Dr Radu Umbres (SNSPA, Bucharest), ‘Holding or Not Holding on to Kin: Fairness and Mutualism between Relatives in a Romanian Village’.
In Săteni, a village in NE Romania, people often deny or obscure relatedness to individuals even when genealogically-close; ”they don’t hold on to each other as kin” (nu se țin de neamuri), as Satenis say. At the same, Satenis invest in other, more genealogically-distant connections, “holding on to kin” by conspicuous behaviour during rituals, ceremonial visits, or tavern socialisation. The phenomenon evokes the recurrent anthropological finding that relatedness seems, on the one hand, given and permanent, yet kinship appears in equal measure as created and conditional. I propose that Sateni ethnographic data is best explained by recent theories of partner choice in cooperation (Barclay 2016, Baumard 2016). The facts of cognatic descent, marriage or ritual provide a large set of culturally-defined relatives but people only invest in a subset of ties and prune off unwanted connections due to conflicts or misaligned interests. Starting from several case studies and the interpretation of cultural representations, my presentation discusses the structural effects on kin cooperation created by partible inheritance, domestic mode of production, economic inequality, migration, family organisation, reputational management, and life strategies. I argue that, beyond kin altruism and cultural norms, we should include intuitions of fairness and mechanisms of partner choice in the anthropology of kin relationships.
Radu Umbreș is Lecturer in Anthropology at the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration (SNSPA), Bucharest. He read for a PhD in Social Anthropology at UCL and his research explored interdisciplinary approaches to cooperation and cultural transmission inspired by evolutionary and cognitive sciences during postdoctoral fellowships at Institut Jean Nicod and New Europe College. His first monograph, Living with Distrust. Morality and Cooperation in a Romanian Village (OUP) will appear in spring 2022. His current work focuses on cognitive approaches to classical anthropological puzzles such as cargo cults, initiation rituals, the nature of kinship, and apparently irrational beliefs in conspiracy theories and astrology.
Link to seminar on MS Teams