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Marshall Sahlins, What Kinship Is

12 novembre 2015

Marshall Sahlins, What Kinship Is – And Is Not, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2013

Lecture de Sahlins faite dans la perspective de notre séminaire sur les corps relationnels et les théories natives. Les mots native et ontology ou ontological sont récurrents dans ce livre. Les idées natives — our own native wisdom (ix), our own native folklore (6), his own native individualism (31). L'ontologie — in the same ontological regime as (ix), in the same ontological register (7), culture was nothing more nor less than ontology (13), the ontological is the natural within the cultural itself (14), the animist ontology (58-60). Ces marqueurs signalent l'adhésion franche et complète de Sahlins au tournant ontologique, qui ne cesse de citer Eduardo Viveiros de Castro.

Cf. Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Le don et le donné: trois nano-essais sur la parenté et la magie, ethnographiques.org, Numéro 6, novembre 2004 [en ligne]. Version anglaise publiée cinq ans plus tard: Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo, 2009, ‘The gift and the given: three nano-essays on kinship and magic’, In Kinship and beyond: the genealogical model reconsidered, edited by Sandra C. Bamford and James Leach, New York: Berghahn, pp.237–68. http://fr. scribd.com/ doc/ 149528824/ VIVEIROS-de-CASTRO-Eduardo-The-Gift-and-the-Given-three-Nano-essays-on-Kinship-and-Magic


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La thèse soutenue à la douzième ligne du livre vient de Viveiros de Castro. Formulation de Sahlins: “Relatives emotionally and symbolically live each other's lives and die each other's deaths. Involving such transpersonal relations of being and experience, kinship takes its place in the same ontological regime as magic, gift exchange, sorcery, and witchcraft.” Cf. p.36: “Viveiros de Castro's extraordinary synthesis of kinship, magic, and gift exchange in Amerindian cosmologies: that is, as so many modalities of participatory influence.” Et p.58: “In conclusion, a reflection on Eduardo Viveiros de Castro's (2009) golden insight that kinship, gift exchange, and magic are so many different modalities of the same animistic regime.

et p.60, citation de Viveiros de Castro:

“In a gift economy (where things and people assume the form of persons), relations between human beings are expressed by classificatory kinship terms — in other words, they are kinship relations. But then, relations between things must be conceived as bonds of magical influence; that is, as kinship relations in object form. The objective world of a 'gift economy' is an animistic ontology of universal agency and trans-specific kinship relatedness, utterly beyond the grasp of the genealogical method — a world where yams are our lineage brothers and roam unseen at night, or where jaguars strip away their animal clothes and reveal themselves as our cannibal brothers-in-law .... Indeed, it appears that when these people talk about personification processes, they really mean it.” (2009, 243)

Page complète de Viveiros de Castro en français:

«Les différents éléments du problème sont à présent déployés. Les relations de parenté ont été traditionnellement conceptualisées en anthropologie comme des relations juridiques. La filiation a toujours été une affaire de droits et de devoirs, et non une relation naturelle. L'alliance pour sa part était soit «prescriptive», soit «préférentielle», ou encore une affaire de «choix». Toute une métaphysique juridique fût érigée autour de la «parenté primitive»; il n'est pas nécessaire d'en refaire ici l'histoire. Or, les relations entre les êtres humains dans une économie marchande (où les choses et les personnes assument la forme d'objets) sont conçues en terme de droits, qui sont, dans un certain sens, des prix en forme humaine [8]. Cela rend la notion complètement inappropriée pour une économie du don, où les relations de parenté ne sont pas détachables des personnes, comme le sont les droits. De même, dans une économie du don (où les choses et les personnes assument la forme de personnes), les relations entre les êtres humains personnes assument la forme de personnes), les relations entre les êtres humains sont exprimées dans les termes de la parenté classificatoire, ce qui revient à dire qu'elles sont des relations de parenté. Mais dans ce cas, les relations entre les choses doivent être conçues comme des liens d'influence magique, c'est-à-dire comme des relations de parenté en forme d'objet: le monde objectif d'une «économie» du don est une ontologie animiste de l'agentivité universelle traversée par des rapports de parenté transpécifiques — un monde dans lequel les ignames sont nos frères de lignage, déambulant inaperçus la nuit, où les jaguars enlèvent leurs habits animaux pour apparaître comme nos beaux-frères cannibales. Ainsi que le remarquait Strathern avec une plaisante ironie, beaucoup de non-literate people — ceux qui se conforment à l'ontologie du don — «semblent voir des personnes même là où l'anthropologue n'en verrait pas... et la parenté peut être revendiquée pour des relations entre des entités que les anglophones conçoivent comme franchement improbables» (1995b: 16). Il apparaît en effet que, lorsque ces gens parlent de processus de personnification, c'est comme s'ils le prenaient véritablement au sérieux [9].»


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Problématique d'ensemble du livre, dirigé contre David Schneider, p.61:

“[Viveiros de Castro]'s finding of the same animistic regime in the different registers of kinship, gift, and magic in this respect matched [Schneider]'s discovery of the nomos/physis opposition in kinship, nationalism, and religion. But where Schneider wanted to close down the cultural study of kinship because he concluded /61/ from the ontological similarities that it did not exist, Viveiros de Castro's work offers a revelation of a certain cultural order of intersubjectivity in which kinship takes a fundamental place, indeed a cosmic place. Rather than imposing an ancient Western philosophy as an ethnographic epistemology, Viveiros de Castro let the Indians' ontology come to him, their potential brother-in-law, and he made a comparative anthropology of it. Viveiros de Castro's cultural analysis thus goes a long way to explaining how the followers of Schneider's work, by attending to "symbols and meanings," could give new life to the kinship studies he wanted to remove from the anthropological agenda.”

(12) Schneider's discussion in "What Is Kinship All About?" (1972), and its subsequent elaborations (1977, 1980, 1984), is reminiscent of certain famous philosophical birds that glide in ever-decreasing hermeneutic circles until they fly up their own backsides.

Ma traduction: «L'argument de Schneider rappelle la glissade (glide) de ces oiseaux philosophes tournant en cercles herméneutiques toujours plus bas jusqu'à un nouvel envol (fly up) qui leur botte [kick up sous-entendu dans fly up] le derrière (their own backsides)

(12) Long study of"kinship" had convinced him that there was no such thing. Neither at home nor abroad did "kinship" exist as a distinct cultural system, nor a fortiori as a comparative, cross-cultural category. Happily, this led to numerous and enlightening analyses of kinship the world around by anthropologists who were explicitly indebted to Schneider's work. It seems his announcement of the end of kinship had the logical force of the famous observation of the Cretan that ''All Cretans are liars."

[Épiménide: «Tous les Crétois sont des menteurs.» S'il dit vrai, alors il ment (puisque c'est un Crétois), donc son affirmation est fausse (puisque tous les Crétois mentent). S'il ment, alors il existe au moins un Crétois qui dit la vérité, donc son affirmation est fausse. Dans tous les cas, son affirmation est fausse.]

(13) Schneider's critique of kinship began from an a priori radical differentiation of a "normative system'' of /13/ social actions and relations from a pure "cultural system" of symbols and meanings: as if the norms and relations of motherhood, cross-cousinship, brotherhood through eating from the same land, and the like were not constituted by and as "symbols and meanings." […] Since what Schneider meant by "culture" was nothing more nor less than ontology, what there is for any given people, it was inevitable that the "symbols and meanings" he discovered in "kinship" would not be exclusive to that domain. And since what he meant by the social or normative system were prescriptions of people's interactions, it was inevitable that these were ordered by "symbols and meanings." I quote at length:

(Citation de Schneider) By symbols and meanings I mean the basic premises which a culture posits for life: what its units consist in; how these units are defined and differentiated; how they form an integrated order or classification; how the world is structured; in what parts it consists and on what premises it is conceived to exist. . . . Where the normative system, the how-to-do-it rules and regulations, is Ego-centered and particularly appropriate to decision-making or interaction models of analysis, culture is system-centered and appears to be more static and 'given' and far less processual .... Culture takes man's position vis-a-vis the world rather than a man's position on how to get along /14/ in the world as it is given; it asks, "Of what does this world consist?" where the normative level asks, "Given the world to be made up in the way it is, how does a man proceed to act in it?" (Schneider 1972, 38)

Le noyau dur de l'argumenrt de Schneider est une distinction entre l'action sociale (le Comment-on-doit-faire) et la culture (un système de symboles et significations):

social action (Ego-centered) ≠ culture (system-centered)

(14) Apparently Schneider did not notice that in distinguishing the cultural system from social action in the way the ontologically presupposed is to the humanly made, he produced as anthropological theory the functional equivalent of the contrast between naturally given relations of "blood" and the made relations of "in-laws" he had discovered in the American kinship system. Insofar as the ontological is the natural within the cultural itself, as also are "blood" relations, one may even speak of permutations of the same "symbols and meanings." Nor did Schneider refer this kinship contrast of "biology" and "code for conduct" to the opposition of physis and nomos, nature and law (or nature and convention), that has been inscribed in Western ontology since it was elaborated by Greek sophists in the fifth century BC.

Plus rien pour Schneider et ses disciples n'est de l'ordre des lois, structures, jural rights and obligations. Tout est symboles et significations. La sociologie est annihilée au profit d'une herméneutique. Sahlins prône un retour au social, à une approche centrée sur le social. Il reproche très clairement à Marilyn Strathern d'essentialiser l'individu, qu'il soit singulier ou diversifié (dividual), de disserter sur l'individu ou la personne dividuelle en négligeant l'étude sociologique des liens (des institutions et des fonctions sociales) qui le constituent.

(25) But the issue here is kinship, and therefore a more sociocentric view of what is theoretically at stake than the makeup of individual persons. At least as much attention needs to be given to the transpersonal distribution of the self among multiple others as to the inscription of multiple others in the one subject, for what is in question is the character of the relationships rather than the nature of the person. Since Strathern was drawing a contrast to the autonomous Western individual — which in any case does not describe such individuals in their own family and kindred contexts — the effect was a highlighted interest in the "singular person'' too much like the demarcation and celebration of the bourgeois subject that she was putting in question: /26/ dividual individuals, as it were. Hence in [Strathern's] extraordinary [!? = baroque ?] work The Gender of the Gift, there is a certain unresolved tension between the marked emphasis on dividual persons and the relatively backgrounded relationships that constitute them — the intersubjective relationships that are taken here as the fundamental elements of kinship order.

Sahlins emprunte encore à Viveiros de Castro sa critique du constructivisme sur un point précis: il perpétue la dichotomie traditionnelle de la Nature et de la Loi.

(p.11) “One may well ask, with Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (2009), whether the constructivist preoccupation with optatio — since it singularly problematizes certain relations of consanguinity while assuming no such argument is necessary for the obviously "made" character of affinity — does not subtly perpetuate our own folkloric distinctions of "nature" and "law," "biogenetic substance" and "code for conduct"? What to make then of Amazonia, where the presupposed generic notion of kinship — applicable to other peoples, certain animal species, strangers, and even gods — is affinity, not consanguinity? Here virtually all men are brothers-in-law, actual or potential, rather than brothers. Yet if both consanguinity and affinity are constituted by human agency, still anthropologists have felt compelled to prove it only for consanguines. Fixed, moreover, on the biological attribute of bodily substance, this proof merely extends the sense of an organic connection from the sphere of the given to that of the constructed. Biology is still there, as Viveiros de Castro remarks, only it has less value than it had before, and sometimes less value than the socially constituted. It would seem that constructivism — although largely inspired by David Schneider's critique of the extension of our own biological fixations to the understanding of kinship in other societies — has nevertheless come too close to the same pass.”

Texte précis, en anglais puis en français, de Viveiros de Castro, qui est lumineux dans sa critique:

“The primary target of the constructionist model is the notion of biologically given relatedness. It aims to show that, when it comes to kinship, the ‘world of made’ is as good as, and often better than ‘the world of born’. But under closer scrutiny, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the equation at the base of the Western standard model still remains in force – the equation between ‘biological’, ‘given’ and ‘non-negotiable’, on the one hand, and ‘social’, ‘constructed’ and ‘optative’, on the other.”

«Le modèle constructiviste a comme principale cible polémique la notion de "parenté" biologiquement donnée (la consanguinité). Son objectif est de montrer qu'en ce qui concerne la parenté, "le monde produit" ("the world of made") est aussi valable, si ce n'est souvent meilleur, que "le monde donné par la naissance" ("the world of born"). Mais l'équation posée par le modèle standard occidental, selon lequel on trouverait d'une part le "biologique", le "donné", le "non négociable" et de l'autre le "social", le "construit" et l'"optatif", reste en position de force. Le biologique (le "sexe", la "naissance", etc.) est toujours le donné dans le modèle constructiviste. Il n'est simplement pas autant valorisé que les dimensions construites de la parenté ("le genre", "l'alimentation" — "feeding", etc.). Si certains vont jusqu'à entièrement ignorer le donné, de manière à avoir une ontologie relationnelle du type "rien n'est donné, tout est construit", personne ne parvient à fournir autre chose que la consanguinité fondée biologiquement comme donné.»


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Dans le second chapitre du livre, Sahlins tire la conclusion de cette analyse: il faut inverser naissance (donnée) et parenté (construite). La parenté est donnée, et la naissance construite (une métaphore).

Tout dernier paragraphe du livre: 1°) Sahlins s'aligne une dernière fois sur Viveiros de Castro, et 2°) il lui emprunte une analyse percutante de ce qu'est ou n'est pas une théorie native du vivant: «L'erreur que nous devons éviter ici est celle d'imaginer que les Amazoniens (par exemple) admettent quelque théorie biologique non standard, alors que les idées de la parenté amazonienne équivalent, en réalité, à une théorie non biologique du vivant. Autrement dit: la "parenté" amazonienne ne se conçoit qu'en dehors de toute théorie biologique de la relationalité.» (Viveiros de Castro, 2009: 241).

La question des théories natives ne porte pas sur la biologie, mais sur la distinction entre une théorie biologique non standard (= une vision du monde, plus le présupposé du Grand Partage entre eux et nous) et une théorie non biologique du vivant (= une ontologie, plus la thèse philosophique de la Pluralité des mondes).