Axis 8 — Family, Kinship

The nuclear family was among the key factors to have installed a hierarchical vision of gender social relations in the modern Western societies. Understood by the philosophy of the Enlightenment as the "most ancient of all societies, and the only that is natural " (Rousseau), the Father/Mother/Child entity has been seen as the "basic unit" of society, while reproductive sexuality became the favoured path from nature to culture.

Deconstructing this mythology and critiquing the classical representations of the family relations requires that we grasp the reality of the family in all its dimensions. It means asking the question of why is it that for almost two centuries, a major principle of gender hierarchy (inside and outside of the family) has remained so firmly lodged at the crossroads of alliance and filiation. It means constructing analytical tools that can account for today’s changes, as well as the real metamorphosis of relationships (alliance, filiation, sibling relations) taking place at the present moment and affecting the family and kinship in general.

Sociology and anthropology of the family and kinship only put gender at the centre of their approach several decades ages, thus experiencing a new revival, which included analyses of range of different themes: the everyday life as the site of production of the "fabric of married life", the choice of the family name, the new models of justice in the transmission of property and wealth, the family modalities of socializing boys and girls, the gendered modes of sharing domestic labour (cf. Axis 2), the experience of paternity and maternity in present-day family configurations (separation, divorce, adoption, formation of new families), the development of same-sex families (see Axis 7), the specific marital and family forms of violence (sexual and non-sexual) or the wide range of rituals that show the role of the family in the construction of the individual’s gendered identity, from birth to the end of life. Gender studies also increasingly take into account the different periods of human life, given that age-related inequalities reinforce and increase gender inequalities.

By including the gender perspective, studies of kinship have indeed got a second wind, by pursuing research that can concern both the new modes of relating within a couple; the diverse forms of affiliation through the relationship between filiation, citizenship and nationality; the status of biracial children in the colonial empire or questions of illegitimacy. The changes in filiation are at the centre of this research, which brings together institutional and bodily social practices, for example in the case of medically assisted reproduction (donation, surrogacy: see Axis 10).

Finally, the gender dimension has also revived the theoretical debate on kinship in anthropology, as well as creating new interest in ethnographic fieldwork connecting gender, kinship and rituals in a vast range of societies (Amazonia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Southern Indonesian islands, etc.).