From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sat Nov 25 2006 - 23:23:37 EST
The analysis below suggests that even primitives and preliterate peoples are just as human as bourgeois man in that they not only live in society but also must produce society in order to live. Godelier, it may be remembered, was the author of Perspectives on Marxist anthropology, a controversial essay on the Asiatic Mode of Production and essays on the material and the mental- he is no longer a Marxist. As Jack Goody writes New Left Review essay on Godelier's latest book http://newleftreview.org/A2592, "Among the discoveries that have made short work of Lévi-Strauss's story of the foundations of society have been the findings of primate studies, to which Godelier devotes a sensitive and imaginative chapter. What these have shown is that both chimpanzees and bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees in the Congo), our nearest biological relatives, already live in 'societies' that exhibit a kind of sketch of human constraints: young females find sexual partners outside their immediate natal group, while young males must wait their turn until adults are willing to yield partners to them. Enforcing at once cooperation and hierarchy, these patterns appear to be the product of mechanisms of natural selection, though they coexist with homosexual pleasures among males and females alike, less obviously attributable to the same functions. The passage from nature to culture with homo sapiens thus cannot have been a sudden, discontinuous transformation, but must have been more evolutionary in nature. The critical novelty in human society, Godelier argues, is that males assume a parental role, something unknown among these primates, where only mothers look after children-fathers being unaware of their connection with them... "Humans, however, are the only species co-responsible with nature for their own evolution. In the past they rarely acknowledged their own role in creating rules of kinship, but now they can scarcely do otherwise, as laws and customs governing relations between and within the sexes are in full mutation, with the spread of single parenting, homosexual marriage, artificial insemination and the prospect of cloning all now crowding onto the public agenda. In the last lines of his book Godelier reiterates that 'what separates human beings definitively from primates, their cousins in nature, is that they not only live in society but can and must produce society in order to live'. It is one of the underlying messages of this work that in confronting the unexpected in that task today, the sang-froid of the anthropologist is needed." http://newleftreview.org/A2592 Here also is a bit of a precis of Godelier's last book. Comparative Studies in Society and History (2006), 48: 326-358 Maurice Godelier and the Metamorphosis of Kinship, A Review Essay Robert H. Barnes Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oxford ______________ Godelier next turns to a long exposition of Lévi-Strauss' argument trying to establish that the incest prohibition gives rise to exogamy, which in turn gives rise to exchange of women. Of the three logical possibilities, men exchange women, women exchange men, or as in Euro-American and other cognatic societies, one family gives a man, the other a woman, and there is no question of one sex exchanging the other, Lévi-Strauss retains only the first. Godelier denies criticizing Lévi-Strauss either for considering male dominance to be universal, or for the idea that alliance rests often on the exchange of women between groups represented by men, but for the idea that the social subordination of women is based on unconscious structures of symbolic thought, in the last analysis on the structure of the brain, and that male dominance is the universal precondition of kinship relations. As opposed to Freud, Lévi-Strauss' interpretations immediately demonstrated the operational value and efficacy for a certain number of kinship systems. Lévi-Strauss devoted much less attention to the forms of descent, which are themselves highly specific cultural institutions, than to alliance. Lévi-Strauss' statement that, "the incest prohibition is less a rule which forbids marrying the mother, sister or daughter, than a rule which requires giving the mother, sister or daughter to another" (Lévi-Strauss 1969: 552), creates the illusion that these three forms of exchange are equivalent. Godelier knows of no examples of a man exchanging his mother in order to acquire a wife. Lévi-Strauss's assertion therefore does not engage with the facts. By leaving aside agonistic exchanges and inalienable goods, Lévi-Strauss neglects some of the most important aspects of political and religious power in society. Whereas in 1950, Lévi-Strauss took the position that "language could only arise at one go" and denied that it might appear gradually (Lévi-Strauss 1950: 16), by 1967 he had changed his position, and the sudden appearance of language had been replaced by a progressive evolution (Lévi-Strauss 1967: 451). On another point, too, Lévi-Strauss changed position. Human society no longer rested simply on exchange. Now in addition to things that were exchanged, there were things that were not exchanged, "Not that in society everything is exchanged, but if there were no exchange, there would be no society" (Lévi-Strauss 2000: 494). Whatever may remain of Lévi-Strauss's attempt to link exchange with the incest prohibition, Godelier (2004: 461-62) proposes an alternative view corresponding to six criteria: 1. It is necessary to separate the analysis of the prohibition of incest from the other prohibitions pertaining to sexual practices. 2. The prohibition of incest pertains to forbidden sexual unions before it does to prohibited marriage ties. 3. The prohibited sexual practices pertain to heterosexual and homosexual relations. 4. The prohibition of incest is found associated with prohibitions pertaining to relatives by alliance, either because the prohibitions pertaining to consanguines are "extended" to affines, or because prohibitions of another type apply to certain affines in complementing prohibitions pertaining to consanguines. 5. The prohibition of incest presupposes the development of conceptual thought and diverse means of communication, proto-languages and articulated languages. These developments did not appear as a Big Bang, but rather as a process taking place in the long extent of human evolution. These processes were for the most part unconscious, although the prohibitions themselves were conscious social facts.9 6. There is no reason to suppose that primitive humanity lived in isolated biological families (as assumed by Lévi-Strauss) or hordes (as assumed by Freud) before living in society. There is no reason to postulate for the distant ancestors of men and their descendants the logical or historical priority of consanguineous families living in a state of permanent sexual promiscuity rather than the development of proper forms of society. To establish his own position on the evolution of society, Godelier turns to a long survey of modern studies of chimpanzees and bonobos, and he concludes that these animals live naturally in multimale and multifemale societies like humans. These societies are characterized by the separation of the sexes and subordination of one sex to the other, and their sexuality includes heterosexual, homosexual, and autoerotic forms. There is no trace of primitive promiscuity among the chimpanzees and bonobos. These animals are able to act on nature in making tools and selecting food sources, but they cannot modify the organization of their society. Like other primates, humans did not give themselves society, but in contrast to them they developed the ability to transform their manner of living in society and to invent new forms of society. Human beings produce society in order to live. Unlike chimpanzees and bonobos, humans do not leave the raising of children exclusively to females. In most human societies, males and females cooperate not only in raising children but in procreation of children. Human sexuality has pushed the distinction between the sexuality of desire and the sexuality of reproduction farther than is found in any other species of primate. Human sexuality is egoistic, but even extreme permissiveness must stop at the doors of the families, the groups which are directly responsible for raising children. Crossing these limits is to commit what is called "incest" (Godelier 2004: 491). It should be remarked that by saying so, Godelier is in effect proposing his definition of incest. Human families exist in two types. There are those composed solely of consanguines, such as the Na of Yunnan and the Nayar of Malabar, and those (the majority) structured by alliance (between husband and wife) and descent and filiation (between parents and children). Sexual permissiveness in the last case endangers not only ties of consanguinity, but also those of affinity. As demonstrated by reference to brother/sister marriage in Roman Egypt (which is similar to the behavior of gods), societies have two choices to make: (1) to marry without exchange or with; (2) to unite like gods or not like gods. There are no societies where marriage takes place only between very close relatives. Brother/sister marriage does not authorize other forms of close marriage or sexual relations. There is no society where an individual may satisfy all of his desires. Where close kin sexual unions prohibited in other societies are authorized in one society, such unions are not considered incestuous. They bring the couple closer to gods and take their legitimacy from a political and religious cosmology. Godelier's (2004: 494-95) then lists twelve theoretical conclusions: 1. There is no society which permits individuals to satisfy all their sexual desires. 2. Two possibilities exist to assure the continuity of groups which make up a society which for survival depend on the birth of children who will continue their physical and social existence: to exchange between themselves sexual partners, generally women, but sometimes men, or not to exchange at all and to reproduce among themselves. 3. To exchange does not necessarily mean to form a marriage alliance. The exchange of substances is not an exchange of persons and does not transform itself into a social alliance (as in the case of the Na). 4. To form a marriage alliance does not necessarily mean to exchange, giving to others and receiving from others, but sometimes as well to keep for oneself and to ally among one's own group. 5. Everywhere where exchanges take the form of the exchange of persons and give place to diverse forms of alliance, the units of procreation and the raising of children combine ties of affinity and ties of filiation and descent, thus ties of consanguinity. Allies, by their union, engender consanguines. 6. Wherever there are unions resting on the exchange of persons and formalized by an "official" alliance, the sexual permissiveness authorized to individuals stops at the doors of the units of procreation and the raising of children. They are prohibited between the individuals of different sex and generation who make up these units and are considered as incestuous except if, on the other hand, they are regarded as unions making humans closer to gods. 7. In consequence, and logically, in the societies prohibiting sexual unions between near kin, humans are not authorized to imitate gods. Relations of humans with gods are invoked either to prohibit them or to permit relations between near kin. Unions among humans always bring into question the whole of society and cosmos. 8. There is no possible biological foundation to prohibiting sexual unions with the consanguines of affines or the affines of consanguines. Only social reasons could explain such prohibitions (which have no genetic consequences for the human species). It is necessary therefore for such unions to menace social cooperation and the ties of solidarity created between two groups of kin for them to be prohibited. However this situation indicates as well that the development of exchanges of partners giving place to alliances is a trait specific to human kinship. 9. No society known functions solely on the basis of endogamous unions between very close kin. Even in societies where such unions are authorized, other unions exist which obey other principles, unions with very distant consanguines or unions with non-kin, strangers; and these unions could themselves give rise to exchanges. 10. Even in societies where certain unions between close consanguines are not only authorized but sought after, other unions between consanguines are forbidden. It is necessary therefore to conclude that there exists no society that functions without one form or another of what is called the prohibition of incest. 11. The prohibition of unions between certain categories of consanguines is universal, but does not imply that the prohibition of the union of brother and sister is universal and that the exchange of women or men between two groups of kin should be everywhere the foundation of alliances. 12. The reciprocal giving of substances (sperm) between groups of kin does not necessarily produce alliance between groups. Of all the inventions which have slowly separated humans from other primates and profoundly restructured the division of labor between men and women, one perhaps has more importance than the ability to manufacture and use tools and weapons, that is the domestication of fire. For men, unlike animals, fire is a weapon and a tool. Specifying the social conditions of sexual unions and the membership of the resulting children to groups were two problems which societies had to confront and resolve. Godelier proposes the hypothesis, contrary to Tylor and Lévi-Strauss, that our ancient ancestors already lived in families and that the very slow learning of new material and social relationships between the sexes created new relationships between adults and children as well as between groups where children were born and raised. Man is the only animal species which has become co-responsible with nature for its own evolution. Humanity is the only social species which consciously and socially manages its sexuality. The two principles, to keep and to share, apply to all domains of life, including the provision of food. Even in the capitalist West not everything is available for sale. Societies and individuals are under two obligations, to exchange and to keep and transmit. Lévi-Strauss is wrong, Godelier says, to attempt to explain father's brother's child marriage among Arabs as an exchange of the right to keep, that is to keep marriage between close consanguines. (Lévi-Strauss 1988: 147). In this case the right to keep is distinct from the obligation to give. Neither kinship relationships nor the family are the basis of society. Kinship relations, contrary to Fortes, are not necessarily the domain of the purest sentiments of altruism. They may also give rise to hatred and enmity. Kinship does not permit by itself creating a material and social dependence among all individuals and all groups in a society. It is no longer possible to claim that "primitive" societies, lacking castes, classes, and the state, were based on kinship. "But such a claim does not mean, as Leach would have it, that kinship is nothing but a language or a veil, or worse, an invention of anthropologists and therefore the West" (Godelier 2004: 517). Chinese filial piety was a feudal imposition on domestic life and Australian section systems, far from being typical of Australia, spread only recently in western Australia and are primarily concerned with ordering even non-kin for ritual purposes. Social relationships having nothing to do with kinship penetrate kin relationships. The social becomes kin. First all that becomes kinship transforms into relations between the sexes, and finally all that is kinship impresses itself on the sexual body of individuals from birth and becomes an attribute of their sex. The difference of sex becomes a difference of gender.
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