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Marilyn Strathern has a gift for you

Godelier’s ‘The Metamorphoses of Kinship’ reviewed

Get it?

the metamorphoses of kinship records the Herculean task in the stables of anthropological theorising that the author has set himself. The first 200 plus pages are practically a book on its own, an introduction to Godelier’s formative field experiences being followed by an address to certain long-standing issues in the study of kinship, component by component (filiation and descent, alliance, residence, kin terminologies). Of course this compartmentalisation into ‘books’ is my own. The text is obviously meant to be read as a whole (so reproduction—‘begetting’—and incest continue the series of components in later chapters), and the Conclusion specifically develops themes voiced in the Introduction. Nonetheless, what gives a sense of doubling to the whole work is that it not once but twice mounts an extensive challenge to its most notable predecessor, Lévi-Strauss’s The elementary structures of kinship. The first focuses more on the postulate that the exchange of women is the foundation of kinship and the second more on the postulate that the incest taboo is the foundation of society.

Marilyn Strathern’s review article in this year’s volume of Anthropological Forum joins Robert Barnes’s and Jack Goody’s reviews of the original French edition of Maurice Godelier’s Metamorphoses of kinship. While all three are excellent, I would especially recommend Strathern article in combination with the initial portion of Godelier’s book to those who want to become more comfortable with kinship study but who find the literature difficult to access.

Dame Strathern’s review article will help you navigate the fraught waters of kinship theory.

In addition to its use value in informing the reader of the contents of the work under review, Strathern’s article is also an exemplary model of the genre. Given her ethnographic and subject areas of expertise she is able to contribute a considerable amount of value added, and her prose is clever without being overly so. Her inclusion of an uncited reference to my favorite David Schneider article brightened my day considerably.

It’s a great read, in any case. The next time you have an open spot in your reading calendar do yourself a favor and slot this one in. YA isn’t the only way to let your mind out to play.


Godelier, Maurice. The metamorphoses of kinship. London; New York: Verso, 2011. Translation, by Nora Scott, of Métamorphoses de la parenté. Paris: Fayard, 2004.

Review articles

Barnes, Robert H. “Maurice Godelier and the metamorphosis of kinship: a review essay.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 48, no. 2 (April 2006): 326–58. doi:10.1017/S0010417506000132.

Goody, Jack. “The labyrinth of kinship.” New Left Review no. 36 (December 2005): 127–39.

Strathern, Marilyn. “Maurice Godelier’s metamorphoses of kinship.” Anthropological Forum 24, no. 1 (December 2013): 71–85. doi:10.1080/00664677.2014.859564.


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