Accepted Paper:

"Not like the old days": widening networks and the changing quality of social relationships  


Patrick Heady (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

From the 1970s on, ethnographers of southern Europe have noted a decline in the intensity (both intimate and conflictual) of local life. I ask about the structural reasons for this change, and its relation to kinship networks and to underlying ideas about community, self and social interaction.

Paper long abstract:

From the 1970s onwards, ethnographers of southern Europe have noted a decline in the former intensity (both intimate and conflictual) of local life. This intensity was bound up with a particular structure of kinship networks. Though kin ties extended very widely (even to other continents) local endogamy ensured that the ties between co-villagers were particularly dense. The discouragement of marriage within the prohibited degrees also meant that ties of kinship and alliance within the village community were continually shifting. This set-up provided the structural conditions for both the intimate local attachment and the envious rivalries reported by so many ethnographers.

Urbanisation and the decline of peasant farming (and of the practical motives for local endogamy) have reduced the concentration of local kinship ties. I argue that this has contributed to the change in social atmosphere, but that a second factor is just as important. Cooperation, both practical and ritual, was a crucial part of the former social model - providing a dramatic context in which people could reconcile their ambitions with their need for solidarity, and achieve a satisfactory sense of self. Much of the change in social atmosphere derives from the continuation, as a set of implicit ideas, of the former social model - but in conditions where earlier levels of cooperation are no longer a practical possibility.

As evidence I draw on the ethnographic literature, including my own research in northeast Italy, and on a number of network studies.

Panel P005
Networking, collaboration and intimacy in the Mediterranean (Mediterraneanist Network)