Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Middle East Section
Of interest to: Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: The Political
A founding assumption of modernization is that extended networks of kin give way to the contained unit of the nuclear family, often characterized by conjugality, privacy, intimacy, and affect. In Muslim-majority nations, as a result of modernization, commentators describe a marked shift towards the nuclear family and its attendant qualities, often depicted as inherently private and extraneous to economic and political rationalities. Rather than relegating the family to the private sphere, this session problematizes this long-held assumption by exploring the complex relationships among kinship, state power, and political economy in the Muslim world.
As elsewhere (McKinnon and Cannell 2013; Schneider 1969), kinship has been integral to nation-making in Muslim-majority societies. While anthropologists have tended to dismiss the conceptualization of “nation as one big family” as a metaphor deployed to inculcate a sense of national belonging (Carsten 2004; Delaney 1991; Herzfeld 1997), our session approaches this conceptualization as a performative aspect of nation-making by focusing on the production of kinship through reciprocal responsibilities and obligations. Presenters trace the material ways in which kinship has been evoked and mobilized in the process of nation-making, government efforts to reconfigure social and health care, and projects aimed at kinship care and kin-based pious sociality.
The session also explores how the family -- despite being presumably privatized -- has not fallen out of the purview of state power, but rather has become a key site of intervention for projects of social reform aimed at cultivating moral subjects and managing the population’s productive capacity. Scholarship on the Muslim world has widely explored how secular nation-states have sought to reconfigure the family to modernize the polity and cultivate proper citizen subjects (Hasso 2010; Kandiyoti 1995; Joseph 2005; Pollard 2005). While the involvement of theological institutions and faith-based groups in the politics of family has been acknowledged, this phenomenon has rarely been explored ethnographically (cf. Agrama 2012). Session participants provide rich ethnographic accounts of the complex entanglements of Islamic authority and state power within the context of the politics of the family, as urbanization, financial crises, and the media are transforming what it means to be a Muslim family.
Individual papers will explore such topics as: the mobilization of vital substances of kinship – such as blood and food – across the familial and political spheres by the Iranian state to defend the nation against outside corruption and create Islamically-appropriate social relations; the deployment of religio-political infrastructures and the religious authority of government-appointed preachers by the Turkish state to provide psycho-social support to families; the contradictory ways in which familial responsibility is simultaneously evoked and contested in municipal programs aimed at replacing nursing homes with home care for the elderly in Turkey; how mothers of children with Down Syndrome in Jordan contrast the moral legitimacy of acceptance with the backwardness of rejection, invoking a paradigm of modernity and development; and how the support and participation of one’s kin is central to the kind of pious ethical cultivation promoted by the Pakistani followers of a transnational Islamic piety movement.