Accepted Paper:

Quantitative ethnography challenges common depictions of the ethnic Mosuo of Southwest China  

Author:

Siobhán Mattison (University of New Mexico)

Paper short abstract:

Although the ethnic Mosuo of Southwest China are commonly depicted as lacking marriage, husbands, and fathers, quantitative ethnography undermines these claims. This paper about contemporary Mosuo populations from a QE perspective reveals significant variation in Mosuo kinship and reproduction.

Paper long abstract:

The ethnic Mosuo of Southwest China are commonly depicted as lacking marriage, husbands, and fathers. Such depictions arise not only in mainstream media, but also in scholarly works, where the Mosuo are often used to prove that marriage is not a human universal. Extreme characterizations suggest that Mosuo fathers will even engage in sexual relations with their own biological daughters - a claim that many Mosuo vehemently contest. By contrast, quantitative ethnography undermines many of these claims for contemporary Mosuo populations and reveals significant variation in Mosuo kinship and reproduction.

In this talk, I describe some of this variation using a sample of 225 households that I surveyed in 2008. In this sample, all informants were able to identify their biological fathers and many were married or cohabiting in stable ("guding") non-marital relationships. These deviations from "traditional" matrilineal behavior were more common in areas that were influenced more strongly by tourism, but many claim that stable unions have been the norm for at least one hundred years. I reflect on these patterns and suggest that, while quantitative ethnography cannot replace deep ethnography, it can be an important complement to standard ethnographic methods and can increase understanding of intra-societial variation, both generally, and with specific reference to the Mosuo.

Panel RM-KG04
Naxi and Mosuo peoples in China and their Eastern Asian Neighbors