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Social Anthropology School of Social Sciences University of Manchester M13 9PL


Hybridity theory and kinship thinking

Peter Wade, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester

Abstract A parallel is posited between the ways hybridity and kinship are thought about in Western contexts, challenging the opposition that is often made between hybrid identities and ones based on the rootedness of kinship links. Anthropological evidence on the character of Western kinship thinking is examined to elucidate some features of its flexibility. This has implications for certain ideas about the potential, suggested by some cultural theorists, of rhizomic, diasporic hybridities to destabilise identities based on primordial, genealogical roots and belonging.

Keywords: hybridity; kinship; mestizaje; identity


Hybridity theory and kinship thinking


Concepts of hybridity - and related ones of mestizaje, syncretism, creolisation, mélange, métissage, mixture - have been widely deployed in cultural theory, especially in relation to fields in which racial and ethnic identifications are made (Anzaldúa 1987; Bhabha 1994; García Canclini 1995; Gilroy 2000; Hale 1996; Ifekwunigwe 1999; Nelson 1999; Smith 1997; Werbner and Modood 1997; Young 1995). The concept of diaspora, although not at first sight nor necessarily associated with processes of mixing, may be deployed to the same kind of effect, evoking a context or dynamic which creates mixing (Brah 1996; Gilroy 2000; Hall 1996).

As a starting point, it is helpful to outline four different ways of conceptualising hybridity and mixture. First, mixture has been seen, especially in the Latin American context, as a homogenising process of nation-building, driven by elites bent on whitening the “people,” or at least blending them all into light-skinned mestizos; this is a process that may be virtually ethnocidal for indigenous or black minorities (Gould 1998; Hale 1996; Martinez-Alier 1974; Smith 1997; Stutzman 1981; Wade 1993; Whitten and Torres 1998).

Second, ideologies of mestizaje may also recreate hierarchical difference. Despite presenting an image of a homogeneous mestizo nation, such ideologies and practices


into the public domains of politics and representation. often in colonial and postcolonial contexts. Questions. as well as in countries such as the USA and Britain. one people” or e pluribus unum (one out of many) . often in contested ways. perhaps even multicultural. mixture may be thought to underwrite more tolerant. of to create unity without actually eliminating difference within the nation. Third. based on the idea of “out of many. gender (Wade 2000). nationalisms that. not coincidentally. explicitly multicultural nationalisms have emerged in several Latin American countries. This vision of mixture and the diasporic movements from which it 4 . Recently.the national mottoes of Jamaica and the USA respectively . partly in order to maintain hierarchies of race.and. remain about the degree to which this third idea of mixture in practice reverts to the second. mixture may be seen as subversive of dominant ideologies and practices and leading to the dislocation and destabilisation of entrenched racial and ethnic categories and boundaries. A secondary and often more difficult image is that of the individual who moves between these collective entities. equal but different. Fourth. and in these cases ethnic and racial difference is admitted. particularly if permitted differences are relegated to a supposedly “private” domain and deemed inadmissible in the “public” sphere.also consistently reiterate and represent difference. class and region . mixture here is associated with the celebration of diversity and the politics of identity and recognition. effectively challenging their boundaries. ideas about mixture link to notions of a mosaic of cultures as collective entities.1 In this third mode. and deriving from the challenge posed by transgressive movements across the boundaries established in multiculturalism.

g. Espousing a non-racial humanism may sound well and good. I wish to focus on the fourth vision of race mixture and explore some of its underlying assumptions that have not been fully uncovered. but the elites must then pay the price of admitting that their nation has racial minorities that they themselves deem inferior. mixture can have many effects and corollaries and these can also be interpreted in different ways.a classic example is the “American dilemma” (Myrdal 1944) of ideals of equality and fraternity [sic] alongside realities of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. planetary humanism” which is “radically non-racial”. Maintaining the hierarchies of race keeps this threat at bay.what Gilroy (2000: 17) calls a “pragmatic. My aim is to consider the claim of 5 . but. In short. as many have noted and Gilroy (2000: 58-60) also recognises. Erasing race through elimination of racial minorities (through mixture or ethnocide) raises the threat that differences which the elites seek to maintain will be eroded.. previous humanisms have been notable for their abject failure to acknowledge racial minorities as subjects to be included . combined with the maintenance of racist hierarchies. On the other hand.emerges tends to ally with a critique of official multiculturalism and a discontent with identity politics. Humanism can end up being the racist refusal to acknowledge race (as being a site of injustice). These four visions of mixture exist in mutual tension. It may also lean towards a humanism in which racial and ethnic differences have little or no place . of access to resources and power). the celebration of differences can raise the spectre of reinforcing the boundaries and categories that are at play in the persistence of unwanted differences of hierarchy (e.

but I will amplify such critiques by examining some remaining assumptions which have remained hidden and are linked to ways of thinking about kinship. Young 1995: 25-28). Werbner 1997b. Hybridity as destabilising There are various theorists who see mixture as having potentially positive effects. There are some grounds for this in Bakhtin’s early explorations of linguistic hybridity.this perspective that mixture can undo existing classifications and essentialisms. Young 1995: 20-22). or of the organic variety in which undirected processes of cultural mixture held out the possibility of seeing the world anew (Werbner 1997b: 4-5. see also Papastergiadis 1997. Kokotovic 2000. Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak are routinely cited in this respect and that “At the broadest level of conceptual debate there seems to be a consensus over the utility of hybridity as antidote to essentialist subjectivity. Friedman 1997. subverting the hierarchies and strategies of domination that exist around race and ethnicity. whether of the intentional variety in which the double meanings of a word or utterance were in ironic and subversive relation to each other. Hale 1996. Hutnyk 1996. Such claims have been critiqued in the past (Cornejo-Polar 1997. Recent scholars have gone further in seeing in hybridity possible challenges to existing orders and essentialist categorisations: Papastergiadis (1997: 273) notes that Stuart Hall.” There already exist a number of discussions of these 6 .” Hale (1996: 41) notes a recent tendency among some Latin Americanists to link “hybrid identities in Latin America to promising new forms of oppositional politics.

in contrast. are “creolised.’ nation and bounded culture coded into the body. In this view. Diaspora is “invariably promiscuous” and it challenges us “to apprehend mutable forms that can redefine the idea of culture through a reconciliation with movement and complex. Papastergiadis 1997. exclusive and essentialist modes of thought about people and culture that rest on assumptions of purity and absolute cultural identities. Gilroy foregrounds the concept of diaspora as an antidote to what he calls “camp-thinking” (2000: 84) which involves oppositional. To take a recent example. Diaspora identities.g. These three models all entrench difference and often hierarchy as well. Referring to the idea of the “changing same” .ideas (e. so I will only present some aspects of this view of mixture. Werbner and Modood 1997. It offers “a ready alternative to the stern discipline of primordial kinship and rooted belonging”: “As an alternative to the metaphysics of ‘race. dynamic variation” (Gilroy 2000: 129-130). Young 1995). syncretized.he says that it is not an “invariant essence” but something that is “ceaselessly reprocessed”..a concept coined in the 1960s by Leroi Jones as a motif to represent the historical changes of black music in America and taken up by Gilroy to talk of hybrid diaspora identities . even the first homogenising model promises to 7 . hybridity and diaspora involve forms of mixture that are opposed to all of the first three models of mixture I outlined above. The diaspora concept can be “explicitly antinational” and can have “de-stabilizing and subversive effects” (2000: 128). hybridised and chronically impure cultural forms” (2000: 129). diaspora is a concept that problematizes the cultural and historical mechanics of belonging” (2000: 123).

Hybridization as ‘raceless chaos’2 by contrast. he outlines first a hybridisation that is “organic” (Bakhtin’s term) and that merges different identities into a new forms that may also be contestatory (as. haunted by it: “hybridity has not slipped out of the mantle of the past” and has not yet been “fully redeployed and reinflected” by cultural theorists (Young 8 . Bakhtin) and that is disaporic. hybridization and ‘cut and mix’”. Young identifies the first form of hybridity with processes of “homogenisation” and with nineteenth-century style raciological assumptions about “the prior existence of pure. In contrast.create a stable nation. essentialist difference and the hierarchies that make use of such difference. the permanent revolution of forms”. in Hall’s argument. Drawing on Bakhtin and Hall. recombination. of which it is partly made up. fixed. produces no stable new form but rather something closer to Bhabha’s restless. Then. Robert Young has usefully noted a distinction between these two ways of conceptualising hybridity and mixture. “intervening as a form of subversion. interstitial hybridity: a radical heterogeneity. the creation of a new form. however. He cites Hall’s key 1989 article on the “new ethnicities” to the effect that this form is a process of “unsettling. The second diasporic form of hybridity is in tension with the first form and. as it were. varied West Indian and other Afro identities merged in the UK to form a common “Black” identity in the fight against racism). and separate antecedents”. he goes on to describe a second more radical form of hybridisation that is “intentional” (again. translation. uneasy. He states: “Hybridization as creolization involves fusion. discontinuity. transformation”. which can then be set against the old form. the fourth model invokes a type of mixture that destabilises both entrenched.

As we have seen. despite Young’s hint that the first mode of hybridity is a nineteenthcentury anachronism yet to be fully expunged. sampling and bricolage. collage. Gilroy rejects such models.equivalent to single branches on a family tree. although it is also clear that Hall is talking about chronological developments in the form of the recent emergence of new forms of hybrid and diasporic identities in the UK that do not replace older forms but do contest them (Hall 1996: 442-443). He states that the nodes that make up the chaotic model of diaspora “are not successive stages in a genealogical account of kin relations . the diasporic hybridity that Young refers to seems to parallel the creative processes of montage. there is no straightforward chronological shift being supposed here. Young’s hybridity-ascreolisation evokes the coming together of parents to create a child. One does not beget the other in a comforting sequence of ethnic teleology” (2000: 128). Young cites Hall to the effect that the two forms of hybridity “constantly overlap and interweave” (Young 1995: 24). This genealogical mode of hybridity is linked to ideas about kinship roots and belonging.1995: 24-25). However. for him the concept of diaspora and the hybridities it provokes offer “a ready alternative to the stern discipline of primordial kinship and rooted belonging” (2000: 123). Gilroy’s work on the Black Atlantic also makes clear that diasporic processes of identity formation are not confined to postmodern contexts. One way of thinking about the duality that Young outlines is in terms of organic kinship metaphors versus metaphors of artistic creation. processes that occur in the workshop and the studio and that involve the creative appropriation of elements and 9 . In contrast.

in which difference apparently proceeds in an orderly progression of kin sequences. “rejoices in the mongrelization and fears the absolutism of the Pure. then. the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings. politics. There is something much more dynamic. The rhizome is a useful motif because it describes root systems that spread continuously in all directions. cultures. talks of the “hybridity. hotchpotch. a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world” (cited in Nash 1995: 958. Salman Rushdie. Hybridity.their recontextualisation and resignification. difference proliferates. This is what distinguishes it from what I will call genealogical hybridity. ideas. The metaphor breaks with the idea of origins. creating complex networks of unpredictable shape that are in constant process. One key metaphor for hybrid proliferations and diasporic dynamics has been the rhizome. intermingling. is the fact that rhizomic hybridity still seems to call forth kinship terminology from its supporters. Mélange. from random nodes. more intentional than organic. he says. italics in original). for example. songs” His work. random and unpredictable about such processes. impurity. unpredictably and in a radically heterogeneous way. to use Young’s terms. difference and kinship thinking In the literature on what I will call rhizomic hybridity. as elaborated by Deleuze and Guattari (1988). linear progressions and genealogical tree-like roots. 10 . movies. All the more interesting.

a new breed as it were. too.” This unexpected appearance of kinship language alerts me to the possibility that behind both notions of hybridity.” leave a legacy that is “a mix. as “complex. if ever there was one. the hero starts out by saying: “My name is Karim Amir. Rushdie talks of “how newness enters the world” . compound formations.a reference to birth and reproduction. although more guardedly. Equiano and Wheatley. immediately after the passage that Young cites to illustrate the diasporic form of hybridity (see above). He continues: “Its recombinant form is indebted to its ‘parent’ cultures but remains assertively and insubordinately a bastard. is drawn to talk in kinship metaphors.specifically Western. lies a profound metaphor of kinship . It reproduces neither of the supposedly anterior purities that gave rise to it in anything like unmodified form. dynamic and unpredictable. Hall. having emerged from two old histories” (Kureishi 1990: 3). Gilroy talks explicitly of “parents” (albeit in scare quotation marks) and the “bastard” offspring which rebels against them. I am often considered to be a funny kind of Englishman. 11 . a hybrid”. Gilroy (2000: 117) comments that their writings. Kureishi describes the birth of a new breed from what can only be understood as two parental histories. including the second rhizomic form in which difference is interstitial.In The Buddha of Suburbia (a text often cited as evoking rhizomic modes of hybridity). and I am an Englishman born and bred. Describing the work of two eighteenth-century ex-slave writers. almost. or Euro-American. kinship. Gilroy.

Western models of kinship have a predictable unpredictability built into them .but one of complementarity and co-dependence. On the contrary. This helps us to understand that the two versions of hybridity are mutually implicated in each other. we need to see that kinship does not always lead to primordiality. the one conservative. the other radical.goes on to speak of roots and inheritance: he talks of how the diaspora experience of young black British film-makers is “profoundly fed and nourished” by Third World cinema and African and Afro-Caribbean experiences and by “the deep inheritance … of aesthetic traditions from Asian and African culture”.which may however be read backwards as comforting teleologies. conjuring images of endless proliferation. To understand this. Yet it seems that to talk of diaspora immediately also conjures notions of roots and inheritance (Hall 1996: 447-448). They have a dynamic and diversifying quality to them. nor does it necessarily consist of comforting teleological sequences. which refers to the way organic processes of reproduction are imagined and indicates that biological reproduction can be conceived 12 . and thus essentially opposed to rhizomic versions of hybridity. This is one aspect of Western kinship models. anti-essentialist and linked to routes and becoming .for example. and that they do not stand in a relation of opposition . that the ancestral past must be “re-experienced through the categories of the present”. such thinking has parallels with both types of hybridity. essentialist and linked to roots and belonging. I contend that. rather than Western kinship thinking being confined to genealogical versions of hybridity. Hall clarifies that these “‘roots’” (he puts the word in scare quotation marks) cannot be “simple and unmediated”.

Strathern (1992: 11-30) elaborates on the basic “facts of kinship.and performance. 13 . (I should clarify at this point that I am not attempting to resurrect the “the absurd charge that attempts to employ the concept of hybridity are completely undone by the active residues of that term’s articulation within the technical vocabularies of nineteenth-century racial science” (Gilroy 2000: 251).) Let us now look at some anthropological work on the character of Western kinship thinking. kinship thinking is considerably more complex than implied in such an opposition and includes rhizomic notions of hybridity. although cultural theorists may oppose the concept of rhizomic hybridity to that of kinship. In this aspect. is that.” speaking specifically of modern English kinship. or more broadly nature. that is. the concept of hybridity always creates a tension between genealogical roots and rhizomic differentiation. like hybridity. as relationships produce new individuals. have a dual quality in which both roots and performance are integral to ideas about difference and sameness. as new individuals are set in opposition to the parental relationship.of as an unpredictable non-teleological process. My point is that. or culture. kinship models. The reproductive process means that the child comes from its parents.3 The first fact of kinship is that persons are individual. rather than simply reawakening the meanings of nineteenth-century racial science. then.which may or may not be construed in exclusivist and essentialist ways . with the role of sociality. in creating and defining kin and relatedness. or performance. but that it is not the same as its parents. There is also a second aspect to Western kinship thinking that balances the role of biology. between belonging . My argument. different.

” Strathern (1992: 14) notes that the apparent antithesis between conceptual constructs such as change and continuity may be seen as though they modelled a reproductive process: “The child that comes from its parents is not its parents. one might say. Seeing how change and continuity mutually constitute each other as concepts.which are. She suggests disarming the antithesis and focusing instead on how each concept “depends on the other to demonstrate its effect”(1992: 3).” Strathern argues that the concepts of change and continuity . depends for its effect on the idea of origins. that the child comes from its parents prompts a counterinterpretation. Tradition innovates. each providing the possibility of the other’s existence. That the child is not its parents provides an image for thinking about the contrast between tradition versus novelty. zero-sum game.whatever happens. This mutual dependence is modelled on. while deployed to evoke newness and creativity. can help us see how the concept of hybridity. the child enters the world as a new person. relationships produce individuals.4 14 .are often seen as opposites which provide a totalising perspective: what is not included in one must be part of the other in a kind of quantitative. but only by juxtaposing the concepts and presenting the fusion as a paradox. the reproductive processes in kinship thinking. The idea of “the changing same” moves towards disarming the antithesis. It is. integral to ideas about hybridity . a “changed same. of course. and a model for. Yet the child is unquestionably connected to its parents. relationships versus individuals.Reproduction is seen as inherently producing innovation and newness .

although none of these can easily be described as particles in biological terms) which are sorted and recombined in the new person. Indeed. more diverse practices that are set against the apparently homogeneous tradition of their parents. Schneider does not elaborate on these ideas. Schneider (1980). The process of combination may also be thought of in terms of a “particulate” theory of inheritance. This resonates strongly with the vision of hybridity as creating newness and diversity that I have been discussing. The complementarity of continuity and change is also reflected in ideas about heredity. This theory works well for features such as skin colour. more individuation occurs.In the English view of kinship. This way of thinking about inheritance works well for other kinds of traits which seem to recur in different generations 15 . shows how a child is thought of as made up of equal contributions from both parents.. where the children of a dark-skinned parent and a light-skinned parent are generally intermediate in colour (although often in unpredictable ways). producing a mixture.typically “blood” . chromosomes. genes. as does coffee with milk. Children produce new. describing American kinship. “diversity is the second fact of modern kinship” (Strathern 1992: 22).g. as more children are produced. a hybrid. More individuality equals more diversity. The new person can pass on their parents’ substances.which blends with the partner’s substance. but in diluted form. in the new person. DNA sequences . in contemporary terms. while still retaining their particularity. but the process by which separate contributions combine may be thought of in terms of a “blending theory” of inheritance (Mayr 1982) in which each parent is assumed to provide a substance . in which each parent provides a set of particles or traits (e.

or distinguishing between blood kin and affinal kin or “in-laws. A claim of belonging (to persons and places) can be made through upbringing as much as birth.” a predisposition to a certain illness or perhaps particular personality traits.” there are also very important aspects of cultural performance which are involved in creating kin ties which are not just affinal. people see both continuity and change of the kind Strathern describes: children are both similar to and different from their parents in ways that are at once predictable and unpredictable and are cause of debate and pondering in families. they are made (and not just through the usual means of marriage). Edwards (2000: 28) argues that “being biologically related to a person does not axiomatically make them kin. There is another aspect of Western kinship models which focus on the key role of cultural performance in creating kinship. The material presented so far speaks to the way biological processes of reproduction are thought of as combining both roots. in ways which can be unpredictable and innovative. The juxtaposition of being born and bred allows for kinship to be conceptualised through both or either. Kin are not just born.5 Working with both blending and particulate theories of inheritance.without being substantially diluted: people will identify a “grandfather’s nose. going forward to unpredictable futures and recombinations. and routes. Basing her ideas on a study of the town of Bacup in the UK. back to previous generations and origins. Although tropes of blood and biology are key components of thinking about kin and non-kin.” 16 .

referring to the “impasse set up by imagining kinship as divided between social and biological manifestations of itself” . 158. Genealogical reckoning was itself held in the complex tension between “roots” and “routes”’. 159). They prefer to emphasise the “interdigitation of diverse kinds of linkages” and “the division and combination of social and biological facts” that are used in English kinship to reckon relatedness (Edwards and Strathern 2000: 150. reunited through ancestry searches. in which roots are not simple belongings. that apparently “social” traits may be subject to essentialisation: birthplace and mother tongue may be seen as “immutables not open to choice” in ways which “echo the definitive transmission of substance at conception” (Edwards and Strathern 2000: 160. but re-imaginations and re-narrations of belonging that co-exist with the migrations and 17 . However. They also note. Their research indicates that the “amount of blood” that is thought to connect people “may or may not be relevant to the strength of the connection” (emphasis in original).Edwards and Strathern develop this point. Nash argues that such reckonings and searches for ancestry may seem to be easily linked to ideas about cultural and national purity and essentialism. genealogies also entail a more complex set of imaginings that reveal flows and migrations and that challenge a view of roots as a simple biological determination. A further illustration of the flexibility and complexity of kin roots is Nash’s work on the use of genealogical reckonings by people in the Irish diaspora. however. 161). and to rooted identities legitimated by blood lines. revealed “the limits of biological connection as a source of intimacy and affinity” (Nash 2002: 48). Meetings between long-lost “Irish” relatives.

that linked them to their adoptive parents. as well as simply being kin by virtue of a perceived “blood” connection. 693). 18 . these mothers also “challenge the American cultural assumption that biology is a selfevident singular fact and the natural baseline on which kinship is built” (Hayden 1995: 56). Carsten found that British adults adopted as children who had sought out birth parents were very conscious of the powerful bonds. using the same sperm donor. or the siblingship of children born to two women in a lesbian relationship. In her work on adoption reunion narratives. created through love and nurture. for example in the way they value connections between a mother and her child by artificial insemination. Roots were not just given but had to be made significant. more emphasis is put on nurturing and love in creating kinship. She found that birth alone did not imply “certainty or endurance or solidarity”. love and sociality. But in affirming “the importance of blood as a symbol” in American kinship. Hayden (1995) argues that lesbian mothers do employ notions of blood and biological links in creating families. She argues that “time itself [had] a key role in producing new meanings for kinship” and concludes that her we cannot perceive “a very sharp or consistent distinction between what ‘travels in the blood’ and what is absorbed from the environment” (Carsten 2000: 691.displacements of routes (Nash 2002: 32-33). Weston (1991) contends that gay and lesbian families are a challenge to the whole idea of biology and procreative sexual intercourse as the foundation of kinship in the USA. In these families. Work with adoptive families and gay and lesbian families shows the importance of actively becoming quasi-consanguineal kin through nurture.

“re-experienced through the categories of the present”. I have purposely used metaphors that suggest both a parallel relationship. in which kinship thinking underlies or is hidden within hybridity thinking. go beyond simple calculations of primordial biology in which only continuity is privileged. as one aspect of kinship. but also that kinship involves a lot more than genealogy. in which one mode of thinking is a structural homology of the other. just as the former involves complex and co-dependent ideas about genealogical inheritance. I now wish to draw a parallel between this kind of kinship thinking and ideas about hybridity. This ambiguity obeys a basic uncertainty which is 19 . which is nevertheless predictably connected to them in an unpredictable way. to use Hall’s words. so too does hybridity thinking. and a more causal or archaeological relationship.The evidence adduced above indicates that kinship thinking is complex and dynamic and that not only does genealogy. genealogical innovations and performative elaborations. there are also complex interweavings of inherited “tradition” with the influence of new contexts. In the emergence of hybrid forms. The connections might be seen both in terms of blending to produce a new mixture and in terms of creating a collage of transformed elements. The newness that thus enters the world is also immediately involved in dynamic contexts of performance in which whatever is “inherited” from antecedents is recontextualised or. about roots and routes which are interwoven and not opposed. to argue that. A key step at this stage must be to explicate the relationship between kinship thinking and hybridity thinking. Theories about hybridity are intrinsically based on the idea of things coming together to produce something new.

seamless mix and collage. 20 . a tension that is exactly parallel to that between “being born” and “being bred” in English kinship reckoning and. rather than that these are two separate modes of thought which can be put into a relationship of homology or causality.6 Kinship relatedness and reproduction may act as “a model” for thinking about cultural mixtures and developments. more broadly.these realms mutually inform each other and indeed may not be clearly distinguishable.inherently difficult to resolve when part of the argument is that hybridity thinking is kinship thinking. draw on ideas of inherited roots and on ideas of diversifying innovation and performative elaboration. I argue. Western ways of thinking about personhood and relatedness. and the other way around.people think about human social and cultural mixture in particular ways that. The kinship thinking that I argue parallels hybridity theory has room for both blending and particulate ideas of inheritance. Perhaps the best approximation would be to say that in areas characterised by Western kinship practices .and I am fully aware of the difficulties of defining such areas . These ideas are used to think about both human kinship and relatedness and about cultural mixtures and creations . Hybridity theory also contains within it the tension between connections and identities made through genealogical origins and those forged through practice. This leads me to suggest that the opposition between Young’s two models of hybridity is less apparent than it seems: the genealogical model of organic fusion and the rhizomic model of intentional artistic collage are co-dependent and interwoven.

Just as cultural hybridisations may be read post hoc in selective ways to produce comforting teleologies (as Raymond Williams (1980) noted long ago in his concept of selective tradition). and I agree that this is hopeless way of thinking about cultural dynamics of continuity and change. But “what is most illogical is that [in the USA] we imagine these 21 . Kinship relationships may be read as genealogical trees for some purposes. the tensions that afflict the concept of hybridity . pure wholes coming together: each parent is itself inherently a hybrid and each person is involved in complex webs of ties which are both given and made. But then the Western models of kinship which I argue are imbricated with theories of hybridity are not about neat.Gilroy and others reject the notion of two neat. as he recognises.are mirrored in the tensions of kinship . rhizomic networks.who is. and who is not. so kinship networks can be constructed to produce particular trees. pure wholes coming together to produce a third element.does it simply reiterate notions of origin or can it invoke and even create radical heterogeneity? . This idea that the US system of racial reckoning is irrational is supported by Spickard who describes the “illogic” of American racial categories. Root’s argues that mixed-race people “expose the irrationality by which the [racial] categories have been derived and enforced” (Root 1996a: xxv). Part of his argument is that all racial categorisations are illogical because they do not accord with the facts of biology which. only makes the categories illogical if they pretend to be based on biology. In that sense. “part of the family”? An illustration of the kinship assumptions underlying thought about processes of mixture is furnished by the recent literature on mixed-race identities in the USA. but they are also understood by people involved in them as endlessly ramifying.

except insofar as any racial categorisation is illogical? The intuition that the US system is illogical comes.although this mode of thought may.a system arguably now losing its dualist rigidity (Azoulay 1997. In what sense. is it illogical.racial categories to be exclusive” (Spickard 1992: 20). in view of the fact that people routinely talk of having. Fields). I believe.check one census box for racial identity and this census practice broadly reflected social usage. from a sense of the “logic” of a Western cognatic kinship model which assumes that a child gets equal amounts of its constitution from both parents. To take the most common example. then. The US “one-drop rule” which classifies anyone with “one drop of black blood” as black is the mainstay of the either/or system . indeed. it is illogical to have to be either black or white. For example. citing Barbara J. black or white “blood” in their veins.e. a quarter West Indian or half Scottish.7 Whether or not the kinship logic is understood physically. “naturally” by the precepts of Western kinship reckoning). This does not necessarily mean people think a child born to a “black” parent and a “white” parent is literally physically half black and half white . It is against the background of this assumption that the US system appears illogical. one could only until 1997 . be widespread. say.. it can also simply supply a way of thinking about the allegiances and ties that such a child would have “logically” (i. this system is highly logical: it defines a clear rule and follows it to a logical conclusion. Root 1996b). say. This rule determines that “a white woman can give birth to a Black child. but a Black woman can never give birth to a white child” (Nash 1995: 950. when so many people are black-white mixes. or of being. 22 . In one brutal sense.

As Strathern (1996: 522) has summarised Latour’s argument: “Moderns divide society from technology.tend to represent kinship as primarily a limited form of genealogical thinking that is only about primordial roots and is opposed to rhizomic cultural hybridity. I think this obeys the tendency Latour (1993: 10-12) notes among “modern” people to attempt to maintain clear conceptual modernist divides between realms called nature and culture. culture from nature.” So although at one level . at another level of practical thinking and thought practice. human from nonhuman.clear distinctions are maintained between “natural” roots and “cultural” routes. despite the fact that these realms are constantly hybridised in practice. even though they are rarely as explicit. except that they do not Euro-American moderns are like anyone else in the hybrids they make.and perhaps this is especially so in the realm of cultural analysis . what are implications of this? Why does it matter? What is achieved by showing that both genealogical and rhizomic versions of hybridity theory are underlain by notions of kinship? 23 .and perhaps others as well .The argument about the imbrication of kinship and hybridity thinking outlined above begs the question of why cultural theorists . […] The divides of modern people’s thinking do not correspond to the methods they deploy. The future of hybridity theory The question that now faces us is this: if metaphors of kinship are evident in hybridity theory and kinship thinking parallels hybridity thinking. such distinctions are blurred.

concern about hybridity also drew homosexual relationships into its ambit and that concerns about “degeneration” focused not only on inter-racial sex but also on homosexuality. Kinship can move toward innovative and unpredictable forms of family .A first implication of this perspective derives from the comments made above in relation to the performance of kinship and specifically the construction of kinship in gay and lesbian families.and. going beyond heterosexual reproduction.8 Even though heterosexual reproduction forms an important trope for thinking about mixture. Young (1995: 25. 26) notes that “hybridity as a cultural description will always carry with it an implicit politics of heterosexuality” and that “On the face of it … hybridity must always be a resolutely heterosexual category. But it seems more relevant to emphasise that. This aspect of kinship thinking is important in going beyond the apparently heterosexist bias of hybridity based on notions of heterosexual reproduction. He responds that “it seems unduly harsh to suggest that [the concept of diaspora] is any more deeply contaminated by the toxins of male domination than any other heuristic term in the emergent vocabulary of transcultural 24 .” Young says “on the face of it” because he then goes on to say that. however much that reproduction is seen as evoking unpredictable newness. . historically. if kinship can be created through performance. because neither is kinship. hybridity is not confined to heterosexuality. so too can hybridity. families based on elective transnational adoption. etc. it once again parallels hybridity. in doing so.lesbian families. I think this constitutes a better defence than that deployed by Gilroy against the critique of his idea of diaspora as masculinist because its hybridity is generated by the spreading of seed .

but he suggests that in the new cultural politics. The practice of rhizomic hybridity is deployed by Gilroy in opposition to the “primordial kinship”. it must be the case that roots are always more complex than a “simple ‘return’ or ‘recovery’ of the ancestral past”. might be possible in the future.” and adding that “in spite of these rich cultural ‘roots. as this is surely an ontological condition of any human experience of the past. This. In noting that the recent UK black experience as a diaspora experience is still fed by “deep inheritance.critical theory” (2000: 127). 25 . however.’ the new cultural politics is operating on new and quite distinct ground . contestation over what it means to be British.” However. emphasis added).” Hall also implies a relation of opposition between roots and diaspora (Hall 1996: 447. He does not reject these roots. then there is no need to see it as inherently masculinist. Young’s comment that older genealogical meanings of hybridity have “not yet been fully redeployed and reinflected” (Young 1995: 25) suggests that such full reinflection. But if diasporic hybridity is not seen as confined to heterosexual reproduction in the first place. not just in the new cultural politics of post-1980 Britain (Hall 1996: 448). dispensing with these genealogical meanings. roots and belongings of genealogical hybridity. A second important implication of my argument is that the process of mixture can never escape from the idea of roots and genealogies. does not detract from the fact that processes of mixture are frequently gendered and sexualised and that any approach to hybridity needs to be attentive to the ways gender and sexuality are involved in mixtures. roots are “re-experienced through the categories of the present.specifically.

My point is that even when hybridity. my argument suggests that roots are not necessarily linked to essentialism. so they are in hybridity thinking. then political questions of identity formation become more complex. Hybridity cannot be held up simply as an antidote to roots and genealogy and essentialism. as I have tried to show. It always contains those possibilities within itself. in rhizomic mode and engaged with artistic intentional metaphors of montage. although special cases of “strategic essentialisms” may be seen as historically justifiable. Just as the two modes of mixture are inseparable aspects of kinship thinking. appears to go against the grain of hybridity. It is commonly assumed that an emphasis on genealogical roots leads to essentialist and exclusive identities. In contrast. as we have seen. Hall recognises this in a different way by arguing. This view needs to be nuanced in two ways. when this is seen in the broader light of the Western kinship models I have been describing. If there is no relationship of opposition between “roots” and “routes”. generally seen as negative. genealogical reckoning and kinship thinking in general can be much more flexible than this. an emphasis on diasporic. rhizomic routes is said to undo essentialism and exclusivism. While genealogical kinship thinking can be and is used to create and underwrite exclusivist essentialisms and reckonings by “blood” can be used to create highly discriminatory racial systems and to underwrite ethnic-nationalist violence. between rhizomic and genealogical hybridities. it does not in fact move beyond the realm of kinship thinking. in genealogical mode and understood as simple kinship belongings. collage and sampling. First. that roots can co-exist 26 .

Anthropologists and others have had recurrent difficulties with how to relate to social movements. Friedman (1997) is scathing about the “cosmopolitan” elite disapproval of essentialist indigenous identities. but as roots “re-experienced through the categories of the present” and thus open to complex mediations. Werbner (1997a: 229) makes a distinction between essentialism as “objectification”. and the process of claiming titles often involved urban literate Afrocolombian activists going to rural communities to instruct them in their history and identity.with a diasporic experience. focusing on ancestral roots and traditional territories. Another example comes from Colombia where. can be flexible. when global economic and political realities are encouraging the less privileged to indigenise. ethnicise and establish defensive boundaries. in practice. Hoffmann argues that. legislation was enacted allowing some “black communities” to claim rural land titles (Wade 2002a). essentialist definitions were made flexible and inclusive as local people tried 27 . in 1993. However. Second. the assumption that essentialism is necessarily exclusivist (at least perniciously so) needs to be re-examined. unless such reactions lead to racism. the motives and goals of which they approve. for example. but which nevertheless seem to deal in essentialist definitions of identity (Wade 1997: 116-117. Warren 1998). a positive type of collective selfidentification. An emphasis on genealogical roots as the basis for an essentialist definition. He argues there is nothing wrong with this. and essentialism as “reification” which silences difference and legitimates violence. One way round this problem is to recognise that essentialist definitions of identity may be less exclusivist in practice than they appear. The legal definition of black community was essentialist in many ways.

to solve immediate problems: in one case. as one of which roots and routes get included and excluded in practice in any given case. This is different from “the obvious point that mixedness means different things in different places at different times” (Stoler 2001: 28 . what meanings are given to them and what the political effects of this are. for example. would be the extent to which it is made explicit that. an indigenous person was classified by locals as part of their “black community” (Hoffmann 2002). interpretive gaze and draws our attention to the different possibilities presented by discourses and processes of hybridisation and mixture. either essentialist or nonessentialist definitions. It may encourage an emphasis on timeless origins and exclusive identities. the problem may become not so much one of whether to build identities and cultural politics around either rootedness or diasporas. or to avoid discrimination. Are the old meanings simply reproduced. the past is being re-experienced through the categories of the present (bearing in mind that we have no choice but to experience the past through the present). or are they consciously resignified? What effects of inclusion and exclusion are generated in the process? It is not necessarily the case that a diaspora experience of hybridisations will lead people to be explicit about the way the past is re-experienced through the categories of the present. The argument that theories about hybridity interweave with and are rooted in ideas about Western kinship encourages us to be explicit about the nature of our theoretical. as Hall says. it encourages us to pay attention to how these possibilities may exist in mutual dependence: each can serve as the context for the other. Above all. One question. In short.

while increased emphasis may be laid on the importance of a genetic link.836) . It is an open question as to what meanings are attached to “roots. gestational and social motherhood) and.the idea of roots. especially those that affect human reproduction.g. Seeing how in theories of hybridity.. and the possibility of alternatives to it (gestational ties. this is also because the nature of this link and its entailments. draws attention to the mechanisms by which discourses and processes of hybridity operate in particular contexts. In such an age. Strathern (1992: 183) contends that nowadays “persons can be imagined as simply composed of elements of other persons .” as to whether they are read and understood in essentialist. or the borrowing of cultural forms or the imitation of individual lifestyles. It is to say that certain possibilities may act interdependently: one may depend on the other for its effect.can only have meaning and effect in relation to .although this is surely true. We move from the unique 29 . even pernicious. Coda An interesting avenue of enquiry might be opened up by asking what happens to the intersection of hybridity theory and kinship thinking in an age of recombinant genetic technologies. social ties). or even the transmission of genetic particles. have become foregrounded too. the notion of parenthood becomes fragmented (e.whether in terms of organ transplants. newness and innovation depend on . perhaps explicitly seen as resignified through the categories of the present. ways or in more flexible and ambiguous fashion. into genetic.

30 .or perhaps because of .9 Recent work on changing concepts of nature and genetics also indicates that established categories and distinctions are not erased: they are instead “vigorously reinstated”. according to Van Dijck (1998: 194).” This seems to link neatly with ideas of diasporic cut-and-mix and collage deployed by recent theories of hybridity.amalgam of elements drawn from different domains to a literal assemblage of parts perceived as substitutable or replaceable for one another. drawing us away from the predictable unpredictability involved in the endless proliferation of difference through hybridity conceived [sic] as “old-style” kinship. people are still very concerned with ideas of roots and “natural” belonging. while Franklin (2000: 217) sees new technologies as both drawing on and displacing pre-existing beliefs about nature. Yet work by Strathern and others indicates that. even as the idea of nature becomes less secure and more open to artificial intervention. According to Van Dijck (1998: 194): “New concepts of flexibility and fluidity cannot exist without prior notions of fixity.” In this sense. despite . I would contend that new styles of kinship thinking still ceaselessly evoke the problem of roots and more or less fixed belongings.the fragmentation of these notions of parenthood and personhood.

For a discussion of blood as a trope in talking about race. 31 . Thompson (2001) who shows how. it follows that diversity or variation is not in itself an index of change. On multiculturalism generally. Strathern comments on one Papua New Guinean people’s way of thinking about continuity and change: “Continuity … does not have to show a sequence of likenesses: on the contrary. And if continuity does not depends on the replication of likeness and similarity. but she adds that “the late twentieth century contains as much as it supersedes of this earlier modernism” (1992: 11). 6 The blurring of boundaries between nature and culture is a theme I explore at length in a recent book (Wade 2002b). see Wade (2002b: 97-111). a “mongrel race” and yet at the same time a “raceless chaos” in whom miscegenation had led to a chaotic indistinction “without any fixed type” (cited in Young 1995: 17). when reckoning social and genetic linkages 9 between individuals. See. to refer to the Anglo-Saxons who were.Notes 1 On Latin America see. A variant form may be perceived as the analogue or version of another. and in the ground in which the canoe/foetus/mother trees grow” (Strathern 1992: 60). Edwards (2000) and Richards (1997). for example. in its mothers. say. 8 On transnational adoption. Carl Vogt. a more Melanesian idea of personhood and relatedness. as when the Gawan matriclan ‘appears’ in its canoes. 5 For material on lay theories of inheritance in the UK see Davison (1997). 2 Young cites a phrase used by the nineteenth-century German anatomist. 7 On blood quanta and the fractionalising calculus of racial identity in the USA. for example. one form may give birth to a different form. see. 3 Strathern refers to English kinship between roughly the 1860s and 1960s. see Mengel (2001) and Wilson (1992). Howell (2001). Van Cott (2000). people engage in “strategic naturalisation” in order to privilege certain ties over others. see Modood and Werbner (1997) and Werbner and Modood (1997). in its foetuses. in his view. 4 One might imagine a theory of cultural change that was rooted in.

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