Re-viewing a Domain
Patricia Uberoi, ed.. Family, Kinship and Marriage in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1993, pp. 502, Rs. 500.
The postulation of the domestic/familial as a domain distinct and separate from the politico-jural seems to underly the field of family and kinship studies. Most of the concepts it deploys have been fashioned in the light of this perception. Interestingly, a similar delineation, positing a domestic/public opposition, articulates the field of gender studies as well. Across these two areas of study,, one encounters a tendency to approach the first term in both dualist frames (viz., the domestic), as having to do with 'natural* or pre-social facts. In both, biological reproduction is placed at the centre of the domestic or familial realm. Such basic coordinates of family and kinship analysis as notions of descent, the family, marriage rules and kinship terminologies are all built on this assumption. Increasingly though, especially from within the realm of gender studies, there has been a persistent questioning, in recent times, of the basis of such oppositional spheres, arguing instead that the domains must be perceived as socially constructed, deriving their form, content and meaning from definite historical and cultural junctures. One must pause to ask, therefore, what these theoretical developments spell for the field of kinship studies? What does it mean to speak about Family, Kinship and Marriage in India? A re-articulation of 'universalistic' principles, a recognition of cultural specificities, or quite simply, a celebration of difference?
The anthology under review seeks to provide an account-largely descriptive, but also theoretical—of 'the variety of family types and kinship practices in the South Asian region* (p. 37). By way of contextual history, the editor offers, in her Introduction, a narrative of changing explanatory paradigms in family and kinship studies. But as she points out, the direction taken by family and kinship studies in India has largely been reflective of trends in Western social science, a fact manifest in the preponderance of evolutionist, functionalist and structuralist approaches to the field. Tracing theoretical developments in the field after the 1950s, Uberoi cites in particular
Social Scientist, Vol. 21, Nos. 5-6, May-June, 1993