The concept of relation holds a privileged place in how anthropologists think and write about the social and cultural lives they study. In Relations, eminent anthropologist Marilyn Strathern provides a critical account of this key concept and its usage and significance in the English-speaking world. Exploring relation's changing articulations and meanings over the past three centuries, Strathern shows how the historical idiosyncrasy of using an epistemological term for kinspersons (“relatives”) was bound up with evolving ideas about knowledge-making and kin-making. She draws on philosophical debates about relation—such as Leibniz's reaction to Locke—and what became its definitive place in anthropological exposition, elucidating the underlying assumptions and conventions of its use. She also calls for scholars in anthropology and beyond to take up the limitations of Western relational thinking, especially against the background of present ecological crises and interest in multispecies relations. In weaving together analyses of kin-making and knowledge-making, Strathern opens up new ways of thinking about the contours of epistemic and relational possibilities while questioning the limits and potential of ethnographic methods.
Preface ix Introductions: The Compulsion of Relations 1 Part I 1. Experimentation, English and Otherwise 25 2. Registers of Comparison 45 Coda to Part I: Comparing Persons Again 69 Part II 3. Expansion and Contradiction 73 4. The Dissimilar and the Different 97 Coda to Part II: Preparation 117 Part III. 5. Enlightenment Dramas 121 6. Kinship Unbound 143 Coda to Part III: Visibility 165 Conclusions: The Reinvention of Relations at Moments of Knowledge-Making 167 Notes 191 References 229 Index of Names 251 Index of Subjects 259
Marilyn Strathern is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and the author and editor of numerous books, including The Gender of the Gift; Partial Connections; and After Nature.
“Drawing on a wonderfully diverse array of sources, and in a dazzling display of analytic brilliance, Marilyn Strathern traces the parallel trajectories of ‘relation’—as comparison and as kinship—from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first. Relations of both kinds, and the connections and knowledge that bind them, will be apprehended differently after reading this extraordinary work.”
~Janet Carsten, Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Edinburgh
“An extraordinary work by one of today's preeminent scholars in the field of anthropology, Relations radically transforms our understanding of both kin-making and knowledge-making as well as the depths and productivity of their entwinement. It does so not only in the epistemic and relational cosmology of the English-speaking world but also, by the light of comparison, in those of other cultural worlds. A profoundly illuminating book.”
~Susan McKinnon, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, University of Virginia
“Relations unfolds as a tour-de-force in the history, philosophy, and anthropology of social descriptors, bedazzling its readers as it charts how relations have sneaked between the limits of every account of (more-than-)human affairs, at every turn rekindling the magic and the challenge of anthropological analysis.”
~Alberto Corsín Jiménez, Reader in Social Anthropology, Spanish National Research Council
"Relations is an event in Strathern's own sense: fresh evidence of the capacity to relate, which gains and adds dimensions in time.… Please read Relations…: it holds the promise that you and I—we—will never be the same."
~Ashley Lebner, American Ethnologist
"Relations is a conceptual page-turner narrated through an arc of mystery. . . . Relations synthesizes its author’s ferocious curiosity about who puts worlds together and how they do so through concepts. The consequences are, she argues, all around us. By arranging precisely selected descriptions, Strathern offers us a glimpse of what is normally occluded, her deployment of analytical subtlety and narrative wit making the force in and to exposition demonstrable."
~Rachel Douglas-Jones, American Anthropologist
"The breadth and depth of sources Strathern employs in her inquiry is exacting, particular, yet formidable still. She draws from fields as disparate as the philosophy of science, biology, art, and literary criticism, and the work of other anthropologists. . . . There is much food for thought on offer in thinking about relations from Strathern’s relatively short yet dense inquiry."
~Arthur Ivan Bravo, Anthropology Book Forum