Annotation: Carsten, Janet. 2004. After Kinship.

Carsten, Janet. 2004. After Kinship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Using a comparative approach, and paying attention to the “close, intimate, and emotional work of kinship beside the larger projects of state and nation,” Carsten takes a “long way round” to investigate the many new guises of kinship. The house, gender, personhood, substance, and idioms, include some of the tropes in which kinship can be discerned (185). Throughout the book, Carsten sets out to investigate how people invest their “emotions, creative energy, and their new imaginings” (9) to create everyday practices of “relatedness” between themselves and others. Carsten argues for a processual study of kinship, writing that kinship can be made. For example, by looking at the trope of the house (Chapter 2) as an intimate place for the sharing of space, food, and nurturance, one is able to understand how kinship is lived. Also arguing for bringing back kinship into gender, Carsten writes that “gender without kinship tends to become trapped in a rather abstract and arid set of questions that arise from the way gender itself is constructed as an analytical model” (59). Using her ethnography of the Malays in Langkawi in the 1980s, Carsten finds that ideas about gender are rather “dynamic and relational” (71), and that gender is marked differently at different periods (e.g. marriage, birth, death, etc) during one’s lifetime. Blood is what kin have in common, but it is also dynamic and mutable (e.g. eating practice and co-habitation as processes that transform one’s blood), and thus kinship can be both made and unmade. In her chapter on the metaphorical uses of kinship, such as the consideration of the nation as family, Carsten suggests that metaphors structure our experiences of nationhood, and that the metaphor “can become living actuality” (162). The slippage (or transformability) of metaphor, Carsten argues, is a vital component of the force of kinship in the political realm. In the case of India, where sexually-assaulted women are turned away by the state, the emotional power of kinship becomes “unfamiliar,” and those who are kin become “depersonalized” (Vina Das).

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