Kinship measurements structure economic and political inequalities around the world. Although widespread, they are rarely recognized as such.
Behind seemingly unambiguous measurement results, for example from genetic paternity tests, there are complex processes and many small decisions with major consequences. Indicators of kinship as closeness or similarity are invented and established through persuasive visualizations; units of measurement (such as degrees of relatedness on genealogies) are defined differently; evidence is collected, hidden or destroyed, admitted or rejected; different measurements are combined or played off against each other; thresholds of exclusion are raised or lowered. All of these practices have–potentially devastating consequences—on negotiations of belonging: family, ethnicity, nationality, “race,” and even humanity itself.
The special issue “Measuring Kinship” (Social Analysis 65:4), edited by Christof Lammer (Klagenfurt) and Tatjana Thelen (Vienna), examines this productivity of kinship measurements in seven contributions from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. These shed light on measurements behind immigration restrictions and forced sterilization, inclusive redefinitions of nationality, insurance benefits for victims of traffic accidents, health risk assessments, and decisions about inheritance and care benefits. The variety of measurements in bureaucracy, law, medicine and ritual show that ultimately almost everything has been or could be turned into indicators of kinship: from the similarity of names, blood groups and DNA to the number of toothbrushes in the bathroom or toxic chemicals in the body.
The entire special issue is freely accessible here.
Christof Lammer is a social anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Science, Technology and Society Studies at the University of Klagenfurt.