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kinship, law and the unexpected

How can we hold in the same view both cultural or historical constructs and
generalities about social existence? In response to this anthropological conun-
drum, Kinship, Law and the Unexpected takes up an issue at the heart of studies of
society “ the way we use relationships to uncover relationships. Relationality is
a phenomenon at once contingent (on certain ways of knowing) and ubiquitous
(to social life).
The role of relations in western (Euro-American) knowledge practices, from
the scienti¬c revolution onward, raises a question about the extent to which Euro-
American kinship is the kinship of a knowledge-based society. The argument takes
the reader through current issues in biotechnology, new family formations and
legal interventions, and intellectual property debates, to matters of personhood
and ownership afforded by material from Melanesia and elsewhere. If we are often
surprised by what our relatives do, we may also be surprised by what relations tell
us about the world we live in.

Marilyn Strathern is William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology at the
University of Cambridge and Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge. She has
carried out ¬eldwork over several years in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea
(Melanesia). She is the author of The Gender of the Gift, After Nature and Property,
Substance and Effect.
Kinship, Law and the Unexpected

Relatives Are Always a Surprise

marilyn strathern
University of Cambridge
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521849920

© Marilyn Strathern 2005

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Preface page vii

part one. divided origins
Introduction: Divided Origins
The Child™s Two Bodies
A Tool
Divided Origins
1 Relatives Are Always a Surprise: Biotechnology in an Age
of Individualism
An Age of Individualism
Adding Debate
Individual and Common Interests
Recombinant Families
Thinking About Relatives
2 Embedded Science
Isolated Knowledge
Relations Everywhere
Kinship Uncovered
3 Emergent Properties
Multiple Origins
An Analogy
Offspring into Property
Information into Knowledge
Relations into Relations
Kinship and Knowledge
The Informational Family

part two. the arithmetic of ownership
Introduction: The Arithmetic of Ownership
Conception by Intent
Leaving ˜Knowledge™ to One Side
The Arithmetic of Ownership
4 The Patent and the Malanggan
Introducing the Body
Return to New Ireland “ 1
Patenting Technology
Return to New Ireland “ 2
5 Losing (out on) Intellectual Resources
The Terms of an Agreement
Tradition and Modernity
Body Ownership
Whole Persons: Things
Part Persons: Agents
Intellectual Resources
6 Divided Origins and the Arithmetic of Ownership
Counting People: Murik
Analogous Worlds
Counting Ancestors: Omie
Owners and Makers
Propagating Images
Intellectual Products?
Ownership of Persons?
Single and Multiple Origins
Applied Maths

Notes 163
References 201
Author Index 217
Subject Index 220

Anthropologists use relationships to uncover relationships. The device is at
the heart of social anthropology, and anthropologists also ¬nd it at the heart of
kinship. This book would not have been possible but for the wave of anthropo-
logical writing that has gone under the name of ˜the new kinship™ (studies), al-
though it does not fall into the genre. I wish to add a footnote about the role that
appeals to relationality play in anthropological studies of social life and suggest
why we should be interested in it. Appeals are made to a phenomenon at once
contingent (on certain ways of knowing) and ubiquitous (to human society).
One of the enduring methodological conundrums of anthropology is how
to hold in the same view what are clearly cultural and historical constructs
and what are equally clearly generalities about social existence. The trick is
to specify each without diminishing the other. If this is an attempt, by its
very nature the present work must be incomplete precisely because of the
speci¬c circumstances that have suggested kinship as an intriguing ¬eld for
investigation here. The ¬eld already limits (˜constructs™) the exercise.
The speci¬c circumstances are epitomised in the new kinship. Studies under
this rubric focus on the re¬‚exive nature of analytical constructs, and very often
on people™s dealings with one another under new technological regimes, with
the stimulus to indigenous re¬‚exivity that brings; people come to make new
kinds of connections between their lives and the world they live in. Much of the
substance of what follows would be familiar to such concerns, especially in the
¬rst part. Part I touches on contexts in which the new medical technologies
have posed questions for families and relatives. These contexts become, in
Part II, a foil for comparative analysis. The essays thus move from materials
lodged largely in the United States and the United Kingdom, and in the ¬rst
chapter white Australia, to creating the grounds for talking about Melanesia,
Amazonia and (brie¬‚y) Aboriginal Australia. They describe the consequences
of relationality, both in the data and in the organisation of it; several of the

essays are illustrative in this sense, deploying the term no differently from its
use in much anthropological writing.
Indeed, relationality “ as an abstract value placed on relationships “ is
highlighted in a recognisable and conventional manner through attention to
the law. Running through these essays is a commentary on the way modernist
legal thinking at once opens up and closes down predispositions to think in
terms of relations. Part I introduces Euro-American law on its own home
territory, so to speak, in both creative and regulative mode, whereas Part II
shows legal categories being introduced in situations otherwise foreign to
them, in some cases in the name of governance, in others as an analytical
device on the part of the observer. Either way, one should not overlook the
imagination and ingenuity of lawyers in dealing with new issues. Concepts
developed in the name of intellectual property offer a rich seam for mining
here and are in the foreground or background of several chapters. ˜The law™
is thus depicted in different guises, whether contributing to the conceptual
resources through which people approach problems entailing ownership or
rights, or intervening in disputes, crystallising certain cultural moments for
the sake of advocacy, and so forth.
There is a particular purchase to bringing in legal thinking. It is a discipline
and a practice that has to deal with different kinds of relationships. After
all, in European mythology, the law is the classic locus for situations where
categorical and interpersonal relations confront each other, as “ in her lectures
of the name “ Judith Butler (2000) reminds us was true of Antigone™s claim.
Ajudications in the courts, pleas on the grounds of human rights: the law deals
with persons in relation to categories. We shall see the signi¬cance of this.
The essays are intended to convey the embeddedness of relational thinking
in the way Euro-Americans come to know world, and the descriptions of social
life this embeddedness has made “ and continues to make “ possible. It offers
us truths of a very special kind. In turn, such relational thinking is successful to
the extent that it capitalises on a common capacity or facility in the making of
relations that exist in other registers altogether. From here comes the attempt
to hold in the same view what are clearly cultural and historical constructs and
what are equally clearly generalities about social existence. The Introductions
to the two parts, Divided Origins and The Arithmetic of Ownership, spell this

Separate acknowledgements are recorded at the end of each chapter, as each
originated at a particular event or for an occasion. (To this extent, they may be

read as independent pieces.) This is to record more generally my intellectual
debts to colleagues whose work makes super¬‚uous any further rehearsal of the
turn to kinship; that micro-history within anthropology has been well written.
I include Janet Carsten™s After Kinship, which rewrites the debates that shifted
the study of kinship from a mid-twentieth-century preoccupation to an arena
of much future promise; Sarah Franklin™s and Susan McKinnon™s collection
of essays on new locations for new interests, Relative Values: Recon¬guring
Kinship Studies, and the reader edited by Robert Parkin and Linda Stone,
Kinship and Family, that brings a span of diverse materials into provocative
relationship. Of ethnographically based monographs, Jeanette Edwards™ Born
and Bred: Idioms of Kinship and New Reproductive Technologies in England is
foremost. All these include re¬‚ections on the substantial materials, theories
and analyses that are constantly re-drawing kinship studies today.
This book is not only about kinship, and there are other debts; for
the stimulus of many conversations, Francoise Barbira-Freedman, Debbora
Battaglia, Joan Bestard-Camps, Barbara Bodenhorn, Corinne Hayden,
Caroline Humphrey, Alain Pottage, Paul Rabinow, Christina Toren, Eduardo
Viveiros de Castro. Benedicta Rousseau is owed special thanks. Much of the
thinking occurred in the environs of Ravenscar in North Yorkshire, under
Jenny Bartlet™s stimulating hospitality, and it is not inconsequential that Ru
Kundil and Puklum El from Mt. Hagen have stayed there too.
Chapter Three and the three chapters of Part II were ¬rst written under
the auspices of Property, Transactions and Creations: New Economic Rela-
tions in the Paci¬c. This was a three-year investigation (1999“2002) funded by
the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council (award R000 23 7838), and
acknowledgement is gratefully made. The arguments here owe much to Eric
Hirsch, co-convenor, and to Tony Crook, Melissa Demian, Andrew Holding,
Lawrence Kalinoe, Stuart Kirsch, James Leach and Karen Sykes, as well as to
Lissant Bolton and Adam Reed, and to the ephemeral association that called
itself the Trumpington Street Reading Group.
Permission to reprint or draw upon papers published elsewhere is gratefully
Chapter Three Abridged as Emergent relations, in Mario Biagioli and
Peter Galison, eds. 2003. Scienti¬c authorship: Credit and intellectual property
in science. New York: Routledge, pp. 165“94.
Chapter Four From the journal Theory, Culture and Society 18: 1 “26, 2001 ;
also pub. in Christopher Pinney and Nicholas Thomas, eds. 2000. Beyond
aesthetics: Art and the technologies of enchantment: Essays for Alfred Gell.
Oxford: Berg, pp. 259“86.

Chapter Five From Martha Mundy and Alain Pottage, eds. 2004. Law,
anthropology and the constitution of the social: Making persons and things.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 201 “33.
Chapter Six to appear in Bill Maurer and Gabriele Schwab, eds. In press.
Accelerating possession: Global futures of property and personhood. New York:
Columbia University Press.

Among several interesting developments in social anthropology at the mo-
ment, a particular trajectory directly affects the substance of this book and
leads to a different kind of acknowledgement. It is invariably to one™s bene¬t
that one consumes the work of colleagues, critical or otherwise, and there is
a temptation to be like the marketing executive or policy maker in this era of
ready responsiveness and absorb criticism the moment it is articulated. Indeed,
ethnographers these days will tell you that hardly have they jotted down ob-
servation or comment and their subjects will have come up with their own
analysis. I am sorely tempted, for example, to take on board a piece that Alberto
Cors´n Jim´ nez (2004) generously sent me; informed by James Weiner™s pre-
± e
science, it is a critique of relationality with which I ¬nd myself at almost every
step agreeing. I might not have fallen in with the criticism so readily had I not
been warmed up to the task ¬rst by Iris Jean-Klein, and Annelise Riles, and
then by Tony Crook™s (2003) work on unmediated relations in Angkaiyakmin,
Bolivip, by Monica Konrad™s (2005) account of nameless relations in Britain,
and by Andrew Moutu™s (2003) study of kinship and ownership in Iatmul. I
think, though, that I can best serve the new radicalism by my own conser-
vatism, and thus conserve what will then become an original position rather
than consume new ones! So I endeavour to remain true to a point of view
not because I defend it but because there is some mileage to be gained from
specifying “ precisely at this juncture “ what is so interesting about it that it
could become important to leave behind.
The Melpa (Hagen) term manda means something along the lines of
˜enough said™, ˜suf¬cient for the present™, ˜let™s stop for now™ “ an exhortation
to shut up, recognise an end, acknowledge a ¬nish, even though everyone
could go on talking forever.
Marilyn Strathern, August 2004
Girton College, Cambridge
part one

divided origins
Introduction: Divided Origins

T he u.k. human genetics commission™s preliminary discussion
document (HGC 2000) on the use of personal genetic information sin-
gles out children as a category with special interests. Given that ethical pro-
cedures in medicine rest crucially on the principles of informed consent and
con¬dentiality, genetic testing poses a particular nexus of problems where
children are concerned. Of course, both the question of young persons being
incapable of giving consent in their own right and the need for parents to be
informed of medical facts about their offspring long pre-date the new genet-
ics. But genetic medicine introduces a particularly challenging set of issues,
such as the testing of children for conditions for which they show no symp-
toms or for conditions that may only be relevant in adult life; the kind of
understanding families might have about Mendelian inheritance; the impli-
cations of parentage testing and of who owns knowledge about a child™s genes.
Generally lumped together as posing ethical dilemmas, these add a signi¬cant
dimension to the status of being a child. Yet, although they are important, it
is arguable that they impinge on relatively few people and are in that sense
exotic. I take the contrary view and suggest that such dilemmas arise out of and
contribute to some very general currents of thinking in contemporary Euro-
American societies.1 We might then say that these general currents simply
point to a recent phenomenon, a self-consciousness about living in a society
in which communications and the so-called knowledge economy mobilise
whole constellations of values that clamour for attention. But I would take
the same step again and argue that this, in turn, is a recent version of a long
standing preoccupation with knowledge.
Similar steps recur throughout this volume, old positions recaptured on
new terrain, and I make no apology for the not-quite replication of issues. It is
one way of working through a culture and its preoccupations, now explicitly
linked, now implicitly so. Some of the many relationships between knowledge

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