(Imperial College London)
Paper Short Abstract:
The paper suggests that in small urban places in the southeast of Italy social media created in a short period of time a new sense of social relations seen as a current response to the dissolution of traditional practice of kinship and familiarity relations in the second half of the 20th century.
Paper long abstract:
The paper starts off from the observation that in an average town in the region of Puglia, Italy, people use Facebook to connect basically to everyone they know, and use WhatsApp to talk intensively to a handful of family members, relatives, and close friends. Building on the observation of Maurice Godelier (1989) that 'kinship emerges at the point at which it is possible to conceive the relative of a relative, and thus relations between relations,' the paper argues that the experience of social media use creates a new awareness of social relations and kinship in particular.
For example, Facebook strengthens those social relations that offline are relatively looser and weakens those which offline are relatively stronger. This creates a sense of a fairly homogenous environment where people establish relationships based on negotiated experience (Miller 2007) while also find subtle ways to respect the values they are expected to uphold. On the other hand, the use of WhatsApp is dominated by far by marital relations. The paper uses the centrality of the household in the social organisation of Mediterranean communities and its social role in order to discuss how people use WhatsApp to restore some of the traditional kinship and familiarity relations that used to be based on everyday practice, co-residence, and vicinity.
The paper suggests a few attributes for the new emerging 'culture of relatedness' (Carsten 2000) inaugurated by the dualism between Facebook and WhatsApp.
Kinship: taking stock in the light of social media