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Filiation And Affiliation by Harold W Scheffler (2000-11-14)

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Review Text

  • By Alex Stewart on September 8, 2001

    The title may seem mysterious: in lay terms, it refers to ties to parents and the process of joining kin groups or categories. The book is a finely worded essay that demands our attentiveness: it cannot be breezily read. The structure of the essay is a two-part conceptual schema (Chapters 1-4) followed by an application of this schema to classic ethnographic cases (Chapters 5-10).It would help the reader, who tries to launch into the conceptual chapters, to understand this purpose in advance. It would also help, I believe, for the reader to sketch out (literally, in the book itself) two matrixes. The first would note (as a title) that "a filial relation may be:"(3 columns) the necessary and sufficient; a necessary but not sufficient; a sufficient but not necessary... condition for the acquisition of a status.(3 rows) "the relation may be" simple affiliation; patrifiliation; matrifiliation.The second matrix refers to the sort of entity to which one does or does not become affiliated. The notes in square brackets can be placed with the column titles if this helps:(3 columns) Jural entities [the unit is right- and duty-bearing]; Jural collectivities [an individual can act on its behalf to represent interests]; Jural aggregates [each individual acts to protect own interests];(2 rows) General rights; Special rights. The burden of the second part is that the (classically discussed) kinship systems have been widely misunderstood (including in some cases by the ethnographers themselves) due to failure to attend with sufficient care to the distinctions Scheffler highlights. At the least, this discussion demonstrates the value of the framework. However, it would have been interesting had Scheffler attempted to adopt it to contemporary American kinship. (This is a topic on which he has written; indeed, his disdain - quite appropriate, in my mind - for the views of the leading writer on that topic - David Schneider - surfaces several times in the book.) It is not yet clear to me how well the framework will serve for cases of multiple overlapping types of jural units; for example, cases of filiation affecting membership in powerful, but not controlling, shareholder groups (such as the case of Ford Motor Company). However, this is where a conceptual work such as this should perhaps be leaving us: waiting to try to adapt and develop it ourselves. I close with comments on the intellectual stream this book runs in, and how this affects my own evaluation. The publisher's comments and my review should make it clear that this is not a typical work in contemporary writing on kinship. A glib way to put it would be that the book is a rather audacious homage to the late Cambridge Social Anthropologist Meyer Fortes. This is fine with me; without plugging my own work - my point here is to plug Scheffler's - I can say that if you were to look up my most recent book you would find a compatible effort. You may say that is why I like this little book so much, but there is a second sense in which Scheffler's book demands our attentiveness: it ought to be read if we hold out any hope for kinship theory, and not just studies that happen to discuss kinship.


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