Cunhas to make the system work: situative and imaginary kinship as vernacular critique of, and 'user manual' for, power relations in post-war Angola
(Brunel University London)
Paper short abstract:
This paper analyses practices of 'situative kinship' and 'cunhas' (personalised connections) in everyday interactions in Luanda, Angola. Ideas of power and hierarchy expressed and acted out in these practices allow us to investigate the co-production of 'the political' in post-war Angola.
Paper long abstract:
Based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Angola's capital, Luanda, this paper looks at practices of 'situative kinship' in everyday interactions between citizens and 'agents of the state', and the ideas of power and hierarchy expressed in these practices. Because of Angolan social history, and the social roots of today's urban elites, the instrumentalisation of idioms of kinship for purposes of state power is less straightforward than in other African contexts we know from anthropological literature, and the idioms of kinship and the 'traditional' foundations of 'correct' social interactions take on a more subversive characteristic. These practices and discourses thus reveal the tensions between what people see as the real functioning of society, and their perspectives on how society should work. However, the idea of kinship as oppositional discourse has to be complicated through the exploration of the everyday practice of mobilising cunhas (personal connections, lit. a 'wedge') for one's own purposes. Exploring these cunhas — based on intimate knowledge of Luandan 'family networks' — allows us to trace the multiple linkages between 'state' and 'society', combine in the analysis social strata commonly studied separately, and complicate facile notions of 'nepotism' and 'corruption'. This paper therefore suggests interpreting the personalisation of interactions in everyday practice as a much more fluid and reciprocal process of negotiations that reveals the complicity and co-production of 'the political' that sustain, subvert, and redefine political legitimacy in post-war Angola.
Kinning the state - state kinning: reconnecting the anthropology of kinship and political anthropology