Inheritance as a contemporary anthropological issue 
Jennifer Speirs (University of Edinburgh)
Siobhan Magee (University of Edinburgh)
Send message to Convenors
Being Human
University Place 6.208
Tuesday 6 August, 9:00-10:00, 11:00-12:00, 14:00-15:00 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

This panel will explore anthropological meanings of the term 'inheritance', unpacking its use in socio-legal and economic discourses, in talk of genetics and relatedness, and in claims for groups' or individuals' rights, whilst linking it to perpetual questions about the (re)production of societies.

Long Abstract

Inheritance' is usually taken to mean the transferral of rights, property, objects or other materials to one or more 'heirs' on the occasion of someone's death. It may also refer to the intangible: physical characteristics, dispositions, status and obligations. In genetics and biology, inheritance refers to how traits are passed on through Mendelian conditions. Inheritance emerges in discussions about families and about who is related to whom and how. DNA testing, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, organ donation, and the donation and cryopreservation of gametes have destabilised assumptions about familial relationships although the sharing of biogenetic substance is not the only way in which people think about kinship (Edwards 2009). Fostering, step-parenting, adoption and friendship each generate relationships in which inheritance may feature.

We are interested in exploring whether, and if so how, the varying ethnographic contexts in which 'inheritance' is used influence the meanings attributed to it. A variety of papers is encouraged, potentially discussing the following topics: How might inheritance reveal moral concerns about relatedness between people, generations, and material objects? What are the strategic uses to which 'inheritance talk' is put? We anticipate exploration of these questions in the context of debates about the rights to obtain and to refuse genetic information (Strathern 1999), of ethnographic findings on inherited resemblance of looks and dispositions (Demian 2000), of identity politics, property (Hann 2008), and socio-legal arguments about creating and maintaining relationships, as well as in relation to continuing questions about how societies are or are not 'reproduced' (Goody 1976).

Accepted papers: