Relationships and Affinities

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreNA4

Semester and Year Offered: Winter Semester/Second Year

Course Coordinator and Team: Rukmini Sen

Email of course coordinator: rukmini[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: Study of society has been a study of human relationships—relationships created and determined through blood, marriage, adoption, intimacy, love, law and labour. The need for this course emanates from the complex and continuously changing nature of human relationships in modern, globalized societies. Kinship is not absent in this course on relationships, rather it is a re-turn to kinship. That re-turn is not just through blood or marriage but also through alliances and friendships; where kinship in its ‘mutuality of being’ sense is about two or more people being connected through emotional and sexual association besides genealogical ones. Affinity could be a synonym of kinship, means a ‘natural liking for someone/something’ and the etymological Latin means related, which changed to relationship by marriage as opposed to blood ties. This course will try to take affinities in the relation, relatedness sense rather than the ‘affinal’ sense. Taking the theoretical cues from Marxist and feminist anthropology, the culture turn that happens in the study of kinship in the 1970s will be the analytical entry point to relationships and affinities in this course. The shift from nature to culture and then again from culture to identity/differences will be explored through the Western theoretical mappings. Additionally attempting to construct an Indian feminist anthropological narrative it is seen how authority and inequality become the basis to understand kinship studies in India.

Course Outcomes:

  1. To engage with the meanings of inter-personal relationships in classical kinship studies
  2. To theoretically understand the challenges that anthropology of gender and/or feminist anthropology does to the genealogical basis of kinship
  3. To observe through empirical studies how sociology engages with love, desire, childhood, motherhood, and care as the growing challenges in contemporary human relationships
  4. To map the ways in which Indian ‘feminist’ anthropology also fore-grounded questions of inequality and authority in kinship/relationships

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Unit 1: Introductory Readings

Introducing and engaging with questions of biological and alliance based formations of kinship through the classical kinship studies literature

Unit 2: Challenges to the genealogical basis of kinship

The critique to the genealogical basis of kinship comes from Marxist anthropology using property and the rise of capitalism as well as feminist and queer anthropology

Unit 3: Feminist Anthropology: From culture to differences

The study of kinship and relationships impinged upon differences between people and communities, engaging with questions of race, ethnicity, migration and how they impact relationship formation

Unit 4: Relationships: Contemporary changes and challenges

There are multiple changes to kinship and intimacies through the expression and contestation over love, desire, friendships. Through processes of adoption and surrogacy there is a challenge to the manner in which kinship ties by reproduction also comes to be questioned. New forms of domesticities emerge and create new meanings in kinship

Unit 5: Mapping the contours of Indian (feminist) anthropology

In Indian anthropology kinship has been engaged with question of power, hierarchy and consumption patterns

Assessment Details with weights:

Assignment 1: Diary reflections each week: 30%

This is the assignment which is directly connected with class participation. Each student is expected to write a diary reflection per week. Unless the student has attended the class, the reflection cannot be written. In the diary reflection the following are expected to be written: a) issues discussed in class, b) how those issues are connected with everyday life (not limited to one's everyday life), c) some response to the texts discussed in the classes through the issues

Please ensure that you at least write 500-700 words per week.

Assignment 2: Describe and analyse Representation on issues of love and sexuality, childhood and parenting, care and consent in relationships in popular culture, preferably films (it could be films in vernacular as well). This will be an oral presentation, 10 minutes presentation+5 minute discussion with two people pairing together for the assignment.

Assignment 3: Relationship with the city

Looking at your own relationship with the city—through neighbourhood study, memories of the school, everyday metro ride, sites of meeting/conversing with friends, kinship gatherings, relationship with the street dogs of your area, cycling city, studying the local market, mall cultures, theatre associations in Delhi--exploring ideas of how these sites, people, places have enabled in creating a relationship with the city, keeping the themes explored while walk-ing in the background. Those who are born in Delhi, is there an assumed relationship or they take the city for granted? Those who have come to Delhi for purposes of education, did they try to ‘know’ the city?

You are expected to give a detailed description/history/contemporary location of the site/people that you are studying. Conduct interviews with at least two-three people who inhabit that site/inhibitors of that site, or read about the histories of that site. Reflect through the readings of the course and these specific resources listed below and attached how does the site and people create your relatedness with the city of Delhi

Reading List:

  • Marshall Sahlins What Kinship is (part one) Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Volume 17, Issue 1, March 2011, pp 2-19
  • MichealPaletz Kinship Studies in Late 20th century Anthropology Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 24 (1995), pp. 343-372
  • Frederick Engels Origins of Family, Private Property and the State 1884
  • Claude Levi Strauss (1969) The Elementary Structures of Kinship, Beacon Press pp 29-42 and 52-69
  • Gayle Rubin The Traffic in Women: Notes on the “Political Economy” of Sex in Rayna Reiter, ed., Toward an Anthropology of Women, New York, Monthly Review Press (1975)
  • Judith Butler Is Kinship Always Already Heterosexual differences(2002) 13(1):14-44; Duke University Press
  • Sherry Ortner Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? Feminist Studies Vol. 1, No. 2 (Autumn, 1972), pp. 5-31
  • Michelle Rosaldo The Use and Abuse of Anthropology: Reflections on Feminism and Cross-cultural Understanding Signs, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Spring, 1980), pp. 389-417
  • Marilyn Strathern An Awkward Relationship: The Case of Feminism and Anthropology Signs, Vol. 12, No. 2, Reconstructing the Academy (Winter, 1987), pp. 276-292
  • Lila Abu-Lughod (1991) Writing against Culture in Richard Fox (edited) Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present, American Research Press
  • Paula A. Ebron (2001) Contingent Stories of Anthropology, Race and Feminism in Irma Mc Caurin (edited) Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Praxis and Poetics, Rutgers University Press,
  • Henrike Donner One’s Own Marriage: Love Marriages in Calcutta Neighbourhood, South Asia Research 2002
  • Pervez Mody Love and the Law: Love-Marriage in Delhi, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Feb., 2002), pp. 223-256
  • Ashish Nandy (2004) Reconstructing Childhood: A Critique of the Ideology of Adulthood in Bonfire of Creeds: The Essential Ashish Nandy, Oxford University Press, New Delhi pp 423-439
  • IrawatiKarve (1968) Yugant
  • TiplutNongbri Gender and the Khasi Family Structure: Some Implications of Meghalaya Succession to Self Acquired Property Act, 1984 Sociological Bulletin Vol. 37, No. 1/2 (March-September, 1988), pp. 71-82
  • Patricia Uberoi Problems with Patriarchy: Conceptual Issues in Anthropology and Feminism Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 44, No. 2 (SEPTEMBER 1995), pp. 195-221
  • LeelaDube Doing Kinship and Gender: An Autobiographical Account Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 35, No. 46 (Nov. 11-17, 2000), pp. 4037-4047


  • Kamla Ganesh Mother Who Is Not a Mother: In Search of the Great Indian Goddess Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 25, No. 42/43 (Oct. 20-27, 1990), pp. WS58-WS64
  • RajniPalriwala Economics and Patriliny: Consumption and Authority within the Household Social Scientist, Vol. 21, No. 9/11 (Sep. - Oct., 1993), pp. 47-73
  • Pandey, Amrita Commercial Surrogacy in India: Manufacturing a Perfect Mother-Worker Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 35, No. 4, 2010, 969-994
  • Saba Mahmood (2003) Anthropology and the Study of Women in Islamic Cultures." Disciplinary entry on anthropology, in The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, 307-14. Brill
  • Michel Foucault Friendship as a Way of Life in Ethics: Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984 (edited by Paul Rabinow) pp 135-141