Accepted Paper:

Matrixial-based cultural practices: connecting biology, society, and culture  


Peggy Reeves Sanday (University of Pennsylvania)

Paper short abstract:

Building on my l981 cross-cultural study of female power and on long term ethnographic research among the matrilineal Minangkabau of West Sumatra, along with the 2007 work of Nicole Mathieu, this presentation discusses the psychodynamic and cultural/biological bases for female power and authority.

Paper long abstract:

Citing Nicole-Claude Mathieu's 2007 comparative analysis of marriage in selected

matrilineal societies, Une maison sans fille est une maison morte, Sally Cole (2016)

cites an important conclusion reached by Mathieu. According to Cole, in these

societies, "Mathieu finds that women as mothers of daughters have a social value and

structural importance in the continuity of the group that together define a sense of

both individual autonomy and collective identity among women." I found the same to

be the case in the Minangkabau villages where I worked off and on from l981 to 2007.

Looking cross-culturally, this finding raises important questions to be addressed

by ethnographers. From where do women get their confidence; how is this confidence

reflected in cultural forms in matrilineal-uxorilocal societies?

In raising such questions I turn to the work of philosopher, psychoanalyst, and

artist Bracha Ettinger who is an Israeli born and well known French intellectual.

In the late 20th century she coined the term "matrixial" to represent a stage in

male and female psychic development emanating from the womb experience. The concept

of the matrixial, now widely discussed in other fields, has yet to be widely

discussed in the social sciences, including anthropology. Because of

anthropology's interest in biology, along with personality and culture, it is

relevant to consider. This is not an easy construct to grasp as will be evident

from the examples of matrixial-based cultural practices described in this

presentation. However, it raises some interesting questions about the relations

connecting biology, society, and culture.

Panel RM-KG05
Nicole Mathieu's legacy for the theory of matrilineal societies