Research is Fascinating
Or, These Are My Sisters and My Cousins and My Aunts

Just finished the blatantly Western-centered A History of the Wife. I don’t recommend it; besides being Eurocentric and ig’nant—only reference to places outside W. Europe and America is a handwringing mention of child marriage in India—she writes like she’s selling something and is constantly making coy jokes about today’s wives and what they’d think of all the medieval butter-churning ad linen-starching. Lame-o. In the real scholarly world, I been a’readin’ Yalman’s Studies in Caste, Kinship and Marriage in Ceylon (a real page-turner), actually for quite a while, trying to finish the damn thing! It’s very well written but/therefore quite dense, involving many phrases like “bilateral merging unilineal endogamy” and diagrams of family trees that display how it all works. It’s pretty fascinating stuff; cross-cousin marriages are something that authors in the field of kinship talk about a lot but don’t often take the time to fully understand.

For example, in the Sinhalese system (studied forty years ago in villages, doubtfully in place so strongly today, but figgerin’ that is my gig) the status and terms of relationships extend through blood and affinal ties infinitely. Therefore your brother’s wife’s brother is your cousin, just as your mother’s brother’s son is your cousin. However your sister’s husband’s brother is your brother, and your mother’s sister’s son is your brother too. (For the obvious reason that these terms are complicated, in the literature they use sometimes-helpful abbreviations like FBD/father’s brother’s daughter and MeZH/mother’s eldest sister’s wife.) That is, your parents’ same-sex siblings’ kids are your siblings; your parents’ opposite-sex siblings’ kids are your cousins. Your siblings’ spouses are always your cousins, in terms of classification, which means that your siblings’ spouses’ siblings are good matches for you. Therefore you’re not always marrying a blood cousin, but instead someone who’s in the “affinal position” of a cousin.

(For those who know my family at least a little,) This poses fun questions about my many relations and who they really are. I have one “sister” in the Goodman family, Felicia, but Alyssa Sarah Meryl Julia and Tova are my cousins. Ariel is a daughter-in-law, whether or not she marries my child. It would be appropriate, desirable even, for me to marry Stuart’s brother. (Does Jeff or Tim have a brother? Don’t know.) On the Ennen side, I have a huge number of siblings, because my father has lots of brothers with children. My only true cousin is Kate, my aunt’s daughter. However I can look for marriage partners within the immediate families of my siblings’ spouses, for example, Colin’s wife’s brother. Technically, these people are already my cousins, and thus it is permissible for me to sleep with them without marrying them. Marrying them would only further cement the obvious kinship between our extended kin groups.

And you wondered why I was interested in this field.

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