The intention of this panel is to explore ritual kin relations and alternative support networks in the wake of privatization processes and the impact of neoliberal reforms, primarily (although not solely) in the former socialist states.
There is a growing concern in anthropology with the significance of connections which are not established through natal consanguinity and marital affinity. We invite contributions that explore the issue of ritual kin relations (such as godparenthood or closer ties with neighbours) in the context of changing economic situations. We are particularly interested in ritual kin in former socialist states where economic and political reforms have perhaps lent greater pertinence to such relationships, although we welcome ethnographic accounts from other regions as well. While always important, ritual kinship bonds now appear to be undergoing significant transformations as a consequence of deindustrialization, rising unemployment and a dramatic increase in mobility due to labour migration. For example, in times of particular economic difficulty, obligations relating to labour and the construction and maintenance of the household are concentrated within the rural family by inviting consaguineal kin to act as godparents (once chosen on the basis of wealth or social status). However, in other contexts, the opposite strategy of distributing one's connections as broadly as possible can also be seen as a strategy for dealing with economic uncertainty. How should we approach these types of changes in ritual kin relations in the context of an increasing trend towards privatization of resources (where presumably kin ties are strengthened)? What alternative practices of support are being developed or expanded beyond kinship relations in the context of rising inequalities between certain sectors of the population (characteristic to all neoliberal economies)? When are support networks institutionalized in the form of ritual kin relationships and under what circumstances?