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.
"An erudite treatise about how culture drives human cognition about near and remote relations, Ancestors and Relatives offers lay and academic audiences alike a great read."
-Marta Tienda, Science
"Making the world seem strange is the first step to understanding it anew. Eviatar Zerubavel is a genius at doing this. Here he takes on kinship and shows us the profound, politically fraught, sometimes frightening, and often funny ways in which we take the biological fact that life creates life and fashion genealogy from it. This is a brilliant, witty, effortlessly well-informed book that anyone with ancestors or anyone who worries about ethnicity, race, and nationalism will read with pleasure and surprise." -Thomas Laqueur, University of California, Berkeley
"While ancestors and relatives are genetically given, the genetics give us no clue how we should measure their relative importance to us. In this lively and well-written book, Eviatar Zerubavel avoids the aridity of technical kinship analysis and uses a personal perspective to show how humans fabricate, in the literal sense, their relatives, by a creative process of elimination and selection in the generation of rules. It is easily the most engaging introduction to kinship for the general reader that I have read, and a contribution in its own right to a wider understanding of our place in evolution."-Robin Fox, author of Kinship and Marriage and The Tribal Imagination
"Kinship is a perennial staple-necessary but ordinarily dry as dust-of anthropology, sociology, and demography. In Ancestors and Relatives, Eviatar Zerubavel makes the topic new, bringing to it an encyclopedic knowledge and a powerful sociological imagination that brings to life the deeply social and cultural ways in which we talk about, imagine, and understand our ancestors and relations. Never has kinship been more interesting and never has it been as much fun."-Paul DiMaggio, Princeton University
"Widely-researched and absorbing ... This book could not be more timely. As Zerubavel points out we need only to look at the popularity of television shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? and the shelves of newsagents and bookstores generously stocked with magazines and books on how to research your family tree to see that there is a tremendous interest in genealogy ... [this is] an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable book." --Turi King, London School of Economics (June 2012)
"Ancestors is a significant contribution to its author's ongoing project, highly original, wonderfully imaginative, overflowing with insight, to develop a distinctive cognitive sociology. And for that, we should be deeply grateful. I, for one, happily await his next book in a long line that grows more venerable with each addition." --ontemporary Sociology
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
is Board of Governors Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University. He is the author of The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life, The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life, The Seven-Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week, Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology
, and Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past
Table of Contents
1. The Genealogical Imagination
2. Ancestral Chains
4. Nature and Culture
5. The Politics of Descent
6. The Genealogy of the Future
7. The Future of Genealogy