An Anthropological Account

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 1 illustration Published: April 2020

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

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.


“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


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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.

Table of Contents Back to Top
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
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0835-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0784-5