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Biagioli remarks, and may do so in part by placing the author within an arena
of social relations.39
Writing about the problems of trust engendered through the collective
character of empirical knowledge-making, Shapin (1994: 359) observes that
˜scienti¬c knowledge is produced by and in a network of actors™ (emphasis
removed). He is talking of the seventeenth century. He asks how veri¬ability
was ascertained, and answers that ˜knowledge about people was constitutively
implicated in knowledge of things™ (1994: 302). What counted as knowledge

depended on what people were willing to attest, and the value of their testi-
mony rested in turn on the kind of people they were:40

What was understood of gentlemen generally, and what was routine and expected
in their social relations, might effectively be appropriated to pattern and justify
social relations within the new practice of empirical and experimental science.
Shapin 1994: 123

Texts that circulated with a presumed equality between them, having to hold
their own, were also circulating between persons who could vouch for one
another. Accountability had to be a social matter; relations linked people who
could be relied upon. It was the relations that turned a multiplicity of persons
into a social arena of authority.41
Relations were also doing something else. It was relations that produced
knowledge out of information.42 If items of information, the categories in
terms of which the world could be described, were judged against one another,
any ¬t was simultaneously a relation between them. ˜Knowledge™ became
understood as accountable information, and it was by virtue of being relational
that it was accountable. Here we return to the notion outlined in Chapter Two
that the concept of ˜relation™ and its partner ˜connection™ may well have enabled
the kind of secular enquiry fueled by the Enlightenment conviction that the
world (nature) is open to scrutiny. Relations are produced through the very
activity of understanding when that understanding has to be produced from
within,43 that is, from within the compass of the human mind and without
reference to divinity, when things in the world can only be compared with
other things on the same earthly plane.44 What validates one fact are other
facts, always provided the connections can be made to hold. And Shapin™s
seventeenth century experimenters were looking for connections everywhere,
always provided the facts could be made to hold.45
Let me generalise, for a moment, from a perspective that begins with the
perspective of ˜science™s (kind of) relation™ but shifts beyond it. We can recog-
nise the divergence between two modes of relating characteristic of scienti¬c
interest: creating connections between things (invention) and elucidating the
pre-existing relations that already implicate things in one another (discov-
ery). However, with science™s relation in place, other conceptual operations
become visible and among them those that give social anthropology some
of its operational purchase. ˜Anthropology™s relation™ also encompasses more
general features of conceptual relations, ones not tied to the foundational
ideas of culture and nature or to the epistemology they generate, that come
from conditions of sociality at large. At the same time, in so far as these fea-
tures are pressed into service by anthropology as a discipline derived from

the Enlightenment and the scienti¬c revolution, making knowledge for the
purposes of description and analysis remains a contingent context for them.
So what, in this context, are these general features of conceptual relations?
One grasps a piece of information as knowledge by being aware of its context or
grounds, that is, of how it sustains a relationship to other pieces of information;
in short, knowledge is gained through knowledge. As a result, it (knowledge)
can also always appear as a linking middle term; it is what we know about this
and know about that which has us bring items together. I comment on two
signi¬cant properties of conceptual relations from this view.46
The notion of relation can be applied to any order of connection; this is its
¬rst property. Hence one can, seemingly, make connections anywhere. For in
describing phenomena, the fact of relation instantiates connections in such
a way as also to produce instances of itself. At whatever level or order, the
demonstration of a relationship, whether by resemblance, cause and effect
or contiguity, reinforces the understanding that through relational practices “
classi¬cation, analysis, comparison “ relations can be demonstrated. We could
call the relation a self-similar or self-organising construct, a ¬gure whose
organisational power is not affected by scale. Without this powerful device
one could not, for example, generate new properties out of old and thus
allow old ones to emerge from the new. To go back to the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, perhaps the capacity for making conceptual relations
was itself being ˜conceptualised™ (forming concepts about concepts) under
the pressure of systematic enquiry into practices of knowledge-making.47
Conceptual relations have a second and quite distinct property: they require
other elements to complete them. They are relations between what? This makes
their connecting functions complex, for the relation always summons entities
other than itself, whether “ as we have seen elaborated in science™s relation “ the
appearance is that these entities are pre-existing (the relation is between them)
or whether they are obviously brought into existence by the relationship (and
thus exist within it).48 One not only perceives relations between things but also
perceives things as relations.49 Yet insofar as ˜things™ (the terms bound by or
containing the relation) are routinely conceptualised apart from the relation,
we can (after Wagner 1986) call the relation an organising trope with the
second order capacity to organise elements either similar to or dissimilar from
itself.50 Hence the relation as a model of complex phenomena has the power to
bring heterogeneous orders or levels of knowledge together while conserving
their difference. It allows concrete and abstract knowledge to be manipulated
simultaneously. It makes Latour™s (1986) two-dimensional inscriptions, the
diagrams, charts and tables that have long enabled scientists to superimpose
images of different scales and origins, work. Indeed, working as one might

say technology works,51 conceptual relations are part of the machinery of
exposition. One cannot point to a relation without bringing about its effect.
The very concept (relation) thus participates in the way we give expression
to what we know about it. So relations themselves can appear at once concrete
and abstract. They can produce a sense of an embedded or embodied knowl-
edge out of information that would, otherwise, be abstracted from context,
¬‚oat around weightlessly. Or they can seem ethereal or disembodied, hypo-
thetical linkages hovering over the brute facts and realities of information
on the ground. However, equally so, conceptual relations are but one part of
anthropology™s (kind of) relation. Drawn from social life at large, both from
the discipline™s observations about society and from its interests in people™s
descriptions of their connections with one another, what ethnography pushes
into the foreground are all kinds of interactions. Anthropology™s relation also
summons what are thought of as interpersonal ties.
On the face of it, the conceptual relations of knowledge-making discussed
here might seem at a far remove from the arena of social relations such as
those acted out in the families of various sorts that have also appeared in
this chapter. As dreadful as the double entendre in ˜conceive™ is, have I simply
conjured another pun (relations at once conceptual and interpersonal)? Not
if, as promised, I can articulate the historical question properly.

Relations into Relations
I have no idea what conceptual relations once connotated52 or how one should
be differentiating the eighteenth from the seventeeth century in this regard. So
I am not really certain when, or in what social milieu, to locate the question.
But this is it. We can imagine the part that the concept of relation played in the
unfolding of understandings about the nature of knowledge. How then did it
come to be applied to kin? For it would seem that relation, already in English
a combination of Latin roots, and variously a narrative, reference back to
something or comparison, became in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
applied to ties, whether by blood or marriage, through kinship. Although an
early entry of 1502 for a kin relation in the Oxford English Dictionary suggests
that I might be overstating the case, I note that relative (the substantive) does
not become applied to kinsmen until the mid seventeenth century, also true of
the verb relate, by contrast with a plethora of fourteenth and ¬fteenth century
usages for relation, relative and relate in the sense of logical or conceptual
It was not alone; several terms to do with knowledge practices on the one
hand and on the other kinship practices were seemingly in ¬‚ux.53 In many

instances it was a case of adding new properties to old, so that existing terms
acquired double meanings. I point to two such clusters, of which the digres-
sions on copyrighting and on the veri¬cation of scienti¬c ¬ndings have already
given an indication.
One cluster refers to propagation, and the oldest candidate here is the very
term conceive and its correlates, concept and conception. To create offspring
and to form an idea: this double sense of conceive had been recorded since
the 1300s.54 But there is also generate, reproduce, create and issue, and some
of these terms only doubled their reference much later. Thus creation was
used in the fourteenth century for begetting and with divine connotations of
causing to come into being; it was ¬rst recorded as applying to an intellectual
product or form in the late sixteenth “ early seventeenth century. This was in
the sense of summoning through the imagination as well as in the then more
established legal sense of constitute. Other doubles also emerged in the early
modern period. Consider the second cluster, dominated in my own mind by
the term relation, which includes connection and af¬nity. Af¬nity seems to have
been a relationship by marriage or an alliance between consociates before it
became, in the sixteenth century, a term for structural resemblance (between
languages) or causal connection. Conversely, connection itself, which appears
in the seventeenth century, seems to have referred to the joining of words and
ideas by logical process before it came in the eighteenth to designate the joining
of persons through marriage or (more rarely) consanguinity.55 Of more recent
coinage, connection nonetheless followed the same sequence as relation and
The clusters are connected. The one elides mental conceptions and procre-
ative acts; the other elides the kinds of connections these produce. Elucidating
the nature of mental conceptions was one of philosophy™s contributions to the
new knowledges of the time, whereas the relationship between procreation
and kinship fed into emergent formulations of nature and culture. But that is
in prospect; there is something to be explained in retrospect.
If these were originally puns and conjunctions allowed by the English lan-
guage and the way it created verbal connections,56 then they must also have
been allowed by English kinship in the way it set up connections between
persons.57 Was the attention to knowledge-making that we associate with
the new sciences also refashioning the way people represented their rela-
tions to one another? What was the nature of those relations? What was
entailed in having ˜relation™ introduce into thinking about kin an intellectu-
alised sense of connection? And embedded there, did it acquire further proper-
ties? For, once introduced into kinship, ˜the relation™ could be borrowed back

Listen now to this deliberate analogy, addressed to the elucidation of knowl-
edge processes. How we know kinsfolk and how we know things are drawn
together in a parallel with all the force of serious explication. In his Essay
concerning human understanding (1690), Locke conjured up the image of two
cassowaries on display in St. James™s Park, London. Cassowaries are large,
¬‚ightless birds from Papua New Guinea and South East Asia, and to London-
ers they seemed quite enigmatic, eluding immediate classi¬cation. However,
the philosopher wanted to illustrate the logical circumstance whereby a rela-
tion could be perceived clearly even though the precise nature of the entities
themselves might be in doubt. He offered a parallel with this strange bird,
its enigmatic identity (not his phrase) contrasting with the clearly perceived
relationship between the pair: they were dam and chick.58 The one was the
offspring of the other. The parent“child relation, a matter of kinship, illus-
trated how one could, as a matter of knowledge, conceive relations between
We might assume that all at issue here were relations between concepts, as
between the concepts of parent and offspring. But not only did Locke draw
on the concrete act of propagation (it was ˜the notion that one laid the egg
out of which the other was hatched™ [Locke 1690: 237] that gave the idea of
relationship), the avian connection had been preceded by several references
to human kinship and to interpersonal relations.
Kinship makes evident one very notable property of the relation: the tie
that invisibly links kin is both embodied in each (kins)person and can be
understood as separate from them. Thus in talking about the way in which
the act of comparison (bringing items into relationship) is a clarifying exercise,
Locke argued that ˜in comparing two men, in reference to one common parent,
it is very easy to frame the idea of brothers, without yet having the perfect idea
of a man™ (1690: 236). What he was comparing were the two kinds of relations.
Throughout his disquisition on the relation, he took kin relationships as
immediately accessible exemplars of logical relations. Thus he gave as examples
correlative terms obvious to everyone: ˜father and son, husband and wife™.
The argument is building up for a consideration of that ˜most comprehensive
relation, wherein all things that do or can exist are concerned; and that is the
relation of cause and effect . . . [from which comes] the two fountains of all
our knowledge, sensation and re¬‚ection™ (1690: 237).
In making the comparisons, Locke linked a conceptual relation between
entities to a procreative relation between hen and chick as though both usages
were as thoroughly sedimented in the English language. Only with hindsight
do we note that between the two it was relation as applied to the kin connection
that was the relative novelty. So, for all that the conceptual notion of relation

can be borrowed back so effectively from the domain of kin relations, the
historical question remains: how did it come to be applied to kinspersons in
the ¬rst place?
The reader already knows that this is not the occasion for an answer. But
recent technological developments have perhaps added to the reasons that
make the question worth asking. Although kinship and knowledge provide
¬gurative or metaphorical resources for one another, borrowed back and
forth, the historical direction in which the concept of ˜relation™ expanded “
from knowledge-making to kinship connection “ would seem to have left
traces in a certain persistent asymmetry. Not only for this reason but also
perhaps including this reason, ˜knowledge™ holds the privileged position.


Kinship and Knowledge
Anthropology™s relation echoes and is echoed in the way people crossover
between conceptual and interpersonal ways of relating. The remainder of this
chapter offers some Euro-American examples. They return to the speci¬c case
of knowledge and kinship that characterises the ˜scienti¬c kinship system™
I claimed in Chapter Two. But I return to this point with the additional
information about the apparent directional drift in the English language, in
which fresh conceptualisations of the world seemingly worked their way into
the apprehension of relations between (kins)persons. In discussing people™s
interpretations, it pursues an argument about the role of analogies as common
vehicles for such manoevres and about what becomes explicit or remains
implicit crossovers.
Analogies are not relations of cause and effect; concepts do not “ pace
the Calverts and Buzzancas “ procreate. They get carried by people across do-
mains, often because there is some argument to pursue. Analogies are relations
of resemblance; that does not mean their fancifulness is idle. On the contrary,
much of culture is a fabrication of resemblances, a making sense through
indicative continuities, just as one text points to another text.59 This is true
whether analogies are pressed into the service of innovation or into the service
of keeping values intact. It follows that appreciating the power of a parallel
between conceptual and familial relations does not depend on demonstrating
the direct derivation of one from the other. It is conceivable, for example,
that the terms ˜relation™ and ˜relative™ migrated into kinship from their more
general usage, at the time, for associates, persons connected through mutual
acknowledgment. Like the circle of scientists, the circle of persons who publicly

recognised one another (as associates) possibly anticipated some of the class
overtones of kinship so evident by Jane Austen™s time. However, even the us-
age of relation (relative appears only rarely with this connotation) for non-kin
associates was itself fairly recent; its application to the mode by which per-
sons are mutually connected through knowledge and circumstance, and for
the aggregate of such associations, apparently comes from the seventeenth
The point is that once narratives, tropes and images are lodged in a particular
context or domain, they are capable of summoning other contexts whether or
not they were derived directly from them. If the spectrum I have just conjured
falls broadly into a set of parallels between knowledge and kinship, it would
seem that since early modern times English-speakers have kept these domains
in tandem. Each has had its own developmental trajectory, but each seems
still to offer people the power of drawing the other into itself. Needless to say,
they do not work on one another to quite the same effect; they are not entirely
symmetrical. Here we must to consider how terms come to be naturalised
in their new domains. Their metaphorical status laid aside, the potential for
analogy may be submerged.
Familial and procreative language in philosophy and science have long been
naturalised to refer not only to classi¬catory schema but also to non-human
processes of reproduction. In any case the evidence is that some of these terms
were widely used in, for instance, natural historical and anatomical writ-
ings before they became applicable to human relations, one such term being
˜reproduction™ itself (cf. Jordanova 1995: 372). But then no one blinks an eye at
referring to mother and daughter cells either. Such terms have a technical job
to do in de¬ning certain states or processes or connections between concepts,
and any ¬gurative recall will seem for the most part irrelevant. Beer asks us to
consider this description of the planets:

When we contemplate the constituents of the planetary system from the point of
view which this relation affords us, it is no longer mere analogy which strikes us,
no longer a general resemblance among [the planets]. . . . The resemblance is now
perceived as a true family likeness; they are bound up in one chain “ interwoven
in one web of mutual relation.
Chambers 1844: 11 “12, from John Herschel™s 1833
Treatise on Astronomy in Lardener™s Cyclopaedia,
quoted in Beer 1983: 169, original emphasis

Herschel wanted to displace a weak sense of analogy between planetary
bodies (they look alike) with a strong sense of the webs of af¬nity be-
tween them (their orbits are calibrated in respect of one another). The ¬rst

relation in this passage is a mathematical deduction between distances from
the sun and revolutions around it, whereas the second sounds as though it
could have acquired resonances of kinship.60 But equally well, he could simply
be reinforcing the usage that had become habitual in science. A family is an
assemblage of objects, and all he was insisting on was their necessary or sys-
temic connection.61 It did not have to be expressly as kinship that such ideas
were embedded in knowledge practices.
Ideas about knowledge embedded in kinship practices were another mat-
ter altogether; they were there as knowledge. This was nothing novel. The
question is what in¬‚ection early modern ideas about intellectual procreation
and conceptual reations might have added. Was new impetus given to the
legal axiom that between mother and father only the mother is known with
certainty? Note the part that relations played in this axiom. The father had a
relationship to his child because of his (certain) relationship to the mother;62
if one relation had been brought into being through another relation,63 is that
not also about how knowledge was being argued (one piece of information
validated through another piece of information)? However, the analogy here
is mine.64 In folk terms, all one needed to say was that the father was related to
the child because his relationship to the mother was known, at once declared
and acknowledged. In short, knowledge was already a part of the way in which
Euro-Americans reckoned they were related to one another; that is still the
For English-speakers, a peculiarity of knowing in kinship terms is that
information about origins is already grasped as knowledge. Parentage implies
relatedness; facts about birth imply parentage, and people who ¬nd things
out about their ancestry, and thus about their relations with others, acquire
identity by that very discovery. The information constitutes what they know
about themselves.65
One fact about being a kinsperson, then, is that information about kin is
not something that can be selected or rejected as information (cf Strathern
1999). Information already bestows identity. Let me expand the point. Because
kinship identity is realised within a ¬eld of relationships, knowing about one™s
kin is also knowing about oneself. One has no option over the relationships;
any subsequent selection or rejection implies selecting or rejecting those who
are already one™s relatives or else revealed not to be relatives at all. Hence,
information can only be screened out at the invidious cost of appearing to
choose (˜oh, I don™t want to know about them™).66 Whether what one discovers
is the basis for deciding never to see certain people again or for welcoming
them into the home, the information is already, so to speak, knowledge, that
is, already embedded in the way one acts toward these others. This leads to a

sense in which we may say that knowledge creates relationships: relationships
come into being when the knowledge does. As a proposition about kin, it can
be taken quite literally.
So what room does that leave for ¬gurative manoevres? As long as the do-
mains (˜kinship™, ˜knowledge™) are kept separate, perhaps through associations
and connotations that do not seem to bear in immediately on each other, the
potential for analogy remains present. And as long as they are separate, the
one endows the other with its own distinct properties, bringing a different
sense of reality with it.
An example running through this account is that either knowledge or kin-
ship can make the other appear relatively concrete or relatively abstract. As
we have seen in the borrowings back, a reference to kinship can give fresh
concreteness to the abstract perception of relations in the way Locke appears
to have intended “ as did, and do, the all too solid questions about children,
money and property. Or to the contrary kinship may appear to be rendered
too abstract for some people™s comfort. Jordanova™s documentation of chang-
ing terms for procreation in eighteenth century England affords an example.
Reproduction came to be applied to human beings, displacing the earlier term
generation. Reproduction ˜abstracts the [procreative] process from the bod-
ies and persons involved, whether they are parents or offspring™ (1995: 372).
Indeed, its abstract sense of forming or creating or bringing into existence
was only applied to human procreation under some protest. By contrast with
generation, reproduction was held to disregard mankind™s privileged geneal-
ogy. Indeed, the very point was that it encompassed the entire organic world;
extending it to human beings was a new way of organising knowledge about
the world. For John Wesley, she observes, the term was thus a denial of human
kinship with God for it levelled man with “ in his words “ nettles or onions.
It would be wrong, then, to infer that knowledge invariably offers abstrac-
tion, kinship concreteness. Rather, what is going to appear abstract and what
is going to appear concrete will depend on the argument of the moment. It
will also depend on the way in which objects of knowledge acquire status
and certainty. Abstractions lead to fresh rei¬cations and in the process may
well acquire, so to speak, new bodies. When the text is detached from the
book as a material body (the bound volume), it is turned into an immate-
rial but nonetheless recognisable thing over which rights can be owned. The
perception of a ˜thing™ in which rights may be held can be a stimulus to fresh
concretization or corporealization. Should we be surprised that it is also in the
eighteenth century that the very term corpus subsequently became attached
to the idea of a collection or gathering together of works?
The asymmetry is another issue. To say that knowledge is a part of contem-
porary kinship in a way that kinship is not a part of knowledge, my general

point here, reminds us of the relation and its direction of expansion. My in-
terest in the early modern material has been, all along, its pointers to practices
of making knowledge. Recall the explicitness with which the practitioners of
the new science set about their task, as explicit as their latter day counterparts

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