the two anthropologists that i quoted at length in my recent posts about kinship in greece made some interesting confessions in the introductions to their respective publications — they both admitted that, at the outset of their research, they didn’t want to have anything at all to do with kinship studies. they thought either that kinship was an out-dated area of research or just simply irrelevant. it was only after they plunked themselves down in the middle of greek society that they realized how important kinship is to greeks. (kudos to them both for acknowledging so and not letting some silly preconceived notion or paradigm mislead their research.)
“If I may start with an autobiographical note: When, in 1977, I began field work in Spartohori, one of three villages on the tiny island of Meganisi (administratively attached to the Ionian island of Lefkada), I had little enthusiasm for the study of kinship and family. Doubtless prejudice played a greater part than reason, but inasmuch as my reluctance had basis, it involved the following (not entirely consistent) reflections. First, in the 1970s there was a widespread feeling that kinship, for so long anthropology’s sacred cow, might well be ready for poleaxing and that its centrality was perhaps no more than the fetishized product of the discipline’s own history. Second, even supposing the importance of kinship studies could be defended, the very structure of Mediterranean (and European) kinship — or perhaps one should say its lack of structure — seemd to preclude the sort of interest aroused by the study of the formal intricacies of more ‘exotic’ systems. Last, and for me most cogent, had not the whole subject of Greek kinship been more than ably dealt with by those who had gone before? The prospect of making any significant addition to the work of Peristiany, Campbell, du Boulay, and others seemed depressingly remote. In sum, I thought it advisable to leave kinship and family alone and, as contemporary wisdom then enjoined, to explore the more ‘relevant’ issues of politics, economics, and, of course, class.
“It did not, however, take long to discover that my mentors’ interests had not been misplaced. It was impossible to understand anything about the village without first understanding something about kinship. The values of kinship seemed to permeate almost every aspect of village life — from where one shopped to whom one voted for, from the forms of local economic cooperation to the adventures of overseas migration. Moreover, it was impossible to avoid the rhetoric of kinship: ‘My uncle in Lefkada who will help you’; ‘My brother-in-law, the best man in the village.’ Certainly if there were any one thing around which an ethnography of the village could be centered, any one thing that would provide a constant point of reference, a continual series of links between one aspect of village life and another, then it was the Spartohoriots’ concern with kinship and family.”
“As later chapters of this book demonstrate, much of the way in which Methanites have experienced their landscape, its history, the patterns of ownerships, especially of their houses and plots of land — and those adjacent to their own — and the locations which they visit within the landscape, has been set within a kinship idiom. However, rather like Just [the author quoted above], my original intention when embarking on ethnographic fieldwork was to have as little as possible to do with studying kinship. My undergraduate degree was technically in Archaeology and Anthropology, but the formal complexities, and (to my mind at the time) irrelevancies of the anthropological study of kinship persuaded me to concentrate on archaeology. Likewise, as a graduate student taking a compulsory taught course on kinship, I felt that kinship studies preferred to categorise and typologise abstract concepts rather than to understand the essentials of peoples’ everyday lives. Cultural ecology, which allowed me to study other societies with my feet and research topic firmly on the ground, persuaded me that ethnographic fieldwork was a viable option. Choosing a European fieldwork location also seemed ideal for minimising time spent on establishing how the kinship system worked: European kinship did not excite the complexitites of anthropological interest that kinship among more ‘exotic’ societies did.
“This brief foray into autobiography is more than an anecdotal digression. Given the centrality of the study of kinship in cultural anthropology, the reader might be excused for believing that the centrality of kinship in explaining Methana landscapes derives from the core beliefs of the researcher rather than the realities of Methanites’ own lives. However, in my Ph.D. thesis, kinship was largely subsumed within discussion of property transfer — inheritance and dowry — and to an appendix specifically requested by a member of my thesis committee. It was only as I came to explore the deeper meanings of their landscapes for Methanites and to consider issues of identity and belonging that I was forced to conclude that my teachers had been wiser than I thought: kinship was indeed a crucial feature in Methanites’ lives.“
that both of these guys initially thought that kinship wasn’t so important in studying greek people might’ve simply had to do with the thinking of the times in anthropology — i.e. all that stuff that the old boys did in anthropology, well, that’s just so out-of-date. (neither of these researchers seems to know anything about inclusive fitness and mating patterns and kinship, but that’s ok.)
i think, tho, that their willful ignorance of the importance of kinship — especially to greeks! — might also have had to do with how difficult it is to understand other people. it’s hard enough to understand where another individual is “coming from” — never mind trying to get what whole groups of other people are about.
most northern europeans (and their decendants in the u.s.) — and just and forbes fit that bill, i think — probably really don’t get the importance of kinship and extended families because kinship and extended families are not really important in their lives. it’s hard to imagine what these things might mean to other peoples and how strongly they affect other peoples’ lives. northern europeans are not inbred, so those powerful inclusive fitness drives to help near kin are just not there — or, at least, they’re not as powerful. it’s hard for not-so-inbred people to know how inbred people feel towards their relatives.
this wouldn’t matter so much if we were just talking about a couple of anthropologists in some ivory towers somewhere. but we’re not. the problem is we’re also talking about people who want to “bring democracy” to the iraqis and afghanis — something most iraqis and afghanis probably couldn’t care less about. (not to mention all the people who want greeks to “just say no” to corruption. heh!)
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in the last post on greece, we saw that one greek man in the village under study had 122 relatives living in the village of 551 persons — and much more than that if his in-laws were taken into account. in fact, he was probably related, in some form or another, to half the village.
the idea of dunbar’s number is that the maximum number of people that someone can keep track of socially is something around 150 (or between 100 and 230):
“Dunbar’s number is suggested to be a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group…. Dunbar’s number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who theorized that ‘this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.’ On the periphery, the number also includes past colleagues such as high school friends with whom a person would want to reacquaint oneself if they met again.”
i’ve always been a bit suspicious of the dunbar number because, like the man from greece, i have a big extended family — and i can keep track of them all with no problem. on just one side of my family, for instance, i’ve got: 2 grandparents, 10 uncles and aunts, 19 first-cousins and 30 first-cousins-once-removed. and i know them all (some i know better than others ’cause i’ve interacted with them more, but that’s mostly because i don’t live back in the old country and my opportunities to socialize with them all have been limited). that’s 61 people right there. and i’m not even counting my 16 great-uncles and aunts and all their children and grand-children (my second cousins and their children) — about two-thirds of whom i know fairly well.
and that’s just the one side of my family! if i add both sides of the family up (and i might be missing some of the children of the second cousins that i’ve never met), i’ve got ca. 270 individuals in my extended family!
on top of knowing and socializing with your own extended family, back in the old country from whence my people hail, the natives are used to keeping track of all the other extended families in the area as well. and interacting with all of them on a daily basis.
so i really don’t get the dunbar number. maybe it applied to our hunter-gatherer ancestors in the distant past, i dunno. but i’m not convinced it applies to settled agriculturalists. and we’ve been that for quite some time now.
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i came across this in a daily mail article on obama’s illegal-alien half-uncle. the souce is supposedly this guy, but i couldn’t find it on his site. i looked around there for … oh … about thirty seconds (that’s AEONS in internet time!), without having any luck.
i never realized that obama’s half-sister, maya, married an asian guy.
so, ann dunham’s two kids each married a person of the race of their respective fathers. (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) ann must be so happy. (<< too catty, do you think?)
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greece appears to have rather local/regional (on the village/county level) extended family groups which inbreed (to the degree of third+ cousins) as a rule. or at least they did as recently as the 1970s. the situation might be quite different nowadays now that many people have left rural areas and moved to urban centers. but that greeks were inbreeding in the 1970s would still affect social interactions there, today, since many greeks aged 30-40 would be the children of those who married in the ’70s.
the existence of such extended family groups to which the members have strong ties of loyalty (because of the inbreeding) goes a long way, imho, to explaining greece and all its (oftentimes charming!) dysfunctionalities in the modern world. the greeks are kinda quasi-tribal or quasi-clannish — they’re not at all as hostile to outsiders as iraqis or afghanis, but they’re certainly not very cooperative towards what non-greek people view as their “fellow greeks.”
here’s some more on inbreeding and the family in greece from roger just — “the limits of kinship.” this anthropological study took place on meganisi, one of the ionian islands in the west of greece. the study featured in the previous post was done on the east side of the peloponnese peninsula, so we start to have some indications that endogamous marriage practices are (or were up until recently) common throughout rural greece [pg. 120]:
“The domestic cooperation that for many of them [i.e. siblings] was mandatory when they were members of the same household continues in later life when marriage has parted them and they are established in their own households. Similarly, in the public world of men, the groups who regularly drink together, though not exclusively composed of kin, will be found to have a solid core of related members. Patronage of a particular coffee shop is itself allied to kinship. My host always claimed that his kouniados was ‘helping’ him by drinking regularly in his bar, for his brother-in-law was a highly respected man, and wherever his brother-in-law drank, there, according to my host, the ‘best men’ gathered, thus improving not only the quantity but also the quality of his trade. Such kinship-based patronage extended even to the clientele of the several general stores. Nothing other than a commercial price was ever asked for or received — nevertheless, the mere fact that relatives shopped at their relative’s store was contrued as ‘help’ and was seen as a minor but continual confirmation of the spirit of cooperation that ideally informed all dealings between kin.
“Cooperation between kin is, then, a social reality. The ideals of kinship — of trust, good will, fair dealing, and the preferential extension and receipt of favors — do translate themselves into practice.“
“[F]or the Spartohoriots such affinial [i.e. through marriage] relatives — whether relatives of one’s spouse or spouses of one’s relatives, or both — are genuinely considered to the ‘family’ and are treated in the same way as one’s ‘own’ bilateral kin….
“The consequence of this form of reckoning — which, so far as I know, is not uncommon in Greece — is to create a proliferation of uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, and cousins: 16 geneaological specifications for uncles, 16 for aunts, 16 for nieces, 16 for nephews (and a further 64 for uncles and aunts, and 60 for nieces and nephews, who would be first cousins once removed in the cumbersome English terminology), 32 for first cousins (male and female together), and 128 for second cousins (male and female together). But though such a form of reckoning may be reasonably common, its full effects are to be felt only a relatively small community that, importantly, is largely and preferentially endogamous — in a community, say, such as Spartohori, where the total year-round population was only 551, and where in the case of 75 percent of married couples, both partners were from the village.
“The effect is an obvious one. One way or another, almost everyone is related to almost everyone else. Moreover, geneaological connections between people are frequently multistranded — a folding-in of the community kinship links such that people are related to each other ap’tis duo meries, ‘from both sides,’ as a result, for example, of the marriages of a pair of first cousins to a pair of siblings (not permitted by strict Church law) or of two pairs of first cousins (permitted by Church law).
“One way of gaining an impression of the degree of the Spartohoriots’ interrelatedness is to take a single individual and to see the extent of his/her recognized kindred in relation to the village’s total population. My old friend Michalis was fond of boasting that he was related to half the village. In his case — which I do not believe to have been exceptional — the boast was roughly true. Since Michalis had four sisters and two brothers who survived into adulthood, the number of his nephews and nieces was high. On the other hand, only one of Michalis’s father’s siblings, a sister, had survived to adulthood, and his paternal grandfather appears to have had no surviving siblings. The number of his patrilateral relatives was thus low. Moreover, neither Michalis’s wife nor Michaelis’s mother appears to have come from particularly prolific families. The number of his matrilateral relatives and of relatives acquired by marriage was thus not out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, given the form of reckoning used, within the bounds of second cousin the number of Michaelis’s collateral relatives actually resident in the village was still 122. But to these must be added a further seventeen sympetheroi (affines) resident in the village whose relationship with Michalis derived from the marriages of his son and daughter (themselves both resident in Australia). Including Michalis’s own wife and his remaining bachelor son, the total number of Michalis’s ‘family’ within Spartohori was thus 141. But these were still less than the grand total of resident Spartohoriots whom Michalis could count as kin, for I have omitted, partly because of the inherent vagueness of the category, Michaelis’s many other sympetheroi who were relatives of his siblings’ spouses or relatives of his affinal nephews and nieces (e.g., the relatives of his brother’s daughter’s husband). Minimally, then, Michalis’s kin accounted for 25 percent of the village’s permanent population, and if all sympetheroi were taken into account, it would probably not be unreasonable to say that he was related to half the village.”
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“i’m a unicorn!” wait. wha?
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so, what about mating patterns in greece, then?
the ancient athenians, as we’ve seen, and other ancient greeks, quite frequently married their cousins. (in ancient greece you could even marry your half sister! not your full sister, though.) this was a problem since it resulted in strong extended families or clans that periodically would take over the governing of athens for their own benefit. although these tyrants were not always unpopular, the members of the athenian noble families did operate in such ways as to benefit their own. even cleisthenes, whose very clever reforms made athenian democracy possible, probably came up with the reforms to keep other families out of power.
but 500 b.c. is a long time ago. what’s been happening with mating patterns in greece since then?
i haven’t been able to find out all that much about medieval (byzantine and ottoman) greece, but i do have a few details. the eastern church (the greek orthodox church) banned first- and, possibly, second-cousin marriage in 692. this is a couple hundred years after rome put a ban on first-cousin marriage. by the 500s, the roman church had also banned second-cousin marriage. so, western europe was definitely ahead of greece in the don’t-marry-your-cousin game already by the first half of the first millennium.
the emperor justinian, however, was the first to ban marriage between godparents and godchildren. that was something that came to the western church as well, eventually — but such a ban appeared first in the east [pg. 197]:
“The ban on marriage between those involved in baptismal sponsorship seems first to have been formulated by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian, who ruled from A.D. 527-65, in the context of the prohibition on marriage with a fictive child…. [H]e went on to declare: ‘We prohibit absolutely a marriage between a godfather and god-daughter (a sacrosancto suscepit baptismate), even when he has brought her up (as an alumna or foster child). For nothing demands so much paternal affection and impedes marriage as a tie of this kind, which through the mediation of God binds these two souls together.’
“Prohibitions on marriage to spiritual kin, which emerged first of all in the Byzantine area, of which Italy was a part, were later extended. Godparenthood already existed among the Franks and in the Anglo-Saxon world but without any prohibitions on marriage; these were only imposed upon the West in the eighth century as a result of the growing influence of the papacy.”
so, not only could you not marry your immediate family or many members of your extended family, you couldn’t even marry some other random people who probably lived in your village. enforced outbreeding.
i’m not certain, but i don’t think the eastern church went all crazy with cousin-marriage bans like the western church did (out to sixth cousins at some point!), but i don’t actually know for sure. i imagine that the scenario outlined above (ban on first- and, maybe, second-cousin marriage + godparents-godchildren) probably lasted throughout the byzantine period. again, i’m not certain about that. haven’t seen any sources suggesting otherwise, though.
what happened during the ottoman period is anybody’s guess. lots of greeks converted to islam during the ottoman rule. did they start to practice cousin marriage like other muslims and then later convert back to christianity? no idea. this whole period of time is a blank space in my notepad file for the moment. so, fast-forward to…
“On Methana, the limits of the group of people considered to be significant blood kin stretched as far as second cousin: that is, descendants of great-grandparents. Marriage between first cousins was considered incentuous. Between second cousins, it was considered highly undesirable and virtually never occurred. Marriage of third cousins was allowed and was often considered favourably (discussed later).
“The exogamous (out-marrying) group consisting of consanguines (blood kin) extending bilaterally (i.e., through both the mother’s and father’s lines) to second cousin was generally described by Methanites as the soi, a word likely to be of Turkish derivation…. The term soi in Methana usage is best translated as ‘kindred’: a group of kin related to an individual equally via the mother’s and father’s sides. Especially in the past, when large numbers of Methanites stayed on the peninsula and lived by agriculture, the computation of who was inside and outside the bilateral kindred was crucially important for finding marriage partners because there was a preference for marriage partners from one’s own village, or at least from Methana….
“Aschenbrenner identifies an emphasis [regarding the term 'soi'] on patrilineal kin in a western Peloponnesian community, those with a shared surname forming monolithic surname groups manifesting a community of interest and mutual loyalty. All families within these groups are linked by kinship ties, some as remote as third cousin: significantly, third cousins define the prohibited limits of marriage….
“Already by the later nineteenth century, households in Methana villages tended to be located in clusters of immediate kin. Furthermore, although in past generation Methanites preferred marriage partners from their own village, for reasons outlined later, it was frequently necessary to find brides in other villages….”
“In the 1970s, marriages were mostly arranged, although decisions over prospective spouses were not generally considered to be the prerogative of any one person. A boy and girl choosing each other without parental intervention very rarely happened, and parents considered it likely to lead to complications….
“The primary consideration when families were contemplating a suitable marriage partner for a son or daughter was to ensure that they were outside the soi (kindred). Theoretically, second cousins could marry if they received dispensation from the bishop, but in practice this does not seem to have been an issue. In addition, as noted earlier, a marriage placed whole kinship groups into an important kinship relationship. In recognition of this, more than one marriage between two households was forbidden. Thus, according to Methanites, two brothers from one family could not marry two sisters from another family….”
“In the old days, especially in the interwar years and before, land was a highly desirable commodity on Methana. Dowries, in particular, were often at least partly composed of highly sought-after agricultural resources, such as plots of vines, small irrigated plots, or olive trees. It made sense, therefore, to contract marriages between families living within the same village, if possible. That way there was more likelihood that dowries of agricultural resources would be readily accessible: dowries in other village territories which required substantial travel were distinctly less desirable. However, because of the realtively small size of most villages — the main study community had forty-three households in the early 1970s — the extension of the prohibition on marriage to the degree of second cousin, and the inclusion of fictive kin [e.g. godparents] within the prohibited sphere (discussed later), there were often few possible choices of marriage partners. Nevertheless, on occasions, families went to considerable lengths to ensure marriage within the village, such as the turning of a blind eye to the marriage of the female first cousin of the woman noted earlier to the male first cousin of her husband. The preference for marriage partners from the same village whenever possible further contributed to the semi-reality that the whole village was indeed related as one great family.“
well, it probably was!!
“In situation in which a marriage within the village was impracticable in the past, consideration was given to suitable partners in other Methana villages — the preference was so strong that only two women living in the main study village in the early 1970s were not from the peninsula. For partners in other villages, particular attention was paid to third cousins. Because the parental generation of the potential partners were second cousins, and therefore kin, the families were reasonably well known to each other. In particular, the reputations of the families and the personalities of the two young people and the young woman’s potential mother-in-law [with whom she would have to work with on a daily basis in her new household] would be known, even though they lived in separate villages.”
mating patterns in greece’s (or methana’s) recent past are very interesting! on the one hand, there are regulations not to marry too closely — no first- or second-cousins or even two brothers marrying two sisters. but on the other hand there were economic conditions that led to the common practice of not marrying out too far — third cousins were preferable or someone from the village (prolly fourth or fifth or sixth cousins), or at least someone from a neighboring village.
who knows how far back these traditions stretch? i can imagine them going back a few hundred years at least, but you never know about these things. certainly the first- and second-cousin and godparent bans seem to, perhaps, go right back to the 600s (with maybe some interruption during the ottoman years). i also wonder how similar the rest of greece was to methana in its mating patterns? it doesn’t have to have been just like methana, altho from the references cited in this book, it sounds like the rest of the peloponnese region certainly was. i’m guessing that the patterns throughout the entire region of greece were not all that different.
the degree of inbreeding we’re talking about here — third or fourth or fifth cousins — would lead, i think, to some level of clannishness or extended-family-ness. not full-blown tribalism like we see in arab countries; but greece certainly isn’t like northwest europe in its mating patterns, either.
“The evening after I met with the minister of finance, I had coffee with one tax collector at one hotel, then walked down the street and had a beer with another tax collector at another hotel. Both had already suffered demotions, after their attempts to blow the whistle on colleagues who had accepted big bribes to sign off on fraudulent tax returns. Both had been removed from high-status fieldwork to low-status work in the back office, where they could no longer witness tax crimes. Each was a tiny bit uncomfortable; neither wanted anyone to know he had talked to me, as they feared losing their jobs in the tax agency. And so let’s call them Tax Collector No. 1 and Tax Collector No. 2.
“Tax Collector No. 1 — early 60s, business suit, tightly wound but not obviously nervous — arrived with a notebook filled with ideas for fixing the Greek tax-collection agency. He just took it for granted that I knew that the only Greeks who paid their taxes were the ones who could not avoid doing so—the salaried employees of corporations, who had their taxes withheld from their paychecks. The vast economy of self-employed workers — everyone from doctors to the guys who ran the kiosks that sold the International Herald Tribune — cheated (one big reason why Greece has the highest percentage of self-employed workers of any European country). ‘It’s become a cultural trait,’ he said. ‘The Greek people never learned to pay their taxes. And they never did because no one is punished. No one has ever been punished. It’s a cavalier offense — like a gentleman not opening a door for a lady.’
“The scale of Greek tax cheating was at least as incredible as its scope: an estimated two-thirds of Greek doctors reported incomes under 12,000 euros a year — which meant, because incomes below that amount weren’t taxable, that even plastic surgeons making millions a year paid no tax at all. The problem wasn’t the law — there was a law on the books that made it a jailable offense to cheat the government out of more than 150,000 euros — but its enforcement. ‘If the law was enforced,’ the tax collector said, ‘every doctor in Greece would be in jail.’ I laughed, and he gave me a stare. ‘I am completely serious.’ One reason no one is ever prosecuted — apart from the fact that prosecution would seem arbitrary, as everyone is doing it — is that the Greek courts take up to 15 years to resolve tax cases. ‘The one who does not want to pay, and who gets caught, just goes to court,’ he says. Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the activity in the Greek economy that might be subject to the income tax goes officially unrecorded, he says, compared with an average of about 18 percent in the rest of Europe.
“The easiest way to cheat on one’s taxes was to insist on being paid in cash, and fail to provide a receipt for services.”
if you’ve ever been to greece and eaten in a restaurant or had a couple of drinks in a taverna, you know you don’t get a receipt … and you should be prepared for the look you’ll get if you ask for one. (~_^)
because of how they have mated up until fairly recently (things must be changing nowadays with more people moving to urban centers), the greeks are quasi-tribal — or more like quasi-clannish. they don’t want to contribute to the common pot because they are more attached to their regional extended-family group than they are to the larger populace, i.e. the greek nation (if you can really call it that).
what taki views as the “highly individualistic greek” who is “too self seeking” is really a greek who is strongly attached to his rather extended family and who is unwilling to make sacrifices at the expense of those genetic ties. in other words, he is a good altruist. he’s just a bad citizen, that’s all.
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…a good history of the united states?
i’ve already read zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” (argh! i kid you not. i read it for a class in college. so, unfortunately, i’ve wasted a few hours of my life on that book which i cannot get back. but i, apparently, didn’t waste many brain cells on it, ’cause i can’t remember anything from it. whew!)