciprocity (9). If cultural rules and taboos began to exclude exchanges between same-sex siblings, we would arrive at the most widespread and common prescriptive marriage practice described by anthropologists—cross-cousin marriage (5, 13, 14). Cross-cousin marriage is the natural outgrowth of using one’s own [or one’s spouse’s] opposite-sex siblings to exchange children. These practices may start out as mere social patterns and regularities before they achieve a moral character and ultimately become a cultural rule or norm (9).

Parental influence over marriage is expected to generate conflict between the interests of parents and offspring. Trivers’ theory of parent–offspring conflict (15) provides a framework for understanding these tensions. Because mate preferences of offspring may not maximize the fitness of their parents, conflict is expected. For example, children are more likely to value signs of genetic quality of a potential spouse, whereas parents are more likely to value the family background of a potential in-law (16). Parents are also expected to be more tolerant of inbreeding (Inbreeding) than their offspring. These disagreements are the outcome of inclusive fitness (7) differences between parents and offspring and parents are expected to benefit more when their offspring marry relatives (to whom the parents are more closely related). These asymmetric fitness interests are also expected to generate conflict between siblings. This is because parents are equally related to all of their offspring and are therefore expected to value and hence invest in them all equally, whereas offspring are fully related to themselves but only related by a half, or a quarter, to their full and half siblings, respectively (15).

Mate Competition Between Siblings.

Local mate competition (Inbreeding Local Mate Competition) between siblings is common in a variety of taxa (17), and fights to the death over mating can occur between same-sex siblings (18, 19). In many species of insect these conflicts are resolved by the production of female-biased sex ratios (17, 20). In mammals, local mate competition may result in sex-biased dispersal—one sex remains in its natal territory and the other disperses (Inbreeding Sex-Biased Dispersal) (21–23). Sex-biased dispersal provides a way to balance the costs of inbreeding load (24) and local mate competition with the cooperative activities among siblings that lead to local resource enhancement (25).

Once parental control over mating evolved in humans, however, conflicts and cooperation among siblings could also be generated through parent–offspring conflict. This is because marriage exchanges that are under the control of parents are likely to produce uneven fitness benefits across offspring. These unequal outcomes are, in turn, expected to induce sibling competition over spouses. In polygynous and patrilocal societies like the Yanomamö, brothers in particular are expected to vie for wives. At the same time, marriage exchanges may produce benefits for opposite-sex siblings (e.g., a brother receives a wife that is exchanged for his sister). Overall, parental control over marriage generates parent–offspring conflict over mating that can lead to asymmetric fitness consequences for offspring. These discordant outcomes can in turn produce antagonistic interests between same-sex siblings while providing opportunities for opposite-sex siblings to build cooperative alliances.


In this study, we used genealogical data from the Yanomamö, a traditional society of South American horticulturalists, to analyze the effect that spousal relatedness has on the reproductive success of offspring, spouses, parents, and siblings. We test the following predictions (P): P1, offspring of more related parents will have fewer children due to inbreeding depression; P2, spouses who are more closely related will have fewer children due to mechanisms to avoid incest; P3, parents will have more grandchildren when their children marry close relatives because close kin are expected to be more likely to reciprocate promised spousal exchanges and engage in other forms of cooperation; and P4, siblings will have more children when their opposite-sex siblings marry relatives and fewer children when their same-sex siblings do. This is because siblings of the same sex, especially brothers, will compete over marriage partners whereas opposite-sex siblings, especially sisters, will increase opportunities to marry relatives.

The Yanomamö.

At the time these data were collected (Methods, Data Collection), the Yanomamö were a sovereign, indigenous tribal population living in the northern Amazon along the border between Brazil and Venezuela. Until the 1950s there is no record of any sustained contact with a modern western society (11). During the period of N.A.C.’s data collection (1964–1988) the Yanomamö relied on gardens where they grew plantains, bananas, and manioc (26) and also on hunting (27). It is estimated that the Yanomamö numbered approximately 25,000 people across 250 villages during this period (11). The Yanomamö are in many ways an ideal society for answering questions about human evolution because they share many traits that were likely to have been common in ancestral human populations, including polygyny (28), agnatic descent groups (14), patrilocality (29), patrilineality (14) [in the standard cross-cultural sample (SCCS), a widely used worldwide cross-cultural sample, 17% of societies are matrilineal compared with 41% that were classified as patrilineal], lineage exogamy (14), and prescriptive bilateral cross-cousin marriage (30, 31) arranged by older male kin (10). (For primary source ethnographies on Yanomamö economic, social and political life see refs. 2 and 32–35. For additional details on Yanomamö social organization see Inbreeding, Yanomamö Kinship and Politics.)

The Yanomamö practice prescriptive bilateral cross-cousin marriage. This means that males are expected to marry their female cross-cousins (i.e., the daughters of their parent’s opposite-sex siblings). This practice is so embedded in the Yanomamö culture that the words for female cross-cousin and wife are both suaböya and, reciprocally, the words for male cross-cousin and husband are both hearoya (36). If a cross-cousin is not available, an individual is still required to marry someone outside of his or her patrilineage. These rules are often manipulated when it is difficult to find a wife, however, which sometimes leads to conflict. Because prescriptive marriage rules among the Yanomamö require that marriages are between individuals in the same generation, it is common for a father to attempt to manipulate genealogical relationships such as by reclassifying a “niece” as a “sister” so that his sons may now marry her daughters (37). The Yanomamö are normatively patrilocal (the men stay in their natal village and the women move to the village of their husbands), but men who have been promised a wife may have an obligation to perform bride service for their father-in-law although the obligation is less for older males who become polygynous. This bride service, which may last for several years, consists primarily of hunting and providing meat to the household of his father-in-law (36).

Yanomamö marriages are typically arranged either by parents or by the eldest adult male members of local patrilineal descent groups (36). Fathers and brothers exert the most control over the marriages of their respective daughters and sisters whom they attempt to exchange for female cross-cousins (38). Girls are first promised in marriage at a very young age—occasionally at birth—and may be pledged to multiple individuals (2). Young girls marry and begin living with their husbands before or soon after reaching puberty. Members of allied villages are usually reluctant to cede women to their partner villages due to concerns that the latter might not reciprocate as promised (6). “Reciprocal” marriage exchanges are therefore fraught with nervousness on both sides and the parties usually enter into these agreements with caution (37). The marriage patterns observed in Yanomamö villages appear to be the outcomes of strategies that seek to ensure that men will receive brides back in return for the daughters and sisters that they give away. For additional details on Yanomamö marriage see Inbreeding, Yanomamö Marriages.


We measured fitness as (i) the total number of children ever born (Table 1 and Tables S1 and ​S2), (ii) grandchildren (Table 1), (iii) number of children who survived to age 15 y (Table S1), and (iv) number of spouses (Table S2). Table 1 and Table S1 show the impact of spousal relatedness (three groups bracketed by their coefficient of relatedness; Methods) (Fig. S1) on the fitness outcomes of males and females for each of the following relationships: (i) parent’s relatedness on offspring reproduction, (ii) spousal relatedness on the reproduction of their respective husbands or wives, (iii) offspring relatedness on parental reproduction (measured in number of grandchildren produced), and (iv) sibling relatedness on the reproduction of their brothers and sisters.

Table 1.

Fitness outcomes of marrying relatives across three generations

Table S2.

Offspring relatedness to their spouses and the number of offspring and spouses of parents

Fig. S1.

Number of couples in each coefficient of relatedness category. These categories roughly equate to third and fourth cousins [Low], second cousins and half first cousins [Medium], and full first cousins, respectively [High]. Couples are related at an average...

P1: Parental Relatedness on Offspring Reproduction.

Both sons and daughters of parents who were more closely related had significantly fewer total offspring. Pairwise contrasts showed that the children of the least-related parents had significantly more surviving offspring than both the intermediate-related and most-related groups but showed no significant difference between the intermediate- and most-related groups (Table 1 and Fig. 1). The children of parents who were more closely related also had significantly fewer offspring who survived to age 15 y (Fig. S2 and Table S1).

Fig. 1.

The effect of inbreeding on total fertility. Both sons and daughters of more-related parents have fewer offspring than those whose parents are less related. y axis: residuals (Methods) for total number of children (Fig. S2 shows residuals for survival...

Fig. S2.

Parent’s relatedness and number of children who survived to age 15 y. Both sons and daughters of more-related parents have fewer offspring that survive to age 15 y than those whose parents are less related. y axis: residuals (Methods) for total...

P2: Spousal Relatedness on the Reproduction of Husbands and Wives.

The fitness outcomes of husbands and wives who marry close kin are more ambiguous. A husband’s relatedness to his wife significantly predicted overall differences in reproduction between groups. Pairwise contrasts revealed that husbands who were least related to their wives had significantly fewer offspring than those who were intermediately and most related to their wives but showed no significant difference between the intermediate- and most-related groups (Table 1 and Fig. 2). A wife’s relatedness to her husband also had an overall significant effect on her reproduction. Pairwise contrasts revealed that women who were least related to their husbands did not significantly differ from those who were intermediately related but did show that they have more children than women who were most related to their husbands (Table 1 and Fig. 2). Meanwhile there were no detectable differences between the intermediate- and most-related groups of wives. The impact of marrying relatives on the survival of the couple’s children to age 15 y was also analyzed and did not have any detectable effect on the survival of the offspring of either husbands or wives (Table S1 and Fig. S3).

Fig. 2.

The effect of marrying a relative on total fertility. Relatedness to one’s wife or husband slightly reduces one’s total number of children, especially for females. y axis: residuals (Methods) for total number of children (Fig. S2 shows...

Fig. S3.

The effect of marrying a relative on the number of children who survive to age 15 y. Relatedness to one’s wife or husband does not significantly predict an individual’s number of children who survive to age 15 y. y axis: residuals (Methods...

P3: Offspring Relatedness on Their Parent’s Fitness.

Males have significantly more grandchildren when their children marry more closely related relatives. Pairwise contrasts between the low- and intermediate-relatedness groups and the low- and high-relatedness groups were both significant but the differences between the intermediate- and high-relatedness groups were not (Table 1 and Fig. 3). These fitness benefits do not seem to depend on whether their daughters (ANOVA2,445F = 4.48, P = 0.012) or their sons (F2,340 = 4.36, P = 0.014) (Fig. S4A) marry relatives. Females also have more grandchildren when their children marry more closely related relatives (Fig. 3) but seem to benefit more when their daughters marry relatives (ANOVA2,525F =18.2, P < 0.001) than when their sons do (ANOVA2,413F = 9.88, P < 0.001) (Fig. S4B).

Fig. 3.

The effect of one’s offspring marrying relatives on number of grandchildren produced. Both sexes have more grandchildren when their children marry relatives (Fig. S5 A and B separates this relationship by sons and daughters). y axis: residuals...

Fig. S4.

(A) The effect of one’s daughters marrying relatives on number of grandchildren produced. Both sexes, but especially females, have more grandchildren when their daughters marry relatives. y axis: residuals (Methods) for total number of grandchildren....

P4: Sibling Relatedness on the Fitness Outcomes of Brothers and Sisters. Brothers.

Male reproduction is significantly lower when their brothers marry relatives (Table 1 and Fig. 4A). Pairwise contrasts between the low- and intermediate-relatedness groups and the low- and high-relatedness groups were both significant but the differences between the intermediate- and high-relatedness groups were not. In contrast, males have significantly higher reproduction when their sisters marry relatives (Table 1 and Fig. 4B). A pairwise contrast between the low- and intermediate-relatedness groups was not significant but differences between the low- and high-relatedness groups and the intermediate- and high-relatedness groups were.

Fig. 4.

(A) The effect of one’s brothers marrying relatives on total fertility. Males have significantly fewer children when their brothers marry relatives and females have slightly more children when their brothers marry relatives. y axis: residuals...


The fitness of females increases slightly when their brothers marry relatives (Table 1 and Fig. 4A). Pairwise contrasts between the low- and intermediate-relatedness groups and the intermediate- and high-relateness groups were not significant but the difference between the low- and high-relatedness groups was. Meanwhile, females are largely unaffected by the relatedness of their sisters to their spouses (Table 1 and Fig. 4B). Pairwise contrasts between the low- and intermediate-relatedness groups and the low- and high-relatedness groups were not significant, but the difference between the intermediate- and high-relatedness groups was.


To better understand the fitness consequences of consanguineous marriage, we examined the effects of marrying relatives on the reproduction of members of the nuclear family: offspring, spouses, parents, and siblings. We found that (i) children suffer from inbreeding depression when their parents are closely related, (ii) the reproduction of wives is slightly lower whereas the effects on husbands are equivocal when they marry close kin, (iii) parents have more grandchildren when their children marry relatives, and (iv) brothers have more children when their sisters marry relatives and fewer children when their brothers do whereas sisters benefit slightly when their brothers marry kin and are unaffected when their sisters do. These results suggest that parents benefit from exchanging their daughters with close relatives. Overall, the asymmetric fitness costs and benefits reported here provide evidence of an evolutionary conflict over mate choice between parents and their offspring and among brothers.

Parent–Offspring Conflict over Marriage.

Differences in optimal fitness outcomes between parents and offspring are expected to cause conflict over marriage preferences (15). The asymmetric fitness costs and benefits of marrying relatives among the Yanomamö support this prediction and suggest that parents should prefer that their offspring marry more closely related kin than the spouses themselves or the offspring would prefer. But how exactly are parents benefiting? Because of high male reproductive skew among the Yanomamö, it is possible that fathers might actively desire to exchange their daughters for wives for themselves—a particular risk in polygynous societies. However, the Yanomamö have a generational rule that forbids males from marrying females in the descending generation (36). Although such marriages may occasionally occur, our results do not indicate that individuals obtain more spouses when either their daughters (Fig. S5A) or sons (Fig. S5B) marry relatives. If fathers were preferentially exchanging daughters with relatives to obtain additional spouses for themselves, we would expect to see a positive association between their numbers of wives and the relatedness of their daughters to their sons in-law. Instead, parents appear to be exchanging their daughters for daughters in-law. In other words, exchanging daughters with relatives enables parents to obtain more brides for their sons, which in turn seems to generate more grandchildren.

Fig. S5.

(A) The effect of one’s daughters marrying relatives on number of spouses. Neither males nor females have more spouses when their daughters marry relatives. This suggests that fathers do not exchange their daughters for wives for themselves. ...

The Origins of Cross-Cousin Marriage.

Preferentially exchanging spouses with close relatives may be driven by contingent reciprocity. One of the biggest problems that individuals face when engaged in high-stakes exchanges, which are often separated by extended time lags, is how to accurately assess the risk of defection by the other party (8). This is particularly important when giving a daughter away in exchange for the mere promise of a future bride who is either not yet born or very young. Therefore, parents may attempt to hedge the risk of the other party defecting by preferentially arranging marriage exchanges with close relatives (7). From the parents’ point of view, kin marriages have the additional benefit of strengthening kin networks (e.g., kin marriages increase overall within-family relatedness) (15, 36). Although these benefits may help to explain the frequency of consanguineous marriages, they do not account for why cross-cousin marriage (marriage between the offspring of opposite-sex siblings), in particular, is so much more common than parallel-cousin marriage (marriage between the offspring of same-sex siblings) across cultures (14, 30).

Traditionally, hypotheses for cross-cousin marriage prescriptions have fallen into two basic camps—inbreeding avoidance and mate exchange. Alexander (39) was the first to suggest that parallel-cousin marriages were often prohibited because of the possibility that same-sex siblings might share (sexually) each other’s spouse(s), which increases the risk that putative parallel cousins are actually half siblings. In this interpretation parallel-cousin marriage taboos function to lower the risks of inbreeding. Meanwhile, Levi-Strauss (5) and others have argued that an important function of marriage is to form alliances between groups and that cross-cousins are usually from different lineages (e.g., matrilines or patrilines). Proponents of this “mate exchange hypothesis” argue that cross-cousin marriage promotes lineage exogamy and functions to build alliances between descent groups (40). More recently, however, Chapais (9) proposed a phylogenetic explanation of the mate exchange hypothesis in which male philopatry and female dispersal (Inbreeding, Sex-Biased Dispersal) combined with the practice of exogamy created a structural bias for marrying cross-cousins. According to this hypothesis, cross-cousin marriage is expected to naturally emerge in the presence of pair bonding, patrilocality, exogamy, parental control of children, and daughter or sister exchange (9). Whereas the mate exchange hypothesis provides a functional explanation for cross-cousin marriage, “the phylogenetic hypothesis” invokes evolutionary constraints and suggests that it was lineage exogamy that promoted cross-cousin marriage rather than the other way around.

Although our results are broadly consistent with both mate exchange and a phylogenetic explanation, they also suggest that mate competition and cooperation among siblings may play an important role in the origin and frequency of cross-cousin marriage systems cross-culturally. Patrilocality can foster mate competition between brothers who often reside together in adulthood and mutually beneficial relationships between brothers and sisters who usually do not live together as adults and therefore do not compete over resources. Meanwhile, polygyny can exacerbate same-sex competition for mates such that the conditions favoring the formation of male–male alliances may be less common than those favoring alliances between sisters or opposite-sex siblings (41). For example, social groups of polygynous mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) often contain sexually mature siblings of both sexes (42, 43) and brothers have been observed to engage in more aggressive interactions and fewer affiliative behaviors, compared with mixed-sex or sister dyads (44). Interestingly, these observations seem to suggest that alliances between opposite-sex siblings and conflicts between brothers could develop in the absence of parental control over mate choice. However, when marriages are arranged by parents (e.g., daughter exchange instead of sister exchange), the bond between the parents of the spouses is the critical factor, and this can generate cross-cousin marriage (i.e., the exchange of daughters between opposite-sex siblings). Although these results do not mean that cross-cousin marriage prescriptions are the necessary result of mate competition between brothers, they do suggest that mate competition between brothers could generate strong biases for cross-cousin marriage independently of patrilocality (Inbreeding, Sex-Biased Dispersal) and lineage exogamy.

Among the Yanomamö, both males and females have more children when their opposite-sex siblings marry close kin. Males, on the other hand, endure reduced fitness whereas females are largely unaffected by the consanguinity of their same-sex siblings (Fig. 4 A and B). Because parents can influence the marriages of their children, these competitive and cooperative relationships can bleed into the next generation and eventually become embedded in the rules governing the marriage exchange system. Chapais (9) has argued that these patterns, which often begin as mere social regularities, can over time acquire a formal status and ultimately become codified in the culture as social norms prescribing that only the offspring of opposite-sex siblings are permitted to marry. It should be noted that these same patterns are also consistent with the phylogenetic hypothesis (9) although the causation is different. The phylogenetic constraints interpretation of our results is that cross-cousin marriage generates mate competition between siblings, whereas the “local mate competition hypothesis” suggests the opposite—sibling competition drives cross-cousin marriage prescriptions.

If the local mate competition hypothesis is true and competition between siblings plays an important role in the origin of cross-cousin marriage prescriptions, then we should expect to see parallel-cousin marriages more often when mate competition between same-sex siblings is low. Almost all parallel-cousin marriages noted in the cross-cultural record are exchanges of offspring between brothers (i.e., patrilateral parallel-cousin marriage) and most of these occur in or near the Middle East (30, 45). Bedouin men, for instance, are presumed to possess marital rights over the daughters of their paternal uncles (46). Historically, explanations for this type of arrangement have focused on males inheriting resources in these societies and the importance of retaining property within families (40). Perhaps, however, these inheritance rules serve to strengthen bonds between brothers and reduce mate competition, thereby enabling enough trust to allow them to exchange their daughters. There may also be something about challenging desert environments or pastoralist societies (e.g., goat herding) in general that reduces mate competition and cultivates alliances between brothers. For example, camel raiding and the defense of herds among Bedouin pastoralists has been seen as important in the formation and preservation of alliances and central to the preservation of the culture of these kin-based societies (47). The need to defend and tend to herds can increase the benefits of cooperation between males. It is important to note, however, that a reduction in the intensity of mate competition between brothers in parallel-cousin marriage systems does not address causation and is compatible with both the “phylogenetic constraints” and local mate competition hypotheses. Which sex disperses (Inbreeding, Sex-Biased Dispersal) is also likely to affect mate competition and resource competition among siblings (48), so we should expect to see more competition between maternal kin and less conflict between paternal kin (49) in matrilocal societies. Female philopatry and high male reproductive skew (e.g., polygyny) are expected to expected to impact mate competition among siblings oppositely, however, so these interactions can be complicated.


In summary, marriages between close kin (i) significantly reduce the reproductive success of offspring that result from these unions, (ii) impose a slightly negative effect on the reproductive success of husbands and wives, and (iii) provide a substantial reproductive benefit to both parents and opposite-sex siblings. Together, these results suggest an important role of both parent–offspring conflict and sibling competition over mate choice among the Yanomamö. These results have broad implications for understanding the prevalence and origins of marriage systems across cultures. Our findings may also reveal new ways to understand within-family conflicts over mate choice. Overall, the important role that Yanomamö parents play in the marriages of their children, combined with asymmetric fitness outcomes between parents and children, suggests that individual mate preferences (especially those of daughters) may be less important than those of parents (2, 10, 50) in generating marriage prescriptions. In the Yanomamö, at least, cross-cousin marriage may be a partial resolution to mate competition between coresident brothers.


Data Collection.

This study is based on data collected by Napoleon A. Chagnon (N.A.C.) between 1964 and 1988, ranging over a period of 50 nonconsecutive months from interviews of almost 2,000 individuals in 60 villages. Information was obtained for 4,158 individuals and 1,507 marriages. The genealogical data used in this study include data on all marriages, including information on the spouses, their children, their siblings, and their parents (2). There were approximately 25,000 Yanomamö living in this area at the time these data were collected (11). The ways in which spouses were related could often be traced through multiple common ancestors and these complex relationships were determined using the KINDEMCOM program. The relatedness values between the spouses are coefficients of relatedness (r) (the probability that any two individuals share two alleles that are identical by descent from a common ancestor) (51) and were derived from the genealogy.

The Yanomamö do not have a written language, so the genealogical data are reliant upon information gathered through oral interviews. The genealogies range from a depth of 1 to as many as 10 generations. The accuracy of the estimates of relatedness between spouses depends on the number of generations ancestral to the couple that are known, whereas the completeness of reproductive histories depends on the age of the individuals at the time of the census. To improve the accuracy of the analysis, we excluded individuals if either of their parents was not known and because the youngest male to reproduce was 17 y old and the youngest female was 14 y old, we excluded all males and females younger than these ages. In the end there were 1,599 individuals (770 males and 829 females) for which there was enough information to obtain reliable measures of spousal relatedness and estimates of fitness. This project was approved on April 28, 2016, by the University of Missouri Institutional Review Board (project no. 2001639).


We used R version 3.2.2 for all analyses. The dependent variables used in this study were age and year of birth adjusted estimates of an individual’s (i) number of children, (ii) number of grandchildren, (iii) number of children who survived to age 15 y, and (iv) number of spouses. All of the dependent variables showed signs of overdispersion and an excess of zeroes so a zero-inflated negative binomial (ZINBI) generalized linear regression model was used.

The sample was first divided into dead (N = 743) and living (N = 856) individuals over the ages of 17 y and 13 y for males and females, respectively. For individuals who were alive at the time of the last interview the residuals for males and for females were obtained separately. This was done because of the high reproductive skew and different life history patterns of Yanomamö men and women: Male variance in reproduction σ = 10.34 (N = 2,268) is higher than female variance σ = 6.0 (N = 1,890). The age of the oldest female to give birth was 52 y but 99.5% of all female births were to mothers who were 45 y old or younger. Therefore, all females over 45 y old were given the truncated age of 45 y so that all females in our sample had adjusted ages that were between 14 y and 45 y old. The oldest male to father a child was 81 y but 99.5% of births were to fathers who were 72 y of age or younger. Therefore, all males over the age of 72 y were given the truncated age of 72 y so that all males in or sample had adjusted ages between 17 y and 72 y old.

Using these adjusted ages, we then used a retrospective technique to estimate the completion of these key fitness traits had these males and females lived to senescence (52). Year of birth, age, and age squared were all found to have strong effects on fitness consequences so we entered these three variables into our model. Age squared was included to account for quadratic relationships (e.g., fitness returns may decline beyond a certain age). Year of birth was used to control for cohort effects (i.e., certain generations or time periods when individuals reproduced more) and because it provided an estimate of the maximum amount of time that any additional data (e.g., children, grandchildren, spouses, mean relatedness to spouses) could have been collected on any particular individual. For example, an individual born in 1950 and censused in 1974 may have been 24 y old the last time N.A.C. actually saw and recorded data on him but life history or spousal relatedness information on this individual may have been updated up until the last census in 1988.

For males the model revealed a strong and positive impact of all covariates—age, age squared, and year of birth—on an individual’s total fertility (McFadden’s pseudo-R2 = 0.49, N = 403), offspring who survived to age 15 y (McFadden’s pseudo-R2 = 0.49, N = 403), number of grandchildren (McFadden’s pseudo-R2 = 0.69, N = 403), and number of spouses (McFadden’s pseudo-R2 = 0.27, N = 403). For females the model also showed a strong and positive impact of age, age squared, and year of birth on an individual’s total fertility (McFadden’s pseudo-R2 = 0.50, N = 453), offspring who survived to age 15 y (McFadden’s pseudo-R2 = 0.49, N = 453), number of grandchildren (McFadden’s pseudo-R2 = 0.70, N = 453), and spouses (McFadden’s pseudo-R2 = 0.14, N = 453) for all individuals who were still alive at the time of the last census. Using these three covariates also produced the lowest adjusted and unadjusted Akaike’s information criterion scores for both males and females. Therefore, a ZINBI generalized linear model was used to regress year of birth, age, and age squared on each of the dependent variables and these residuals were saved and used to estimate fitness for all individuals who were alive at the time of the last interview for all subsequent analyses. Dead subjects were presumed to have complete life histories, so their fitness (i.e., total number of children, children surviving to age 15 y, grandchildren, and spouses) was fitted to a model in which year of birth was entered as a predictor to correct for birth cohort effects on fitness residuals. These residuals for living and dead individuals were saved and were used as our estimate of fitness.

Finally, individuals were categorized into three groups based on their mean coefficient of relatedness to their spouse(s)—[Low] = 0–0.031, [Medium] = 0.032–0.062, and [High] = 0.063–1. These categories are meaningful as composite categories of cousin relatedness in a society with high reproductive skew and where half-cousin marriages are much more common than full-cousin marriages. These categories roughly equate to third and fourth cousins [Low], second cousins and half-first cousins [Medium], and full first cousins [High] and have enough individuals in each group so that meaningful statistical comparisons between all categories can be made (Fig. S1).

Data Archival.

The data used in all these analyses can be found in Dataset S1. For queries on any of these results or analyses please contact Robert Lynch at moc.liamg@hcnylftrebor.


Charles Darwin conducted the first rigorous studies of inbreeding (53–56). His results supported the hypothesis that breeding with close relatives reduces the fitness of progeny (“inbreeding depression”). Researchers since Darwin have confirmed the negative fitness outcomes caused by inbreeding in many plant and animal species (56–58) Inbreeding depression results from closely related parents both transferring deleterious recessive alleles, increased homozygosity, and vulnerability to pathogens (59–62). On the other hand, this is a citation to an earlier citation in the main text: ref. 2.

Too much outbreeding, however, can also have negative effects on fitness (63). When intermediate phenotypes are selected against (64), or when locally adapted gene complexes have undergone positive selection (65), outbreeding is no longer beneficial. Although both inbreeding and outbreeding can affect the fitness of offspring, the costs of inbreeding are usually more immediate and severe, whereas the costs of outbreeding tend to accrue slowly and accumulate across several generations. Because both hybrid vigor and outbreeding depression can occur simultaneously and have opposite effects on fitness, there is often an “optimal” level of inbreeding at which fitness peaks (66, 67).

The mechanisms by which organisms achieve an ideal balance between inbreeding and outbreeding have received a great deal of attention from researchers (68–70). The most common mechanism among mammals and birds is sex-biased dispersal, where one sex disperses from the natal group upon reaching sexual maturity (21, 71). Humans are distinct among primates in that either sex may disperse or remain in its natal group (1). This pattern renders the ability to recognize the relatedness of potential mates critical and humans exhibit the most extensive pattern of kin recognition of any known species (9). Incest avoidance in humans is now understood on both a functional and a mechanistic level (39, 72–76). Whereas functional explanations tend to cite the genetic disadvantages of inbreeding (63), mechanistic explanations for how opposite-sex relatives recognize one another usually cite the duration and timing of coresidence and cues assessing the interaction of a potential relative with one’s biological mother around birth (72, 76).

Studies of optimal inbreeding in humans have produced mixed results. The analysis of an Icelandic genealogy, for example, showed that reproductive success was highest for couples who were related as third and fourth cousins [coefficient of relatedness (r) between 0.0039 and 0.0625] (77). Walker and Bailey (78) examined how reproductive success varied with degree of inbreeding across different types of societies. Among foragers the number of surviving children was highest when couples were related as second and third cousins (r between 0.0312 and 0.1249) but dropped rapidly at higher coefficients of relatedness. Among traditional nonforagers (i.e., horticulturalists, pastoralists, agriculturalists), however, fitness increased linearly with relatedness, and the most related couples (r > 0.125) had the most surviving children. Although closely related couples do not necessarily have reduced fertility, most research suggests that their offspring do (60, 73) and mortality rates for the offspring of first cousins is about 3.5% higher than for the offspring of unrelated couples (79), as well as a 4.4% increase in prereproductive mortality (e.g., still births) compared with population means (80). Other studies have shown higher infant mortality rates for offspring (81) and higher divorce rates and lower fertility (82) for the spouses of patrilateral parallel first-cousin marriages.

Despite these negative fitness outcomes, many traditional societies, and some modern ones in the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (83), exhibit relatively high levels of consanguineous marriage (53), and unions between first or second cousins are estimated to have comprised over 80% of marriages in human prehistory (79). Furthermore, average coefficients of relatedness (r) (51) between spouses in traditional societies are far higher than models of optimal inbreeding predict (84).

Local Mate Competition.

Same-sex siblings often compete for mates. Fights to the death are common between parasitic wasp brothers as they compete for mates (18) and between honey bee sisters when they compete to head the original colony after it divides and swarms (19). When inbreeding is high and females have direct control of the sex ratio of their offspring (20, 85–88), conflicts between siblings can be resolved by the production of female-biased sex ratios because inbreeding is less costly to parents than it is to offspring (17). In mammals, competition between same-sex siblings over mates may affect dispersal patterns (89, 90). For example, when mate competition and relatedness are both high, same-sex siblings may elect to either breed cooperatively or compete (91). Under these conditions altruism toward kin and local mate competition are often in conflict because altruism toward one sibling (e.g., foregoing reproduction by cooperative breeding) is less advantageous if it comes at a cost to another sibling (92). To put it another way, there is no point in being altruistic toward a brother if his increased fitness is costly to a different brother (93). In humans, competition over mates and resources has been shown to drive both sex-biased investment (94) and dispersal patterns (95).

Sex-Biased Dispersal.

Kin competition and cooperation over mates and resources interact with inbreeding to affect which sex is more likely to disperse (22, 90, 96). Greenwood (21) was the first to suggest that the direction of dispersal bias is linked to the mating system. He argued that male–male competition for resources combined with high male investment in defending resources favors monogamy, patrilineal social organization, and female dispersal (male philopatry)—a pattern typical in birds—whereas male–male competition for mates together with low male investment in resources favors polygyny, matrilineal social organization, and male dispersal (female philopatry)—a pattern commonly seen in mammals. In other words, sex-biased dispersal is generally governed by the defense of resources in birds and by the defense of mates in mammals (97).

Researchers trying to explain sex-biased dispersal patterns across species have built on this work and evolutionary models now typically include inbreeding avoidance, local resource competition (48), local mate competition (17, 89, 98), and local resource enhancement (99). The benefits of sex-biased dispersal, which include a reduced risk of inbreeding (23, 24, 71), lower intersexual mate competition, and reduced resource competition with relatives of both sexes (48, 100), must be balanced against cooperative activities among kin that lead to local resource enhancement (25). An experimental study of root voles (Microtus oeconomus), for example, found that males without sisters emigrated more often than males with sisters (101), suggesting that there are benefits of living near opposite-sex siblings. In contrast, Bollinger et al. (102) found in the meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) that both sexes dispersed more often from sibling groups than they did from nonsibling groups and that sibling males were more likely to disperse than nonsibling males, which indicates that there are costs associated with residing near siblings. Together these studies show that inbreeding, local mate competition, local resource competition, and local resource enhancement interact to affect dispersal in complex ways.

In general, however, cooperation and conflict between siblings play an important role in the evolution of sex-biased dispersal (21, 97). Individuals are expected to balance the costs of inbreeding (23, 24, 71) and competition with relatives over mates (48, 100) and resources with the benefits of cooperative activities among kin (25). When parents can influence offspring mate choice, as in humans, these relationships may generate cultural norms and taboos over who is permitted to marry and which sex disperses (9, 103).

Yanomamö Kinship and Politics.

Although the Yanomamö live in environments that are ecologically different (horticulturalists in South America) from the East African savannas in which our hominin ancestors evolved, they share a political organization and social structure that are similar to what many anthropologists expect were common for individuals living in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) (11, 104). Many aspects of the social environments in which the Yanomamö live also contain features (e.g., cousin marriage) that our ancestors are likely to have shared. For an adaptation to solve a specific environmental problem it needs only to interact in a consistent way with the specific features of the environment in which it evolved. In other words, not all aspects of an environment need to be identical to a presumed EEA to make meaningful inferences about adaptive outcomes. Behavioral ecologists refer to these features as an adaptively relevant environment (ARE) (105). Yanomamö social and political organizations share many of these characteristics with those of our distant ancestors; hence fitness measures in the Yanomamö are relevant to understanding the evolution of marriage practices, sexual selection, and mate choice in humans.

Average coefficients of relatedness between Yanomamö spouses (r = 0.031) are similar to those observed in many other traditional societies (79), including several other horticulturalist groups (78). They may also be similar to what population geneticists estimate was common throughout much of human evolution. If, for example, we assume an effective population size of human ancestors living 1.2 Mya was  ∼ 18,500 (106), then simulations based on current genetic population structure and heterozygosity predict that mean spousal coefficients of relatedness will vary from 0.17 (between first cousins and half siblings) at the out-of-Africa bottleneck  ∼ 70 kya to 0.016 (between second and third cousins) in Africa before the expansion out of Africa (107). These estimates will vary, depending on various assumptions including recombination rates, effective population sizes, population structure, and population boom and bust cycles. Despite this uncertainty, our analysis shows that the mean relatedness of Yanomamö spouses (r = 0.031) is right in the middle of these estimates.

Yanomamö villages are on average around 100 individuals (ranging between 25 and 400), which is similar in size to what many anthropologists and geneticists believe was common throughout much of our evolutionary history (108). When villages fission they usually do so along lines of kinship, such that all of the individuals in each of the new villages are on average more related to each other than they were to members of the original village (38). There is a push and pull to achieving the proper balance between group size and vulnerability to attack. Although most individuals prefer to live in smaller villages because internal conflicts (often over women) increase in proportion to the village size, smaller villages are increasingly at risk for being attacked and villages that fall below a threshold of 40 are usually unsustainable (11). Villages are typically led by a headman and status differentials between men are in large part determined by an individual’s number of close kin, especially patrilineal kin who are residents of the same village, and culturally valued accomplishments such as prowess in intervillage raiding (2).

Yanomamö Marriages.

Yanomamö marriages are political events that have strong impacts on relationships between groups of adult men both within and between villages (11). Indeed, much of the internal cohesion of Yanomamö villages depends on the bonds of marriage and kinship (2). The political alliances between Yanomamö villages are also based on kinship and are therefore strongly influenced by the reciprocal marriage arrangements between groups, and the exchange of women between independent villages ties them together (2).

Competition over wives is a major source of conflict among the Yanomamö. Polygyny results in high reproductive skew (e.g., great reproductive success of a few powerful males) and this can have a large impact on marriage exchanges. When there are more competing lineages (fewer highly successful patrilines) and a young woman is ready for marriage, the temptation to defect is higher and long-term betrothal promises are often subverted by short-term opportunities that can lead to conflicts (37). In addition to obtaining wives by exchanging them with other patrilineages, men may also acquire wives by force. They may steal women from other villages in raids or, if they are powerful enough, take a woman from a coresident man. In militarily strong lowland villages an average of 17% of married women have been abducted compared with 11% in weaker upland villages (see ref. 36, p. 87 and ref. 109, pp. 78–79 on 12 marital abductions among the Xiliana Yanomamö subgroup).

Kinship networks also affect an individual’s chances of acquiring mates. Male Yanomamö who have more ancestral-generation and same-generation matrilateral kin have more potential mates (2). This is because having powerful elder-generation allies (those who arrange the marriages) improves one’s chances of securing a wife, whereas a paucity of matrilateral kin (e.g., when one’s mother has been abducted or has come from a distant village) reduces the availability of marriageable matrilateral kin (e.g., mother’s brother’s daughters) (37). Because of bride service and frequent village fissioning, females may have nearly as many close relatives in their village as males, however.

Although Yanomamö politics considerably restrict the ability of women (and to a lesser extent, younger and less powerful men) to exercise choice in selecting a mate, older women are not entirely powerless. Although they risk being severely punished, women may commit adultery or in other ways try to make life so miserable for their husband that they provoke him into abandoning them (36

1IN ANTHROPOLOGICAL USAGE, the term ‘tribe’ may refer to a presumptively unilineal descent group or to a politically or territorially specific entity 1. The segmentary lineage theory through which the notion of tribe was problematized by structural functionalist anthropology supposed basic dichotomies between state and stateless societies as well as egalitarian and hierarchical modes of social organisation. The persistence in anthropological literature of such polar oppositions impedes in our view arriving at any adequate sociological or political comprehension of the variegated phenomena historically and currently subsumed under the labels of ‘tribe’ or ‘tribalism’. 2 Indeed, these dichotomies hinder identifying the gendered processes of kinship and human reproduction intransgenerational perspective. Segmentary lineage theory, however reframed by alliance theory, 3 is simply not adequate for understanding social dynamics at large in ‘tribal’, societal, or transsocietal settings. The renewed focus on ‘tribalism’, patent in both journalism and strategic planning, as well as in the social sciences, may appear warranted to some. Yet, it continues to imply distinguishing ‘Muslims with genealogies’ from those without while discarding kinship altogether. How thus, to take but one example, can emerging gendered configurations of citizenship in Southwest Asia and beyond 4 be understood? How, further, can the theory of kinship be replaced simply by claiming that the notion of universal male dominance enables one to understand the logical and substantive articulations between the fields of kinship, reproduction, and politics at the interface of ‘family’ and ‘state’ [see Joseph ed. 2000]?

2Addressing these issues is a matter of political urgency and not solely of academic concern. Departing from the ideology of a ‘clash of civilizations’ between Muslims and non-Muslims, academic, military, and political actors in the United States and Northern Europe have, ever since the 1992 US intervention in Somalia, taken up the notion of tribe, purportedly founded on the principles of endogamy and descent, to legitimate a politically potent if self-deluding ideological amalgamation of close-kin marriage, Islam, and terror. We consider it essential for anthropologists to react to this ethical and substantive challenge to the legitimacy of their discipline [see González 2009].

3In the first part of this text, we will draw attention to the inherent ambivalence of the term ‘tribe’ understood as a simultaneously emic and etic notion 5 and, on this basis, analyse its pivotal function in rendering credible the amalgamation just described. In the second section, we will question the division of societies in which Islam is widely recognized into tribal and non-tribal sectors. This contention will be borne out by testing hypotheses meant to show how an alternative theory of kinship and reproduction may contribute to providing non-discriminatory and non-teleological explanations of processes related to the construction of social proximity. In so doing, we will refer to the key Arabic concept of nasab, and some of its Berber, Persian, or other analogues, designating the diachronic continuity of patronymics and equivalents that structures and validates fluctuating social identities and networks, with all the rights, expectations, and duties thus conveyed. Nasab is understood as the constantly recreated articulation of structural and historical processes that retrospectively guarantee the validity of claims of origin by the transgenerational articulation of sibling sets through marriage permutations as well as the recognition of individual and collective affiliations, including paternity and citizenship.

4Indeed, the social, economic, symbolic, and political processes that establish the ongoing recognition of transgenerational continuity are encompassed by and account for the dynamics of human reproduction, a factor often overseen by political anthropologists. Annette Weiner analyses reproduction ‘not as a biological construct, but as a cultural concept in which the basic processes for reproducing human beings, social relations, cosmological phenomena, and material resources are culturally defined and structurally interconnected’ [1978: 183]. In this perspective, human procreation is shaped and entailed by diverse ways of ‘being human’ in society, with all this implies for the cultural interpretation of its material and immaterial components. A.F. Robertson [1991] takes this approach further by placing the social dynamics of human reproduction at the centre of the anthropological analysis of contemporary societies and states. He aptly stresses that the political-economic sphere is part of the social organisation of reproduction. To work towards this problematic in contemporary Muslim contexts, we suggest focusing here on the gendered dynamics of kinship as the prism and crucible of reproductive relations beyond flawed distinctions such as private vs. public, tribe vs. state, urban vs. rural, and indeed male vs. female.

Tribes and States after Kinship

5Stopping for a moment to consider the recent semantic genealogy of the operative concept of ‘tribe’, we find that it well predates that, today taken for granted in everyday speech, of ‘ethnicity’. 6 This notion is a belated derivate of émigré Russian ethnographer Shirokogorov’s [1923] ‘ètnos’, a term that unwittingly structured Stalinist and post-Stalinist Soviet nationality theory [Stalin 1954; Bromley 1974], Nazi Rassenkunde and Volkstumsforschung [Mühlmann 1941 and 1944] and, not least, the intellectual construction of apartheid [Sharp 1980a; Skalník 1988]. These ‘deviations’ of social theory were widely hush-hushed in the ever nation-focused history of science after 1945 and 1989, respectively [Stocking 1968]. Yet, taken together, they did not contribute little to the emergence of ‘ethnicity’ and its derivates as politically correct buzzwords – i.e. ones that can be used without requiring definition – in debating the painfully slow process of transcending ‘racial’ discrimination in the USA, South Africa, Latin America, etc. [Sharp 1980b; Amselle 2005; Conte forthcoming c]. Space lacks here to delve into the foundational classificatory bonds diachronically linking the terms ‘ètnos’, ‘tribe’, and ‘race’. Suffice it to note that beyond the Middle East ‘ethnicity’ overtook ‘tribe’ in anthropological usage as of the 1970s, a semantic shift that paralleled the convergence of decolonization and the civil rights movement [Cohen 1978: 379; Banks 1996]. Although ‘ethnicity’ now appears on the wane in anthropological usage, reflection is still required to assess how it continues to interrelate with ‘tribe’ through the apparently inextricable mediation of the third element, ‘race’, and the (un)avowed biological essentialism it connotes [see Gumilev 1978]. These serious reservations apply both to external readings of indigenous usages of terms construed as equivalents of the English ‘tribe’ as well as to academic acceptations of this shorthand term behind which many analysts have been tempted to take refuge. Its use, if not analysed in its full semantic field, may easily induce a lack of vigilance, indeed an epistemological capitulation.

6With hindsight, it is clear that the perception of ‘tribes’, as once viewed from horse-or camelback in the Khyber pass, Transjordan, the Sudan, or the ‘outback’ in general, came to bear indelibly on the shaping and conceptualisation not only of contemporary terminology subsumed under ‘race’, ‘ethnogenesis’ or ‘ethnicity’, but equally of ‘modern’ nation-states. State-based polities were long set in opposition to ‘stateless’ or ‘tribal’ societies which, with ‘noble’ Pashtun or Tuareg exceptions [see Ahmed 1993; Henry 1996], were mostly ascribed to the lower tiers of the scale of racial hierarchy (e.g. the 1901 Census of India and subsequent versions thereof). The semantic and highly political process of domination through ethno-racial classification that culminated with the outbreak of World War II refers back, in practical terms, to the failed implementation of Wilson’s one-state, one-nation doctrine, itself a distant spin-off of Herder’s one-people, one-language idea. The terms ‘Volk’, ‘narod’, ‘ètnos’, and ‘tribe’ 7 are, as concepts, all patrilateral parallel cousins in the universal dialectic of identity ascription and self-ascription that paralleled modernity. Their semantic paradox – and potent ideological sway – consists in associating, albeit implicitly, biologism with Enlightenment universalism as well as, where appropriate, Marxism. All of these politically dissonant component strains remain, to diverse degrees, tributary to unilineal evolutionist teleology.

7As recognized experts in tribal and ethnic affairs (classes were abandoned to sociologists), we anthropologists have long had difficulties in accepting the dissolution of the segmentary order characteristic, we theorized, of stateless societies once subsumed under the dominion of empires upon which the sun never set. No sooner had we come to terms with decolonization than we were hit by globalization. We were not amused. Modernity had not delivered the promised historical goods, thus forcing the discipline, engulfed in a conceptual void, to transcend purely local foci and question some long-enrooted We/They dichotomies. In despair, the state-bound, ersatz theory known as transnationalism was rushed to the front line to hold the fort while social scientists tried to negotiate an honourable ceasefire with globalization theory. Many then proclaimed urbietorbi the ‘modernity’ of the tribe. This allows the external analyst to remain under the (agnatic) illusion that the secret of power in large parts of the world is to be discovered in a dialectic antagonism between tribe and state. This tension is the motor of hierarchy between ‘us’ and ‘them’, the West and the Rest. Yet, all this proves difficult to achieve solely by substituting deterritorialized ethnoscapes [see Appadurai 1996] for defunct empires and their very real imprint. Nor does the Eurocentric vision of Foucault prove of great avail to tribe theorists sometimes at pains to distinguish emic and etic levels of ‘tribal discourse’. Maybe the line is too fine to draw.

8The underlying economic and geostrategic processes subsumed under the notion of globalization in many regards led to a disempowering of the state structures modernity had borne. Inversely, this process reinvigorated ‘tribe’ as an artefact, just as post-Schneiderian ‘new kinship’ had definitively proclaimed the irrelevance of the genealogical method and lineage theory [see Schneider 1984 and Carsten ed. 2000]. The agnatically predicated ‘segmentary tribe’ was disarticulated, indeed, emasculated. When it abruptly ‘resurged’ into the conceptual field after September 11th, it appeared, however, as the only tangible unit of reference. Analysts, not least political scientists, seized it in their attempt to explain the perceived articulation of ‘Islam’ and ‘terror’. The tribe was thus resurrected, at least in certain media, brandishing a Koran and an AK-47. It operated as a placebo category, while scholars and journalists sought to come to terms with the urgent ‘reset’ of the concepts of state and war. As ‘tribe’ became accredited in public and political discourse, it was endowed with a new, transdisciplinary function. The issue at hand was no longer the ‘state vs. stateless’ dichotomy at the base of colonial anthropology, rather how to equate the regional yet transnational conflicts at hand with identifiable collective actors, albeit personified by very identifiable sheikhs or imams, liable to be understood through the prism of rational choice or behaviourist theory. This became eminently clear as the fall of Sòaddām’s regime led to what were depicted as re-enactments of dormant tribal solidarities articulated with broader sectarian or communitarian divides such as Shiite vs. Sunnite.

9The ensuing hijacking of the social sciences by the US military’s Human Terrain System (HTS) 8 was easy to achieve in an epistemological field in which the notion of tribe had already been so thoughtfully re-objectified by diligent scholars [see Geertz 1971]. The systematic recourse to the services of ‘embedded anthropologists’ in combat units is an eloquent avatar of the good old instrumentalization of ‘expert knowledge’ (intelligence?) regarding local social relations and hierarchies, here all subsumed under the label of ‘tribal dynamics’. The November 2007 statement on HTS issued by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) 9 concludes:

(i) that the HTS program creates conditions which are likely to place anthropologists in positions in which their work will be in violation of the AAA Code of Ethics and (ii) that its use of anthropologists poses a danger to both other anthropologists and persons other anthropologists study.

10What has happened to anthropology for the world’s largest professional association to react on purely ethical grounds without even substantively questioning the scientific value of the work being done by ‘HTS anthropologists’? To refuse HTS on ethical grounds alone further harms the status of the discipline as a social science. 10

11In this old-new configuration, the need is no longer felt to analyse tribal politics as an entailment of perceived kinship structure predicated on descent constructs, as originally suggested by the work of Evans-Pritchard and other structural functionalists. Already, the utility of classical kinship theories had been questioned from within the anthropological discipline. 11 The rebuttal of kinship, and social theory at large, conferred a new meaning and relevance on the old tribe-state dyad. The partial demise of the state in concept and practice led, by default, to the ‘resurgence’ of the notion of tribe. As the term ‘tribe’ proliferated in the media, the term ‘state’ continued to be used as if nothing had changed on the ground. Unfortunately, academia has not yet convincingly redefined the two terms and less yet their dialectical interrelation. This disregard obscured analytically and practically highly relevant articulations such as that between the intermeshed, gendered processes of kinship, ongoing family law reform, and citizenship in Southwest Asia and beyond. The population of countries in which Islam is widely recognized was sub-divided into ‘tribals’ (with genealogies) and ‘non-tribals’ (without genealogies) (e.g. Pashtun vs. Punjabis and Sindhis in Pakistan). One here lost track of the urban-rural dichotomy once so central to the discourse of modernization underlying the development studies of preceding decades. At this stage, we are left with an empty conceptual toolbox that even Bourdieu’s [1972] ever so convenient strategies and practices cannot fill, with a practical (buzzword) theory rather than a theory of practice. Thus, our sociological understanding of political processes is notably impaired, in particular due to the common vernacular confusion between ‘family’ and ‘kinship’ already mentioned [see Joseph ed. 2000].

‘Tribalism’, ‘Incest’, and the ‘War on Terror’

12This postmodern state of the art is not only regrettable for the political anthropology of kinship and the gendered dynamics of reproduction at large [Robertson 1991; Weiner 1995] in shifting Muslim contexts and political orders. It has profound political implications, since it leaves the stage free for war-on-terror ideologists such as Harvard-educated anthropologist Stanley Kurtz. This polemist is currently senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center as well as a member of several think tanks such as the Hoover Institution. He is the author of a 2007 paper entitled ‘Marriage and the Terror War’, in which he popularizes key classical anthropological concepts of kinship and marriage in order to point out the purported correlations between Islam in the singular, close-kin marriage, and an Oriental complex of violence:

Grasp the connection between Islam and Middle Eastern kinship [...] and you’ll have a far better chance of devising a long-term strategy for winning the war on terror [...] Parallel-cousin marriage has an effect precisely the opposite of the alliance-building interchange encouraged by cross-cousin marriage – and praised by Tylor and Lévi-Strauss. Instead of encouraging cultural exchange [...] [it] tends to wall off groups from one another and encourage conflict between and among them [2007, Part I].
Islam [...] functions more like a gigantic in-marrying lineage, whose solidarity is threatened by any individual member’s dishonorable exit [...] The ‘self-sealing’ character of Islam is part and parcel of a broader and more deeply rooted social pattern. And parallel-cousin marriage is more than just an interesting but minor illustration of that broader theme. If there’s a ‘self-sealing’ tendency in Muslim social life, cousin marriage is the velcro. In contemporary Europe, perhaps even more than in the Middle East, cousin marriage is at the core of a complex of factors blocking assimilation and driving the war on terror [2007, Part II]. 12

13Kurtz’s wild incest cum terror fantasies have, of course, nothing to do with an anthropological theory of kinship relevant to the ‘Middle East’. However, in the absence of a theoretically grounded alternative to Lévi-Strauss’ [1949] exchange and alliance theory as well as to functionalist lineage theory in societies that favour close-kin marriage in conjunction with broader local processes of elective kinship, who is able to contradict him with adequate arguments? In times of major conflicts focused on the ‘Muslim World’, where kinship and marriage is a core issue among geneticists, doctors of Islamic Law, feminists, and politicians, we can but agree with Robert Parkin’s words of warning:

Anthropologists must be in the conference hall too if they are not to find other disciplines making the running for them in areas they have traditionally considered their own – like the kinship of human societies [...] They will have only themselves to blame if they permit the distortions that may result to enter the public domain unchallenged and uncorrected [2009: 169].

14‘Patrilateral parallel cousin marriage’, or mariage arabe, was long treated as an artefact by anthropologists and analysed in analogy and contrast to Lévi-Straussian marriage preference for cross-cousins and quantified according to its rate of occurrence in relation to other forms of (close-kin) marriage. Yet the legitimacy of marriage in all its forms remains a keystone of social organization and representation in the societies of Southwest Asia and beyond [see Clarke 2009]. Hence the baby of kinship and alliance theory must not be thrown out with the bath water of studies in politics and new kinship. Indeed, Kurtz’s argument, according to which the threatening ‘Oriental propensity’ for cousin marriage and self-encapsulation reflect the joint Muslim refusal of exchange and reciprocity, has become a point of accumulation for expressions of intolerance. This applies not only on the battlefields and ‘human terrains’ of the Middle East, but also in the noble parliaments of Europe. The Dutch ‘liberal’ VVD party (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie or People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) demands a renewed ban of cousin marriage, lifted in 1971, a measure openly aimed at resident Turkish and Moroccan citizens, yet deemed unacceptable if applied to all Netherlanders. 13 Meanwhile, the recent strengthening of restrictions on immigration and family reunification has notably reduced the rate of so-called import marriages, mostly concluded between cousins. In Denmark, the Ministry for Immigration recently attempted, against court resistance, to fuse the notions of kin marriage and forced marriage, hoping thus to criminalize the former. 14 So too is residence on grounds of marriage or cohabitation granted to aliens only as of age 24. 15 Such initiatives are, we thus see, not solely attributable to the extreme right. Indeed, in November 2005, Labour MP Ann Cryer stated on BBC Two:

As we address problems of smoking, drinking, obesity, we say it’s a public health issue. The same should be applied to [cousin marriage] in the Asian community. They must adopt a different lifestyle [...] We have to stop this tradition of first cousin marriages. 16

15In other countries, the ‘Islamic headscarf’, or the prohibition of minarets, serves as a symbolic rallying point, a lightening rod able to deflect the diffuse threat of difference [see Abu-Lughod 2002].

16At the same time, in the Arab world, a complex, indeed somewhat more enlightened debate on consanguineous marriage has developed. It was sparked off firstly by biomedical considerations and then discussions on the religious acceptability of new reproductive technologies [Jamciyya 1995; Clarke 2009]. Beginning in the 1980s, broad-based statistical studies were undertaken to assess the genetic implications of kin marriage, and counselling centres were opened. Kuwait, however, introduced family support programmes that favour marriage among locals and, thus, cousins [see Dresch 2005]. In the Gulf, one cannot lightly raise in public the theme of consanguinity, linked to those of autochtony and citizenship. Still, scientists such as geneticist Hanan Hamamy of Amman [2003] have widened the scope of debate by publicly articulating the social and genetic aspects of the kin marriage debate, without enflaming religious sensitivities. One question, hence, that of the status and implications of cousin marriage, is posed from divergently connoted perspectives within and between distinct cultural and political contexts. The hiatus itself must first be explicated before the problematic can be delimited in reflexive sociological terms.

17The field is laden with an impressive set of negative pre-determinations. In addition to doctrinal rigidities in all the societies concerned, it encompasses the political history of imperialism, the abortive theoretical debate on politics, kinship, and reproduction, the failure of social science adequately to listen to and read in good epistemological faith actors, academic or otherwise, addressing shared questions in the societies analysed in different terms, and the ensuing kidnapping of the social sciences that serves the reinforcement of stereotypes and prejudice. Annette Weiner, however, offers us an analysis that facilitates objectifying this field. In her historical-epistemological critique of the notions of exchange and reciprocity, as developed in Inalienable Possessions. The Paradox of Keeping-While-Giving [1992], she shows that reciprocity (gift and counter-gift) responds in fine to the need for an external, indeed metaphysical principle to justify the ‘rise of a free-market economy without state intervention’ [ibid.: 28]. Durkheim’s distinction between mechanical and organic solidarity enabled maintaining analogous oppositions between primitive and civilized humanity [see Roberts 2002], and, in the last analysis, between state and stateless societies, i.e. those based on the principle of segmentarity (tribes) and those exercising wider dominion (empires). Kurtz’s clever assertions suggest a causal link between the refusal of reciprocity on the part of Muslims, as epitomized by the denial of marriage exchange with non-Muslims, and that of commerce with non-Muslims in general [2007]. In short, Muslim ‘tribal solidarity’ outweighs the obvious benefits of ‘cooperation’ with the first-world, or possibly ‘emerging’ states that furnish the impetus of globalization. The axiom of ‘keeping-without-giving’ imputed to Muslim societies can inhibit both reflexivity in the social sciences and the degree of intercultural communication that would be required to define the field in non-conflictual terms.

What’s Wrong with Cousin Marriage? Towards a Theory of Kinship in Muslim Contexts

18We will argue here that this considerable challenge for the social sciences cannot be overcome without renewing and applying a non-essentialist, politically informed theory of structural interrelations between kinship categories and processes, as these inform and transform personal status and citizenship. Only thus may we understand beyond the scope of discourse analysis the logics of partially kinship-based or legitimated political networks and their interactions with other state actors as well as international forces and influences. How else can we understand the vibrant debates underway in many Muslim contexts concerning the gendered dynamics of reproduction in the broadest sense? Social science has to address these issues in their differential complexity, beginning with a systematic striving to comprehend how they are conceptualized, expressed, and debated in the societies concerned. We will here attempt a first step in this direction by deliberately focusing on the legitimacy of marriage as a cultural point of accumulation relevant to understanding all sectors of society, whether ‘urban’ or ‘rural’, ‘tribal’ or ‘modern’, ‘Islamic’ or ‘secular’, ‘stateless’ or ‘in power of state’. The legitimacy of marriage founds nasab in its different categorical, jural, and behavioural dimensions [Barnard and Good 1984: 9] through time and space. 17

19It has long been apparent that neither functionalist descent nor structuralist alliance theory is in a position to explain kinship in societies of Southwest Asia and beyond, which have long valued the conjunction of patrilineal focus in the tracing of descent, the hòarām status of women – both sacred and forbidden –, and close-kin marriage, to the extent of constituting a fait social total. This theoretical void may be overcome by considering the key importance of nasab and its analogues, in other words the transgenerational continuity of patronymics and equivalents that structures and validates fluctuating social identities and networks, with all the rights, expectations, and duties thus conveyed. Such an approach requires adopting consistently a relational, Maussian methodology so as to overcome Eurocentric, bio-logical readings of kinship, gender, and procreation. Kinship will here be defined as culturally and historically specific, structurally interconnected sets of categories and processes shaping thetransgenerational recreation of shared origins through recognized gendered procedures of ascription and affiliation of persons and collectives, such as relationally-defined kinship and descent constructs designated in Arabic, Berber, Persian, and Turkish as qabīla, ashīra,hòamūla, afus, tawshit, tabār, kabile, etc., and dubbed ‘tribes’, ‘clans’, or ‘lineages’ by anthropologists. Just as ‘modernity’, mainly in the guise of rapid urbanization, was supposed to entail the disappearance of the tribe et al. in the face of the state, so too was cousin marriage, itself the backbone of the tribe, said to be on the ebb. Yet, lo and behold, two generations into postcolonialism, Arabs, Berbers, Persians, and many others still marry their cousins, whereas actors who designate themselves as tribesmen continue to contest the state. Might there be some uncanny, still unnoticed relationship between cousins and citizens, be they tribespeople or townspeople, that might explain how they, mutually supporting each other, sustained and transcended the tidal wave of ‘globalization’?

20Before pursuing these issues, let us for a moment change stage and follow the lead given to us by demographers. Many ill-informed ideas, indeed stereotypes circulate in Europe about issues related to marriage practices and kinship in broader Southwest Asia. Yet, recent demographic research [Fargues 2000, Courbage and Todd 2007] offers a nuanced and dynamic picture. In the course of the 20th century, rates of polygamy have decreased notably throughout the wider region. Polygyny today rarely involves more than 3% of men, whereas individual instances often concern the re-marriage of widows in the leviratic tradition. In Tunisia, polygyny is forbidden, and many countries have now accepted it as a valid ground for newly recognized female-initiated divorce. Throughout the region, marriages are much more stable than in Europe; for example, the divorce rate per 100 marriages decreased in Egypt from 26 to 18 from 1940 to 1995, from 40 to 13 in Algeria between 1890 and 1960 [ibid.: 299]. The striking decrease in fertility is conditioned by a number of key factors: in many contexts, the age of women at first marriage has increased by 10 years in a single generation, whereas the number of ultimately unmarried females has climbed significantly [Ouadah-Bedidi and Vallin 2000]. Thus, fertility rates have rapidly been halved in many countries (6.4 to 3.6 in the Sudan between 1980 and 2000, 7.2 to 2.9 in Libya), whereas Tunisia and Iran have fallen below the threshold of generational replacement. 18 These transitions, which correlate with the emergence of a significant unmarried population, have often been explained as a direct reflection of female access to education, the generalization of contraception, and the notable increase in marriage payments [Rashad, Osman and Roudi-Fahimi 2005]. Henceforth, the status of orphans and illegitimate children, as well as the legalization of adoption and of the conferral of citizenship through women, are privately and publicly debated [Bargach 2002].

21Yet, although many local variations obtain, two key singularities, as clearly confirmed by recent medical studies, appear unaltered, if not reinforced. 19 Firstly, from 20% (Lebanon, Turkey) to 60% (Arabian Peninsula, Sudan) of unions are concluded between close kin [Hamamy 2003]. Secondly, notwithstanding established and newly introduced forms of temporary or restricted unions (Iran, UAE) [Haeri 1989], legitimate marriage continues to be a generally accepted social and legal requirement for establishing the social legitimacy of parents and children. Neither civil marriage, with the exceptions of Tunisia and Turkey, nor free unions are tolerated. How may one attempt to explain these two factors? We here reject invoking ‘Islam’ in the singular or referring to any ‘inherent tribalism’ or ‘segmentary logic’ as construed in colonial and postcolonial ethnography and literature [see Abu-Lughod 1989]. Nor shall we adopt behaviourist or rational choice theory. We shall refer, rather, to our postulate concerning the centrality of nasab, defined as the transgenerational continuity established through descent constructs and categories enacted by marriage and other elective kinning processes [Conte 2003 and forthcoming a; Walentowitz forthcoming a].

22The emblematic concept of nasab is, we argue, central for understanding kinship in Muslim contexts. Together with musòāhara (affinity) and ridòā’a (kinship through co-lactation), nasab is one of the three legally recognized ‘bonds of kinship’, or qarāba, a term which literally means ‘closeness’ or ‘proximity’ in Arabic. The polysemic concept of nasab can only be defined in context, since it refers both to individual kinship affiliation, not least in the male line, and to ‘descent’ conceived of as a set of most often agnatically-focused network-structures in constant transformation. It also encompasses, however, ties of affinity, and is transmitted through patronymics (or, depending on the ethnographic context, through the name of a house, alhurma, i.e. the sacred honour of origins, etc.), and not (or not primarily) bodily substances such as blood, as non-Arabian authors sometimes presume [see Tarmānīnī 1989; Conte 1991 and 1994; Sacīd 2006]. Placed in this perspective, our first hypothesis may be put as follows: past and current debates, transformations, and reforms regarding kinship and reproduction in numerous societies of Afro-Asia focus on the structural tensions that obtain between the intergenerational transmission of agnatic descent affiliation and the transgenerational continuity of nasab.

23In some Saharan Berber societies, comparable tensions obtain with regard to the intergenerational transmission of uterine descent and the transgenerational continuity of kinship network-structures analogous to nasab. In either gendered configuration, the careful combination of marriages among close kin, distant kin, or non-kin, as well as the establishment of a wide variety of elective kinship bonds, are constitutive of nasab and enable its regeneration over time [Walentowitz 2003 and forthcoming a]. In diachronic perspective, descent constructs and categories referred to as nasab, or its equivalents, have little in common with classical anthropological unilineal or cognatic ‘descent’ or ‘corporate groups’ based on common ancestry or origin. The transgenerational continuity of nasab is an ongoing process of creation that is represented with simulated diachrony in the form of genealogical nasab or ‘tribal’ chronicles, often ossified under colonial rule [see Oxby 1996].

24These considerations lead to a second hypothesis: rather than vertical parent-child filiation, it is, we maintain, same-sex or opposite-sex siblingship which acts as the core feature of kinship systems in Southwest Asia and beyond. The constructs that have long been studied by anthropologists as expressions of unilineal segmentary kinship, indeed of an agnatic (or uterine) harmony ‘disturbed’ only by the ‘cognatizing’ effects of repeated close-kin marriage, appear in a very different light as soon as one places siblingship at the centre of analysis [Walentowitz 2003; Conte and Walentowitz 2006]. Siblingship is and remains a blind spot in anthropological kinship theory, probably due to the strength of the sibling incest taboo, as well as to Eurocentric and historically specific bio-logics of reproduction bound to the narrow realm of conjugal sexuality [Jamous 1991; Weiner 1995]. In the perspective of siblingship, posed as a primal bond and structural principle of kinship, nasab constitutes culturally and historically variable forms of genealogical network-structures that link a maximal number of sibling sets at each generation [Conte and Walentowitz 2006; Conte forthcoming a; Walentowitz forthcoming a; see also Shamy 1981 and Fogel 2006]. In accord with the local gendered dynamics of kinship, these sibling sets associate either brothers, or brothers and sisters. This second hypothesis is closely linked to our first hypothesis in that the transgenerational continuity of nasab is determined by the ways in which marriage and other elective kinship bonds combine over time with unilineal and/or cognatic kinship constructs. This stresses the centrality of legally and socially recognized legitimate marriage.

25Any marriage or sexual relationship not legitimized in terms of Islamic family laws would break such continuity in a manner affecting not only the partners, but equally their kindred and progeny for generations to come as well, one might argue, as their ascendants. We further contend that illegitimate unions and births, subsumed under the notion of zinā (‘fornication’), stand in analogy to ‘incest’ – for which classical Arabic, moreover, offers no specific designation [van Gelder 2005: 4] – in contrast to the abundant literature referring to nasab, genealogy, and origins [Balādhurī 1997; Sacīd 2006]. The pre-eminence of nasabin collective and diachronic perspective is neither negotiable nor reformable without fundamentally altering the corresponding socio-cosmic order through the introduction of ‘modern’ individualism as defined by Louis Dumont [1991]. Here both state and tribe are impaired.

The Recognition of Paternity: Names, Proximity, Legitimacy

26In contexts in which Islamic jurisprudential norms have force of law or custom, from London to Jokjakarta, but not least in Southwest Asia and adjacent regions, doctors of medicine and law, as noted above, are pressingly confronted with the task of deciphering and managing potential incompatibilities between contemporary interpretations of sharīca and the kinship-related consequences of new reproductive technologies [Jamciyya 1995; Clarke 2009]. All of these elements potentially affect the continuity of nasab. Physicians are concerned with the possible genetic effects of close-kin marriage between the children of siblings, as defined in the Koran (4, 23) and still widely practised in town and country. Politicians and jurists are faced with demands for the rapid reform of laws excluding the transmission of citizenship through the mother, which notably affect fatherless children [Tadayyon and Yoosefi 2008]. Feminists, for their part, advocate gender equality as regards the initiation of divorce, while denouncing violence against women, including honour crimes [Sharabi 1988]. These fields of ethical and social contestation may appear confusingly intermeshed. All may be better understood, we will argue, by (re)considering the key importance of nasab, as above defined. In contexts where Islamic jurisprudence is a recognized source of law, debate regarding the issues here addressed is constrained by Revelation and scripture. Further, in contexts in which Islamic norms vie with Christian, Jewish, or secular laws, or all at once as in the case of Israel/Palestine, the shifting balance of authority obtaining between legal, medical, political, and other social actors, as well as conflicting scriptural interpretations and legitimacies, becomes even more complex; yet, the perceived centrality of patrilineal focus in the tracing of descent in association with the sacred-forbidden (hòarām) status of women and close-kin marriage remains intact [Ricks 1986; Holy 1989; Copet-Rougier 1994; Barry 2008].

27What does this centrality imply in sociological terms? How to assess the feminine share in the constitution and maintenance of relations of proximity in the face of widely proclaimed agnatic pre-eminence? How does this conjunction of factors affect the overall distribution of power from the domestic context to state institutions? We here choose to address these questions through the conjoint examination of two largely invisible, inversely complementary institutions, one proscribed, namely full adoption through the conferral of the adoptive father’s name and ensuing inheritance rights (tabannī), and one largely silenced, namely marriage through the permutation of related (often sibling pairs) or unrelated spouses (badal). Tabannī, as associated with pre-Islamic practice [Conte 2003: 21-27], entails the establishment of marriage prohibitions between the adopting and adopted parties in accordance with those that obtain in fiqh among consanguine relatives, allies, and milk kin. This mode of affiliation was banned by Revelation: ‘Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of their fathers),’ enjoins the Koran (33: 4). In practice, however, one finds diverse interpretations of the notions of marriage (nikāhò) and recognition of paternity (iqrār, istilhòāq) manifest in an array of social practices one may subsume under the headings of ‘secret adoption’ [Bargach 2002] or ‘collective incorporation into a nasab’ [Salīm 1956-1957]. These enable those who wish to (or must) arrive at accommodations with legitimacy and naming to bring about effects for both individuals and groups exceeding the bounds of fosterage (kafāla). These vary in accordance with the locally prevailing balance between the principles and mode of application of sharīca and ever more extensive codified civil law.

28In contrast, marriage by the contractual permutation of partners, whether kin or non-kin, is not directly subject to any specific jural stipulation except that two fathers are forbidden to marry each other’s daughter [Mālik n.d.: 535]. As opposed to incorporation into a distinct pedigree or field of nasab, which generally implies a relationship of asymmetry, indeed hierarchy, between the parties, permutation is, to a high degree, symmetrical and egalitarian. Badal aims at creating proximity (qarāba) where consanguinity is not recognized or at ‘tightening nasab’ wherever it stands at risk due to the progressive slackening of agnatic ties initially established by the conclusion of marriages between kin, in particular agnates of some description, at different ascending generations [Peters 1990: 219]. Badal is not prestigious; it is rarely mentioned in public, though not denied, and frequently practised. It offers one of the most striking blind spots in the anthropology of ‘Middle Eastern’ kinship, although it is recorded from North Africa to the Indian subcontinent, and certainly beyond. 20Badal or tabadul in Arabic, bedel in Turkish, or gavogav (cow for cow) in Farsi, literally denotes ‘exchange’. Yet, it must be stressed, not in the Lévi-Straussian sense. What relationship, then, obtains between tabannī and badal as they correlate with the transgenerational continuity of nasab through legitimate marriage? To elucidate this point, we must stress, successively, the full scope and variability of the two practices.

29Tabannī, literally ‘making a son (ibn) of (in name)’, is seen in law as undermining legitimacy: legitimate children are the fruit of marriage only, if one excepts the offspring of concubines or slaves born of and recognized by a free Muslim father. Legitimacy and the associated prohibition of adoption have, however, little to do with a bio-genetic imperative. ‘Irregular’ modes of affiliation of non-progeny, both individual and collective, respond to massive social problems across the greater region: due to the effects of war, including bitter civil conflicts, extremely rapid urbanization, and internal as well as international migration, countries such as Algeria, Egypt, or Iran must deal with hundreds of thousands of children lacking either parents, nasab, or citizenship, or all three. 21 The Koran (4: 2-4, 6-12) insistently exhorts believers to care for orphans, aytām (sing.: yatīm) and foundlings, luqatòā’ (sing.: laqītò). Yet, fosterage grants neither pedigree nor full social legitimacy. How, thus, is the dilemma of nasab addressed?

30In Sunnite-majority countries in which civil marriage is not recognized (all other than Tunisia and Turkey), tabannī is forbidden by religious and codified law, but fosterage in the form of kafāla as well as secret adoption are practised, the frontier between the two being thin and contingent. De facto adoption is thus subsumed under the heading of hòurma or individual genealogical fiction. Law appears fully coherent with Revelation, but stands in stark contradiction to social practice. Seen collectively, legitimacy can only be maintained through a dual fiction, collectively by denying this contradiction outright, while engaging in widespread individual genealogical bricolage. In Orphans of Islam, the only detailed ethnographic work on secret adoption, Jamila Bargach observes:

In Morrocco the name is the nucleus of the crime [2002: 105].

31At once, she documents how, in a ‘fiction lived more intensely than the real’ [ibid.: 95], women may be led to part with their (illegitimate) newborn, whom are granted name and nasab by others, not least thanks to the complicity of hospital and court personnel. As corroborated by Palestinian qadi Abū Snayna, the word of the ‘father’ in matters of recognition is not to be contested a priori, rather accepted unless contradictory evidence emerges [Conte and Shehada 2008: 139; see too Sujimon 2002: 372-374]:

Official eyes are closed, and silently cooperate, as there is one less child to be put in a shelter [Bargach 2002: 110].

32What remains, however, is the fragility of the fiction: the adopted child lives under the constant threat of denunciation, not least in the context of ‘sibling’ rivalry regarding inheritance.

33Viewed from the Bosphorus, things look very different [see Aydos 2000 and Gençcan 2002]. The Turkish civil code recognizes the legitimacy of full adoption in the wider European sense. Yet, Revelation must be fully respected, and legitimacy guaranteed. The law distinguishes legitimate descent (düzgün soybaği) from illegitimate descent (düzgün olmayan soybaği), based on what was formerly termed ‘natural filiation’ (tabii neseb). The difference with regard to most other Sunni contexts is that ‘fabricated descent’ (yapinti soybaği) is today recognized as legitimate. Indeed, the revised Turkish civil code of 2002 abolishes the distinction between authentic (sahih) and non-authentic (gayri sahih)nesep [Kirkbeşoğlu 2006: 19]. Adoption, literally ‘taking a child’ (evlat edinme), may be granted by a civil court to married couples or singles over 30. Embryos cannot be adopted, but adults can, as long as a minimum age difference of 18 years obtains between parties [Aydos 2000: 118]. Formerly, the adopted child automatically received the name of the father. Today, an adult adoptee may opt to keep his/her patronymic. Adoption opens rights of inheritance. It does not affect nationality but enables its conferral if the adoptee’s father and mother are unknown while the adoptive parents are Turks [ibid.].

34Turkish Muslims remain free to respect Koranic injunctions, effectively flouted by codified personal status law, and content themselves with fostering, literally nourishing (besleme) a child, or by offering it ‘spiritual fosterage’ (mânevi evlatlik). Yet these individual practices occur in a secular national context: in 1933, an amnesty law legitimized the unions of unmarried couples, thus ‘regularizing’ their offspring. In 1981, the Constitutional Court recognized the validity of fatherhood claims pertaining to children born out of wedlock. Today Turks, as citizens if not as believers, are at full liberty to engage in genealogical bricolage since adoption is not punishable, rather sanctioned by civil law. Turks are thus led to make collectively validated individual choices in matters of nesep. The contradiction between fiqh and civil law this implies was apparent until 2002 in the tolerance granted to marriage between adopters and adoptees, an option justified by the fact that such parties were not related in the eyes of sharīca. Since 2002, such is forbidden, thus confirming the duality of the Turkish legal system by, as it were, cutting the umbilical cord between civil and Koranic law. The hiatus is bridged by individualising the respect of Revelation and generalizing freedom of choice in the name of citizenship. This modus operandi is inverse to that observed in most other predominantly Sunnite states, in which individual arrangements contravene both codified law and the principle of sharīca on which it is constructed. 22

35In predominantly Shiite Iran, a dual codification also obtains in that the 1353 (1974) law on children without parental custody (and whose grandparents are deceased or absent) has not been built into subsequent versions of the civil code (Qānūn-e madanī 2000). In contrast to Turkey, the non-secular state stresses strict conformity with Koranic precepts [Safai and Emami 2007: 277-285]. 23 Thus, codified law at large is placed in an ambiguous field between doctrinal orthodoxy and social necessity. Adoption, designated as farzandkhāndegī, literally ‘reading progeny’, entails a transferral of the adoptive father’s name, but does not confer on the adoptee rights of post mortem inheritance. One hence cannot speak of either tabannī or evlat edinme in the full sense. Yet, farzandkhāndegī distinctly transcends the scope of fosterage (sarparastī). Rather than substantively affiliating the adoptee to the adoptive father’s pedigree, the legal fiction of an ‘additional filiation’ is instituted [Yavari-d’Hellencourt 1996: 150]. The state requires of the necessarily married adoptive parents that they deposit a substantial surety to guarantee the future well-being of the adoptee. If effectively put down, this sum could be construed with an ante mortem bequest liable to subvert subsequent strife among heirs. Since this two-track legal construction is worded to stand in full conformity with Koranic precepts, one will not be surprised to learn that marriage between adopters and adoptees, as in Sunnite Turkey until 2002, is not prohibited, since no relation of consanguinity between parties is recognized. Adoption creates individual legitimacy for the adoptee in the public sphere, but does not, seen at the collective level, create a new tie of nasab. In contrast to the situation prevailing in many Sunnite countries, Iranian adoptees, who may not be older than 12, are, as in Turkey, granted full rights of citizenship. A currently debated bill envisages granting the right of adoption to single women. If passed, this would further put into question the exclusive role of marriage as a source of legitimacy in an Islamic context. Unfortunately, no ethnographic study yet is available regarding adoptive practices in Iran, yet one may read the full cultural and emotional implications of processes of assimilation and rejection, and adoptive legitimation in the subtle 1984 film recounting the destiny of Bashu, the Little Stranger. This story of a Khuzestani Arabic-speaking war orphan who escapes, hiding on a lorry, to the Caspian ‘reads’ as an allegory of the everlasting struggle between Rahòim, the allegory of the uterine compassion that founds kinship and nasab [see Conte 1994: 152-155, 2000: 289-296], here exclusionary agnatic legitimacy. In this bout, Rahòim finally prevails, granting Bashu, the ibn al-sabīl or ‘child of the road’, not only parents but no less siblings.

Marriage by Permutation and Siblingship: From Accounts of Origins to Power

36In Islamic prophetic traditions, the legitimacy of Revelation is constructed on the transgenerational continuity of nasab, even beyond such potent symbolic ruptures as the murder of Abel or the Deluge [Conte forthcoming a]. Yet, nasab is not to be reduced to unilineal patrifiliation or ‘patriarchy’. Nasab encompasses, rather, the processes, both structural and historical, that retrospectively enable the construction and reconstruction of geneologies through the transgenerational articulation of sibling sets. This ensues through the careful interweaving of marriages between cousins, on the one hand, and distant relatives and non-kin, on the other, notably through the medium of badal, i.e., we recall, the permutation of marriage partners, in particular of sibling sets, either related or not among themselves. The symbolic paradigm, or parable, of this procedure was related as follows in The History of al-Tòabarī (d. 923) [al-Tòabarī 1879, 1985] and taken up again, in particular, by Abū Ishòāq al-Thaclabī (d. 1036) in his Lives of the Prophets [al-Thaclabī n.d., 2002]: Cain and Abel were not born alone. Indeed, the senior Cain had a twin sister called Aqlīmā, whereas the junior Abel had a twin sister known as Labūdā [see too Aptowitzer 1922 and Kister 1988]. Under the circumstances, father Adam was ‘unable to observe the desired ‘disparity and mutual strangeness (of the partners)’ in pairing off his children [al-Mascūdī quoted by van Gelder 2005: 122-123]. But God inspired Adam. To ensure the birth of legitimate progeny, he forbade the union of twins and ordered the permutation of siblings: Cain was to marry Labūdā, and Abel Iqlīmā. In other words, the first rule of alliance, and thereby the foundational principle of kinship, was brother-sister badal.

37Yet, as we know, Cain rejected his father’s demand. He claimed that his twin sister was the more beautiful, and that it was his prerogative as elder brother to take her. Thereupon, Cain refused to acquiesce and, rebelling against his father and the Lord, slew his brother. Yet, Adam and Eve persevered, bearing forty pairs of opposite-sex twins! Thaclabī relates:

When [Adam’s] children grew older, he would marry off a boy of one birth to a girl of the other birth. At that time, a man might marry any of his sisters that he wished except for his own twin sister that was born with him, for she was not lawful to him. All this was necessary in those days because there were no women who were not men’s sisters and who did not have Eve as their common mother [n.d.: 37, 2002: 74].

38Had Cain obeyed his father, his children and those of Abel would have been bilateral cross-cousins who could have intermarried while avoiding unions between siblings. But they would not have borne the patrilateral cross cousins that would have been required to ensure the direct patrilineal transmission of prophecy from Adam to Muhòammad. Still, there was no question of sibling incest becoming a norm. Tòabarī was already keenly aware of the necessity of resolving this key impediment and proposed an anthropologically aware and very cogent solution:

It was forbidden for the woman to marry her twin brother. She would be married by another one of her brothers. And the sons of Adam did not cease to do that until four generations had passed. And one married the daughter of one’s paternal uncle and the marriage to sisters ceased [n.d.: 223]. 24

39Thus to avoid sexual relations between brothers and sisters while maintaining the patrilineal continuity of the Prophetic pedigree required the successive combination of a prohibition of marriage among twins and establishing as initially preferential that between patrilateral parallel cousins.

40In her splendid monograph Marriage Conditions in a Palestinian Village, Hilma Granqvist [1931-1935] discovered that one quarter of the unions recorded in her exhaustive marriage census of the (today West Bank) village of Artas were concluded through badal. She recorded diverse types of permutation: two bothers marry two sisters; a brother and his sister respectively marry a brother and his sister; a man offers his sister to another and marries this man’s sister; a man gives his sister to another who offers his sister to a third man, who in turn marries his sister to the first man. All these combinations can proceed through simultaneous or deferred unions involving not only the actual spouses but equally their respective kin who organize and endorse the badal [ibid.: 109-119]. Happily, these observations were not influenced by the reductionist prism of functionalist segmentary lineage theory, still in gestation at the time. Nor were they stamped with the blanket axiom of male dominance. They offer a uniquely detailed and nuanced account of marriage practice, giving equal attention to marriage among kin, marriage among non-kin, and the overlapping mode of marriage by permutation. Much later fieldwork in Arab contexts simply overlooked the structural articulation between matrimonial proximity and distance thus demonstrated [see Conte 2000]. Some later analysts doubtless sensed that badal put into question the ‘preferential’ status of father’s brother’s daughter’s marriage proclaimed by descent theorists, while shedding a new light on the centrality of sibling exchange in a manner that did not fit in well with the notions of direct and generalized exchange advanced by alliance theory. In focusing on the isolated fact that one often finds more patrilateral parallel cousin marriages than other types of consanguineous unions, many researchers simply turned a blind eye to vast majority of marriages and created a tenacious theoretical artefact.

41Not so Emrys Peters [1990]. Drawing on the conceptual advances of W.R. Smith [1885], Wellhausen [1893], Granqvist [1931-1935], and others, he shows that Arab genealogies, while referring nominally to an apical ancestor, actually systematize retrospectively the reciprocal positioning of lines of descent seen as derived from foundational sibling sets. 25 If local groups try to maintain their cohesion by favouring unions between agnates, a contrary effect is rapidly induced on purely logical grounds. Indeed, the children of parallel first cousins are also cross cousins. If these intermarry in subsequent generations, agnatically defined proximity produces, rather, increasing genealogical distance. In contrast, the children of first cross-cousins remain first cross-cousins from generation to generation. As Peters shows, in such situations, the recourse to badal among distant agnates ‘tightens’ patrilateral ties [1990]. Badal is thus not but a ‘cheap’ marriage thanks to which brideprice (mahr) may be reduced or foregone, rather a structural necessity, if the illusion of agnatic continuity is to be maintained. Such strategies are observable, as we will now see, even in the ‘best’ of families.

42The official genealogy of Sòaddām Hòusayn illustrates well the exclusively agnatic representation of political legitimacy characteristic of the Arab genealogical tradition (see figure 1).

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Figure 1. Sòaddām Hòusayn’s nasab

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Figure 2. The ‘House of Sòaddām’

43Graphically, men appear to beget men, who beget men, who beget men... Where are the women? If one introduces these into the diagram, a fully different picture emerges. In the case in point, the central element in the genealogy is not Sòaddām, rather his adulated mother, flanked by his mother’s brother, i.e. an opposite-sex sibling pair without whose complicity Sòaddām’s political ascension would not have been possible (see figure 2).

44Sòaddām married his mother’s brother’s daughter. The ‘weak agnatism’ of his genealogy was later compensated, however, by the unions of two of his daughters with grandsons of his father’s brother. Hence, the magic formula that crowned this strategy was none other than classical sibling badal: the two sisters married two brothers with whom they were agnatically related. Just as in the cases documented by Peters [1990], it was hoped by the actors that political kinship could best be consolidated through the rather confidential permutation of sibling pairs, thus maintaining the agnatic illusion connoted by Sòaddām’s official genealogy.

45Retrospectively, Cain’s fratricide compromised nasab in the line of Adam until the killer’s misdeed was painstakingly atoned for twelve generations on, only after the Flood [Thaclabī 2002]. This divine warning draws attention to the imperative of constructing and maintaining qarāba, kinship (but literally closeness or proximity), by respecting the sacred nature of siblingship, posed as the primal relation, and thus of divinely sanctioned paternal or avuncular authority. Of this Sòaddām, his mother, and mother’s brother were well aware. But such an equation is only operational if the principle of ‘keeping-while-giving’ [Weiner 1992] is implemented by preserving after marriage the ‘reproductive’ bond uniting a woman to her brother [see also Walentowitz 2002 and forthcoming b]. Indeed Cain’s claim to his twin sister as wife – hence to ‘incest’ – prevailed over Adam’s and God’s injunction of badal, posing a fundamental dilemma of kinship: how to preserve ‘sibling intimacy’ [Weiner 1995] 26 beyond the threshold of marriage? In relational perspective, incest is thus an excess of proximity in that it negates diachrony and hence the retrospectively constructed continuity of nasab. In sum, marriage is a necessary transgression, which institutes woman as hòarām. Therefore, women should not take a spouse of lower social status, i.e. accept a hypogamic union.

46At stake here, rather than any axiom of ‘male dominance’ as such, is the vital balance between the shared honour of women and men (sharaf in Arabic, asshak in Tamasheq) and their shared continuity of nasab or its analogues. This foundational convergence is not rooted in any male-female dichotomy. It results, rather, from the gendered dynamics that institute all social relationships recognized as legitimate.

47Where this equilibrium does not obtain, there can be no society and, by implication, neither kinship nor ‘tribe’, nor citizenship. Thus, according to the allegory of Koranic commentary [see Conte 1994, 2000], on the day of Creation, Rahòim (literally Uterus) arose and entreated God, al-Rahòīm, the Compassionate, ‘seizing Him by the waist’, to ‘bind Himself to those who remain bound to her and to cut Himself from those who cut themselves’ from her [Ibn Hòanbal 1948-1975, IV: 344, no 2956]. At stake here is not any manner of primordial, autonomous uterine kinship, opposed to a dominant form of agnatic kinship or ‘patriarchy’, endorsed by a lone masculine divinity, rather the foundational character of faithfulness in an all-encompassing kinship, beyond any essentialised gender opposition.

48In this regard, a gender-balanced Tuareg society offers an interesting example of the articulations of descent constructs, affiliation processes, and marriage dynamics. These articulations obtain notably through marriage by permutation among close-kin as well as among distant kin, which contributes to the creation and recreation of temet or ‘matricial kinship’ [Walentowitz 2004 and forthcoming a]. The core descent constructs designated as the ‘stomach’ (tedist) and the ‘back’ (aruru) have long been construed as the ‘matriline’, as opposed to the ‘patriline’, by anthropologists, who sometimes see them as an idiom of procreation [see Bernus et al. 1986; Bonte 2000a and 2000b]. More accurately, these constructs translate the ‘androgynic’ totality of the gendered body-person in its relational cosmos. The ‘stomach’ includes the multiple ‘cognatic’ ties of kinship born from an apical set of sisters and brothers, whose descendants retrospectively guarantee the transgenerational continuity of their father’s ‘back’. In other words, the stomach and the back are the two sides of the same coin: the back, patrilineal only in appearance, is the ongoing result of combined transgenerational alliance histories, which create, maintain, and possibly extend the ‘stomach’ over time and, thus, in turn strengthen the ‘back’. The latter corresponds to pre-eminently gynocentric sibling intimacy and the former to androcentric solidarities of alliance, which the sibling continuum develops and expands.

49In this system, there is no such thing as an endogamous, segmentary tribe or lineage, be it patrilineal or matrilineal. This system is driven by what one may term the autopoïetic dynamics of kinship, which give rise to intertwined, rhysomatic ‘tribal’ networks (tawshiten, sing.: tawshit) owing to the constant interrelating – through marriage as well as other processes of kinning – of shifting nuclei of shared kin, indeed the descendants of sibling sets, which are themselves related through marriage by permutation at each founding generation [Walentowitz forthcoming a; see also Brock 1986]. These closely related kin are competing among themselves for optimal mutualisation, while trying to include multiple others through distant-kin or non-kin unions. The system operates thanks to a form of ‘reciprocity’ through which relative difference emerges from relative sameness, and vice versa. Such reciprocity does not imply that absolute difference is a precondition of ‘exchange’. What Stanley Kurtz does, by contrast, is to reify absolute difference, thus negating relativity and relationality [2007].

50In the overall perspective all too sketchily outlined in this text, cutting the tie of kinship or being cut from it destroys relational legitimacy. From the standpoint of jurisprudence, this process may take several forms, all linked to the breach or absence of nasab: an act of fornication (zinā), whether or not it leads to birth, abandonment of a child and ensuing doubt as to its patronymic, the unfounded repudiation of a spouse, homosexuality in that it cannot found nasab, the betrayal of pacts of alliance concluded through terms invoking sharaf, asshak, etc. One cannot hence underestimate the centrality of the transgenerational continuity of nasab, as it relates to siblingship and the retrospective narrative of origins through marriage, and as opposed to the agnatic descent paradigm long dominant in anthropology. The deconstruction of this process of close ‘kinning’ [Howell 2006] is of essence to understand current debates and reform projects concerning personal status and citizenship in Muslim contexts. It clearly appears that any modification that might be construed as questioning the social and symbolic foundation (sibling intimacy and the continuity of patronymic or renown of the house, alhurma, etc.) and instruments (legitimate, close-kin marriage and badal) of nasab is not applicable. This excludes the introduction of full adoption as a category that would imply an obliteration of the patronymic (or matronymic) acquired at birth, an act forbidden in the Koran, the prophetic traditions, and Islamic jurisprudence. Indeed, notwithstanding the recognized social and ethical necessity of providing for the ‘illegitimate’ or parentless children of mass migration and the orphans of war, this would ‘cut the chain (silsila) of nasab’. Thus, fosterage (kafāla) is praised, but full adoption (tabannī) proscribed in fiqh. This perspective explains why the non-conferral of the mother’s citizenship to the legitimate lone children of absentee Arab fathers of distinct nationality derives, in contrast, from a negative interpretation of the agnatic ascription of the patronymic, and hence of nasab, in conjunction with the principle of territoriality: thus hundreds of thousands of initially legitimate ‘orphans of name’, notably in Egypt, have become de facto stateless, for deprived of nasab through the repudiation or abandonment of their mothers. Present on a very large scale from Pakistan to Morocco, such phenomena present an enormous challenge to actors, analysts, and politicians. From individual genealogies and networks to large-scale pacts of brotherhood [Salīm 1956-1957; Conte 2003], however, the flexible, elective nature of kinship dynamics in Muslim contexts has always allowed, and shall continue to allow, the affiliation of children without names or indeed of ‘sleeping children’ who stagnate and dally in their mother’s womb well beyond the ‘natural’ gestation period [Colin 1998]. In other words, individual as well as collective adoptive or integrative processes take place every day, in various ways, and are tolerated to a greater or lesser extent as long as they do not put the foundational principles of nasab into question.

Who Is Afraid of Orientalists?

51The structural functionalist tribal model tends to eliminate most of the complexities here alluded to. Why? The answer lies in good part in its naturalistic male bias, in the claim that it reflects emic perceptions. This is apparent in its long-dominant conceptual skeleton that revolves around the related notions of patriarchy, patrilineality, and endogamy. Correspondingly, in representing the genealogically formulated charters of tribes, mostly promulgated by men, analysts tend to marginalize women and their structural role while preserving the notion of transgenerational continuity of gendered power structures [Abu-Lughod 1989]. Male anthropologists and male informants often concur in this regard. Updated versions of the model [see Krauss 2004] are largely a-chronical and impervious to structural time. They seek to counterbalance analytical gender asymmetry by stressing individual female agency or mediation, instead of addressing the overall structural role of women in ‘Muslim’ kinship configurations. Women emerge as daughters and as wives, rather than sisters and mothers. They are depicted as figures of alliance rather than of descent. Such accommodations to feminist theory could lead one to oversee that, behind the curtains of functionalism, structuralism, and post-structuralism, evolutionism neither died nor faded away. Its spectre lingers on, clad in different mantels. In certain regards, however, one might be inclined to mourn the impetus evolutionism once brought to social science [see also Roberts 2002]. That of W.R. Smith [1885], drawing upon Bachhofen and McLennan, or that, more circumspect, of J.Wellhausen [1893], situated Mutterrecht and Vaterrecht in chronological sequence. Yet, these authors weighted both equally. If, with hindsight, one blends out the linear, sequential postulate underlying this vision, one is left with what could arguably be described as a structurally gender-balanced perspective. Seen in ideological terms, structural functionalists annulled structural diachrony and gender balance at one go, possibly in the silent hope of better depriving hostile Marxism of its politically powerful evolutionist teleology [Knight 2008: 69-70]. The residual paradigm was synchronic, presumptively perpetual patriarchy or, in more modern parlance, male dominance. It explains neither violence against women nor their pre-eminence in certain Muslim societies (i.e. Minangkabau, Tuareg).

52In view of this biased background, could the conceptual legacy of the 19th-century philologists and their key disciples be fully appreciated? Its strength lies in its theoretical coherence and novelty. Rather than an empty toolbox, we have received an extensive conceptual apparatus not bound by a specific theory (including evolutionism) or monopolised by a single school. It stresses the logical centrality of siblingship [Wellhausen 1884: 124, 127-129], a notion that was marginalized by the long-accepted ‘descent and alliance’ pair; the relativity of the endogamy/exogamy opposition [Wellhausen 1893]; the structural role of elective kinship and ‘affiliation’ [Goldziher 1889, I: 40 and 1893] in maintaining and regenerating performative descent constructs; a definition of exchange that is not subordinated to the assumption of a rule of exogamy [Granqvist 1931-1935]; and last but not least an awareness of the complex intertwining of gender asymmetry and political hierarchy [see Conte forthcoming b]. This is not little.

53Departing from this yet unclaimed legacy, formed before the emergence of structural functionalist and subsequently gender theory, new hypotheses can now be developed, as we have tried to suggest in this text. So too is it crucial, from the perspective of social science, critically but seriously to take on board the insights of the philologists, just as one should (re)read in contemporary perspective [see Citton 2007] texts and oral sources, old and new, in all relevant languages, so as to develop an interculturally intelligible political anthropology of kinship and reproduction. Reflexivity [Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992] implies rather more than presenting an analytical discourse referring to the (Oriental) Other [see Lindholm 1995], often revolving, even today, around the term-cluster ‘patriarchy-endogamy-segmentarity-tribe’ [see Krauss 2004]. Neither Orientalists nor Orientals hold this cluster to be binding. Rather, they situate the factor ‘tribe’ in a wide palette of relational configurations, ranging from individual relationships of love, hate, and honour [van Gelder 2005] to the destinies of dynasties and empires [Wellhausen 1902]. Were we fully to appreciate the scope of analysis thus suggested, we could hopefully place the foundations of a mode of reflexive analysis recognizing the differential symmetry of sources, while not adding either disciplinary or conceptual barriers to the conflicts and ‘security walls’ that today increasingly fragment social and political space in Southwest Asia and beyond.

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