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Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Communityby Eviatar Zerubavel
Synopses & Reviews
Genealogy has long been an obsession. From the Sons of Confederate Veterans to Ancestry.com, today's family-tree researchers crowd libraries and eagerly exchange tips on Internet message boards. But with the dramatic rise of genetics, and increasing media attention through programs like Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s Faces of America, the public is now being told that genetic markers can definitively tell each of us where we came from.
The problem, writes sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel, is that they don't. Why, he asks, do we consider Barack Obama a black man, even though he has a white mother? Why did the Nazis believe that unions of Germans and Jews would produce Jews rather than Germans? Do we find any meaning in the fact that chimpanzees are genetically closer to humans than to gorillas? In this provocative book, Zerubavel presents a fresh new understanding of relatedness. Rather than a biological fact, traditions of remembering and classifying shape the way we trace our ancestors, identify our relatives, and delineate the families, ethnic groups, nations, and species to which we supposedly belong. Drawing on a wide range of cultural and historical evidence, he introduces the concepts of braiding, clipping, pasting, and stretching to shed light on how we expand and collapse genealogies to accommodate personal and collective agendas of inclusion and exclusion. Rather than simply find out who our ancestors were, we actually construct the narratives that make them our kin.
There's an old saying that you can choose your friends, but not your family. In Ancestors and Relatives, Eviatar Zerubavel argues that we do indeed choose our families, in this engaging new look at one of the most universal human concerns.
Genealogy has long been one of humanity's greatest obsessions. But with the rise of genetics, and increasing media attention to it through programs like Who Do You Think You Are? and Faces of America, we are now told that genetic markers can definitively tell us who we are and where we came from.
The problem, writes Eviatar Zerubavel, is that biology does not provide us with the full picture. After all, he asks, why do we consider Barack Obama black even though his mother was white? Why did the Nazis believe that unions of Germans and Jews would produce Jews rather than Germans? In this provocative book, he offers a fresh understanding of relatedness, showing that its social logic sometimes overrides the biological reality it supposedly reflects. In fact, rather than just biological facts, social traditions of remembering and classifying shape the way we trace our ancestors, identify our relatives, and delineate families, ethnic groups, nations, and species. Furthermore, genealogies are more than mere records of history. Drawing on a wide range of evidence, Zerubavel introduces such concepts as braiding, clipping, pasting, lumping, splitting, stretching, and pruning to shed light on how we manipulate genealogies to accommodate personal and collective agendas of inclusion and exclusion. Rather than simply find out who our ancestors were and identify our relatives, we actually construct the genealogical narratives that make them our ancestors and relatives.
An eye-opening re-examination of our very notion of relatedness, Ancestors and Relatives offers a new way of understanding family, ethnicity, nationhood, race, and humanity.
About the Author
Eviatar Zerubavel is the Board of Governors Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University.
Table of Contents
1. The Genological Imagination
2. Ancestral Chains
3. Nature and Culture
4. The Genealogy of the Future
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