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Performing Kinship

Performing Kinship
Narrative, Gender, and the Intimacies of Power in the Andes

A unique analysis of the stories, conversations, gossip, public speeches, and other narratives that shape community and identity among peasant women of the Bolivian highlands.

January 2008
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288 pages | 6 x 9 | 26 b&w photos, 2 maps |

In the highland region of Sullk'ata, located in the rural Bolivian Andes, habitual activities such as sharing food, work, and stories create a sense of relatedness among people. Through these day-to-day interactions—as well as more unusual events—individuals negotiate the affective bonds and hierarchies of their relationships. In Performing Kinship, Krista E. Van Vleet reveals the ways in which relatedness is evoked, performed, and recast among the women of Sullk'ata.

Portraying relationships of camaraderie and conflict, Van Vleet argues that narrative illuminates power relationships, which structure differences among women as well as between women and men. She also contends that in the Andes gender cannot be understood without attention to kinship.

Stories such as that of the young woman who migrates to the city to do domestic work and later returns to the highlands voicing a deep ambivalence about the traditional authority of her in-laws provide enlightening examples of the ways in which storytelling enables residents of Sullk'ata to make sense of events and link themselves to one another in a variety of relationships. A vibrant ethnography, Performing Kinship offers a rare glimpse into an compelling world.

  • Acknowledgments
  • A Note on Orthography
  • Chapter 1. Introduction: Relative Intimacies, Storied Lives
  • Chapter 2. Sullk'ata Contexts: Reflections on Identities and Localities
  • Chapter 3. Circulation of Care: A Primer on Sullk'ata Relatedness
  • Chapter 4. Narrating Sorrow, Performing Relatedness: A Story Told in Conversation
  • Chapter 5. Storied Silences: Adolescent Desires, Gendered Agency, and the Practice of Stealing Women
  • Chapter 6. Reframing the Married Couple: Affect and Exchange in Three Parts
  • Chapter 7. "Now My Daughter Is Alone": Violence and the Ambiguities of Affinity
  • Chapter 8. Conclusion: Reflections on the Dialogical Production of Relatedness
  • Appendix A. Chapter 5 Narrative Transcriptions in Quechua and in English
  • Appendix B. Chapter 6 Interview Transcriptions in Quechua
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Krista E. Van Vleet is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Bowdoin College. She lives in Bath, Maine.


Relatedness in Sullk'ata


People who live in the rural Andean highlands of Sullk'ata, Bolivia, establish "relatedness"—that is, bonds of belonging and affiliation—through their interactions with each other. They create and maintain relatedness through habitual everyday activities such as eating together, sharing work, and sleeping under the same roof. Sullk'atas also navigate their relationships with each other through more intensely emotional performances and occasionally violent interactions—and stories about them. A woman wonders how the child she helped raise has forgotten that she is also his mother. Elderly couples sorrow for children who have migrated to cities and are "no longer Sullk'atas." People gossip about brothers whose envy for each other causes harm to befall them. Married adults—men and women—tell folktales about young lovers who run away together only to meet with dire consequences. Women—alternately angry, matter-of-fact, or resigned—recount the physical and emotional pain of being hit by a loved one, a husband, or a mother-in-law. In these everyday performances and narratives, Sullk'atas create social relationships, navigate inequalities of power, and negotiate the meanings of the expected and the extraordinary events of their lives.


In this book I develop critical perspectives on the cultural construction of social relationships that take kinship as their core but not as their boundary. I illuminate through a double focus. An ethnographically grounded discussion of the intimacies and hierarchies of kinship and gender among Quechua speakers who live in the rural region of Sullk'ata, Bolivia, is the heart of the book. My own negotiation of relationships with Sullk'atas is a secondary but analytically significant nexus of reflection. By highlighting the everyday talk and practices of Sullk'atas, and especially the telling and retelling of stories, I show how relatedness is a mutual production among people, including the ethnographer and her informants. People interpret meanings and relationships in process. Thus this book underscores the local details of events and interactions and demonstrates the collaboration and conflict through which relatedness emerges.


Rather than being based on some essential biological relationship or on static social structures, relatedness emerges among individuals who have differing life experiences and move within and between communities that are marginal to but not isolated from national discourses or global processes. Even in small rural communities, people express and enact a complex heterogeneity of identities and ideals, material needs and political concerns, dreams and lived experiences. Tracing these differences among women, as well as between men and women, brings to light significant webs of social, economic, political, and emotional support and tension.


Retelling a Story of Violence


The ways in which Sullk'atas evoke and perform their connections and disconnections with each other in domains including but not limited to kinship were brought forcefully into my awareness one day near the end of June 1996. I had been living in a Sullk'ata community for a year and a half, conducting ethnographic field research, hearing people's stories, and participating in their daily lives as much as I could. I had just returned from the city of Sucre after saying good-bye to friends, for I was soon to return to the United States. Dusty and stiff after eight hours on a bus with shock absorbers and seat springs that had long since deteriorated, I shouldered my backpack for the walk to Kallpa. Though she was far ahead, I recognized Claudina, a middle-aged woman from Kallpa. Her brilliant turquoise pollera (the full skirt typical of native Andean women) stood out against the multiple shades of brown of the landscape: low adobe buildings, already plowed fields, and rounded mountains too dry and high to support trees. A patchwork of green laced with the purple and white flowers of potato plants had brightened the landscape during the short rainy season from December to March, but the harvest had already begun. The grazing areas and chakras (planted fields) that stretched out from either side of the road were fading to the dun of winter. I caught up with Claudina easily. I had not lost my habit of walking quickly, even after a year and a half of living in this rural region of the Bolivian Andes. Claudina and I greeted one another and climbed together, resting for a short while at the top of the pass, where we could see the steep yet rounded mountains rising as a wall behind the community of Kinsa Kallpa. "Where have you come from?" Claudina asked me. I told her that I had just come from Sucre.


Descending from the pass, I wondered aloud, "Has my comadre Ilena returned from Cochabamba yet?" I did not want to leave Kallpa without saying good-bye to Ilena. Claudina's reply surprised me. She said: "She's already gone again. That woman is angry." I prodded her to tell me more. I had been living in Ilena's household for over a year and had become close to her and her family. "Ilena's husband hit her," Claudina informed me. "Ilena has gone to see a judge in Pocoata to ask that someone be arrested." Although I had heard of violent incidents between other community members (brothers; sisters-in-law, mothers-in-law, and daughters-in-law; as well as spouses), I had never seen any evidence of violence between Ilena and Marcelino.


Concerned by Claudina's news, in Ilena's absence I tried to find out more about what had happened. One woman told me that a lot of talk about Ilena had been circulating in the community during the week I had been gone. The week before my own trip to Sucre, Ilena had gone to the city of Cochabamba to visit her oldest children. She left her husband, Marcelino, in charge of their two youngest children, twelve and ten years old. Ilena's visit lasted longer than expected. Even before I left for Sucre, people began asking Marcelino about Ilena's whereabouts. One woman told me that on the night before Ilena finally arrived home a man named Julio had been prodding Ilena's husband, asking, "Where is your wife? Where is your wife?" The two men were drunk; they had been pouring libations and drinking at a funeral. When Ilena returned home the next morning, Marcelino scolded her, accusing her of infidelity. Claudina suggested that Marcelino might have said to Ilena, "Where have you been! Are we going to separate now?" Another woman said that perhaps Marcelino had asked Ilena, "Why would Julio ask me, 'Where is your wife?' Maybe you are walking with him now!"


I assumed that Ilena had gone to the judge in Pocoata to ask that her husband be arrested. A law against domestic violence had been signed in December 1995 by President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Supported and promoted by international development organizations such as United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF), the law had received much media attention. The commercial that aired most often on Sullk'ata radios began with a woman crying and a man yelling in the background. A male voiceover then said, "I have seen many women come to my medical clinic like this. Now, with the Law against Familial Violence, women are protected." Ilena knew about the law, for we had heard the commercials together many times as we sat preparing dinner.


When I finally had the chance to talk with Ilena late in the afternoon the next day, I realized that I was mistaken. Ilena had not gone to the judge to complain about her husband's violence. More subdued than usual but with no apparent bruises or cuts, Ilena explained that her husband had hit her because of the envy and gossip of other people in the community. First, she told me, she went to the godmother of her marriage (madrina de matrimonio, Sp.) to ask for advice. Her godmother, who lived in the town of Pocoata, encouraged her to see the judge. The judge told Ilena that other people should not be gossiping about her: "They should not be talking about you, they have no reason." Ilena added: "But they talk and talk, and then when Marcelino is drunk he hits me. He hits me then because of their talk about me. The señoras talk a lot, don't they? It's because of envy [envidia, Sp.]." Ilena told me that people envied her because she earned money by selling corn beer and because three of her children were at the university in Cochabamba. I suspected that she was envied for other reasons as well, including my presence in her household. Although envy is understood by Sullk'atas to cause physical and metaphysical damage to the envied person, the harm cannot be easily tracked back to any particular individual.


I did not have long to contemplate Ilena's analysis of the situation. The provincial judge arrived in Kallpa the following day. He had walked for more than two hours along the unpaved road in his black dress shoes in order to reach the community. On his back he carried a manual typewriter wrapped in a colorful machine-made carrying cloth. The church bells rang to announce a meeting, and community members gathered on top of the low rise just beyond the barren central plaza. The judge introduced the purpose of his visit without much preamble, speaking about the problem involving three community members: Marcelino, Ilena, and Julio. He allowed each of them in turn to state his or her view of what had happened. Then the judge reprimanded the community members for "not living like brothers and sisters" and told Julio that he must publicly apologize for his malicious talk. Julio complied, going first to Marcelino and Ilena and then around the circle of gathered community members, bending down to shake hands, clasp elbows, and kiss each person in a highly formalized gesture of respect. Julio said that he had been drunk and could not remember exactly what he had said to Marcelino that night.


The judge set up his typewriter on a chair that someone had carried out from the primary school. Outside in the wind he typed a document, an "Act of Contrition," using carbon paper in triplicate. Those present at the meeting had discussed the judge's suggestion that a fine be levied on people who talk maliciously about others in the community. Few wanted to contribute to the conversation. While the judge typed, most of the community members who had come to the meeting wandered away, silently walking down the hill back to their homes, ignoring the judge's calls to wait. Only a few remained to sign the document or mark their thumbprint upon the page. In the agreement, which he read to those still assembled, the judge had written that there should be no more talking about each other within the community. If someone maligned another person, whether drunk or not, in the presence of witnesses, then a fine of 1,000 bolivianos (at that time roughly US$250) could be levied, an exorbitant amount of money for most people of the community.


A few days after the community meeting, I traveled again, saddened by leaving behind the friends that I had made in Sullk'ata and burdened with unanswered questions about the events of my last week. As it turned out, I would not be able to make a return trip to Kallpa until five years later, in August 2001. By then Ilena and her husband had migrated from the community to the city of Cochabamba so that the entire family could live together while the remainder of their children attended high school.


This incident allows no simple interpretation, yet it may serve as a touchstone for exploring the intimacies and hierarchies of relatedness and examining the construction of reality through everyday interactions. Drawn from my informal conversations with Sullk'atas, my observation and tape-recording of the community meeting, and my fieldnotes on the events of that week, the story that I have pieced together is not simply a tale of gendered violence in which a man abuses a woman or of the power hierarchy within a marriage. The series of events also indicates a woman's active attempts to contest public opinion. In claiming to be envied and to be harmed by that envy, Ilena endeavors to maintain a particular kind of relationship with her husband. She also negotiates other relationships as well, consolidating associations and coping with antagonisms, through her interactions with her godmother, the judge, the resident anthropologist, her children, and other Sullk'ata women. Although it shows the ways in which state authorities intervene in the intimate lives of individuals, the story also reflects the ways in which Ilena's "private" business circulated in gossip. Long before I inscribed Sullk'atas' interactions in my fieldnotes or in the pages of this book, stories of this incident were told and retold. Balanced in part on the recognition of certain categorical relationships, these events also indicate how relationships are performed and constituted by individuals. In this situation, and in far more mundane circumstances, the talk and actions of Ilena and other Sullka'tas produce affective, social, political, and economic bonds.


This story and other stories threaded throughout the book illuminate the notion that relationships (between husbands and wives; brothers and sisters; parents and children; neighbors, strangers, and compadres; gringos and native Andeans) are subject to individual idiosyncrasies, local and national discourses, and the contingencies of events. These stories also serve to open windows onto broader issues. How do we understand the ways in which violence emerges among family members in spite of ideals of closeness, sociality, and conviviality? What might stories, and the act of telling stories, reveal to us about everyday life and social relationships? How do we represent others, recognizing both the structured configurations and the contingencies of their lives? In the pages that follow, I situate this storied example by briefly describing two broad theoretical and methodological currents—one based on gender, kinship, and power and the other on narrative and dialogism—and by discussing the context and methodology of my research in Sullk'ata.


Gender, Kinship, and Power


More than two decades ago, anthropologist Michelle Rosaldo (1980b:408-409) challenged scholars to examine not only the intricacies of kinship relationships but the hierarchies as well. Noting that "few analysts probe the various contents of familial bonds or ask how varying relationships within the home might influence relationships outside it," she urged us to acknowledge the ways in which our ideas about families are so commonsensical that the specific affective, social, political, and economic parameters of other people and places are lost in our assumptions.


[T]hat people elsewhere do not view domestic groupings as the close familial groups we know, that warmth and altruism are rarely the unique prerogatives of close coresident kin—in short, that we cannot presume to know just what, in any case, it means to be a parent, sibling, spouse or child—are things too rarely probed because we start by thinking that we know just what the answers are. (Rosaldo 1980b:408-409)


Since the turn of the twentieth century, anthropologists had done much to demonstrate that kinship structures varied widely across cultures. But by the 1970s Rosaldo and other feminist anthropologists were criticizing the ways in which anthropological analyses tied women to a "domestic sphere" or a specific "biological nature" (reproductive role or hormonal constitution) in their analyses of kinship. Drawing on her ethnographic work among the Ilongot of the Philippines and her engagement with feminist theory, Rosaldo argued for a further rethinking of the affective, social, and political bonds that link people together.


Integrating Gender and Kinship


Feminist anthropologists had already begun to question universal categories and the naturalness of particular relationships when they debated both the universality and the origins of women's subordination to men in the 1970s.


In a foundational work, Jane Collier and Sylvia Yanagisako (1987) integrated this attention to the cultural construction of gender with an attention to kinship. They first highlighted North American conceptions of gender by questioning "whether the particular biological difference in reproductive function that our culture defines as the basis of difference between males and females . . . is used by other societies to constitute the cultural categories of male and female" (Yanagisako and Collier 1987:48; my emphasis). They then criticized the parallel relationship between sexual reproduction and kinship—namely, the assumption that sexual reproduction is the universal biological base of kinship. In doing so, they recognized that gender and kinship might be unified into one field of analysis.


Collier and Yanagisako drew on the earlier work of David Schneider (1968, 1972, 1984), who famously argued that the category of kinship should be discarded. Based on a symbolic analysis of North American kinship, Schneider (1968) demonstrated that "kinship" as an analytical category was grounded in European and North American concerns, specifically the notion reflected in the phrase "blood is thicker than water." Kinship analysis as practiced by anthropologists thus obscured rather than illuminated locally significant categories and relationships. Not satisfied with a symbolic analysis, Collier and Yanagisako integrated attention to gender and power. Their argument has been productive, leading to studies examining the variety of ways in which people in different social contexts and historical moments understand reproduction and addressing socially significant relationships based upon different arrays of "natural facts."


Like other scholars I have found gender to be crucial to making sense of Sullk'ata kinship. "Gender" here refers not simply to women. It is an analytic category in which the differences, and the power asymmetries, between men and women are denaturalized—located in particular historical moments, social institutions, cultural meanings, and political economies. In the 1980s scholars and activists also pointed out that identity and inequality are experienced along multiple trajectories simultaneously. Consequently, gender cannot be experientially or analytically isolated from other aspects of power, such as race or sexuality. In other words, it is necessary to examine the "differences among women" as well as the differences between women and men to understand gender. Age, affinity (or in-law relationships), race, and class are among the important categories that mutually reinforce or constrain gender in Sullk'ata. Although gender is not always the most salient nexus of power, and rarely stands alone, gender is rarely absent from everyday social life.


Attention to power relationships has been integrally linked to gender analysis and thus to the new kinship studies. One of the ways in which scholars have traced hierarchies has been to explore how kinship and gender, as well as other domains such as race, are normalized (e.g., Yanagisako and Delany 1995). The "naturalness" of certain categories or identities or actions seems to emerge from an individual's personal experience, obscuring the ways in which these are also structured and always entail relations of domination and subordination, as Michel Foucault (1972, 1978) has demonstrated. Practice theories (e.g., Bourdieu 1977; Certeau 1984; Williams 1961, 1977) have also enhanced understandings of both the habitual dispositions that shape people's actions and the dynamic processes through which social actors produce, reinforce, and reshape cultures and cultural domains by their words and actions. The perceived naturalness, everydayness, and common sense of a domain or discourse reflect its hegemony, its lived domination. At the same time, hegemony is never complete (Williams 1977:110-113; see also Abu-Lughod 1990; Ahearn 2001a). Human beings are born into an already ongoing social and historical context, into a world of relationships and interactions. Analyzing the complexities of "relatedness" (Carsten 2000) thus requires understanding the ways in which relationships of power are differently constituted and contested in the everyday lives of individuals.


Affinity, Affect, and Violence


As is evident from the story about Ilena, in Sullk'ata one important locus of power is the relationship between affines or in-laws. In Sullk'ata people must marry and have children to be considered adults. As in other societies, the social, economic, and political centrality of marriage reinforces a compulsory heterosexuality (Rubin 1975). Scholars of the Andean region have explored the symbolic ideals of gender opposition and complementarity (Allen 2002; Harris 1978, 1981; Isbell 1978) as well as the hierarchies that characterize the relationship between spouses (Harris 1978, 1994; Harvey 1994). Married couples do not operate in a vacuum, however, and women may also navigate relations of hierarchy and ambiguity with other women, especially their mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, as much as with their husbands.


Marriage produces both affective bonds and arenas of contestation that are crucial to understanding the daily burdens and benefits of relatedness more generally. As much as a married couple is viewed as a unit, referred to as qusawarmi (husband-wife), marriage also embeds Sullk'atas in a broad network of relationships. Married couples traditionally live together in the household of the husband's parents for the initial two to five years of marriage. A daughter-in-law often works for her mother-in-law long after she has a household and family of her own to maintain. Once married, both men and women accumulate relationships of compadrazgo (spiritual kinship, Sp.), through the birth and baptisms, graduations, and marriages of their own and others' children. Both men and women develop arrays of labor exchange relationships crucial to the subsistence economy. As Evelyn Blackwood (2000:13) notes, the negotiation of social identities and relationships is also an expression of power that takes place in a multiplicity of ordinary daily practices.


Women and men, young and old, put energy and effort into maintaining relationships and treasure their families and friends. The physical violence that I mention in this Introduction and discuss more thoroughly in Chapter 6 occurs infrequently in Sullk'ata and is also, of course, part of a broader pattern of domestic violence that occurs among individuals of virtually all social classes, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and ages. Integrating consideration of ambiguities and antagonisms into a discussion of relatedness, however, disrupts the tendency to reduce the strategic interactions and practices of individuals to static structures or biological givens (cf. Peletz 2001).


For many North Americans, the "obvious" aspect of kinship that families are composed of individuals with bonds of genetic inheritance—is overlaid with an assumption of intimacy or conviviality. Family members are assumed to have some essential bond, some deep-seated connection of feeling. During the early part of the twentieth century, the analysis of the sociality of everyday life or affective relations between kin was elided by an emphasis on the formal interrelationships of groups. Since then anthropologists have recognized the ambivalences and attachments in kinship relationships and practices and have shown how gender and other trajectories of power influence kinship. Few anthropologists, however, have explored just how the affective aspects of relatedness emerge between people in the process of their interactions.


Relatedness in Dialogue


My close attention to tracing the intimacies and the hierarchies of social and affective relationships is coupled with an emphasis on developing an analytical framework that takes account of how kinship is lived among people with diverse experiences of identity and inequality, within and between households and communities that can no longer be viewed as isolated from global processes and transnational discourses. I focus in particular on the embodied, linguistic and social activity of telling stories. As human beings, we engage in face-to-face interaction in our everyday lives. In the small rural communities of Sullk'ata, narrative and everyday talk more generally are especially significant to affective, social, and political economic relationships. Relatedness is produced through the joint or dialogical interactions among people.


In emphasizing the dialogical production of relatedness, I follow an approach to culture and language that draws on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin (1981). The term "dialogical" refers, most basically, to dialogue or talk between two people. Bakhtin (1981) developed the notion of dialogism to describe the form of the novel and challenge the assumption that a word has simply one meaning intended by the author. Words bear the traces of those who have used them in the past and can never be completely appropriated as one's own. Although originally referencing a relationship between author and reader, the concept of dialogism has been used increasingly in the social sciences to recognize the multiple meanings and interpretations, and social relationships and subjectivities, that emerge between people in their talk and actions. Not only do participants interpret and evaluate each other's words and actions in the course of an event, but no single individual may control the meanings and relationships that transpire.


Throughout this book I bring to the forefront the creative ways in which people (speakers and hearers, informants and anthropologists) locate themselves in stories and relationships. Narratives are important because of the social interactions through which they materialize and the social relationships and affective bonds that they produce as much as for the information they contain. People tell stories in order to socialize and spread news as well as to make sense of those more troubling or problematic events of their lives. In Sullk'ata, stories circulate within a community and move beyond the community, as people evaluate each other's words and actions, local historical events (such as the passage of a law against domestic violence or the arrival of an anthropologist), and even broader discourses of progress and modernization. Yet narratives have been little explored in relation to the sociality of everyday life and the constitution of relatedness in the Andean region.


Drawing on folktales and personal narratives that were primarily told in conversations and interviews and on observations of daily practices and ritual events, I analyze the ways in which social relationships are established by examining multiple levels of dialogue within these texts. First, at a formal level, narratives may be dialogical because individuals depend upon other participants in the conversation—other interlocutors—to contribute to and shape what is said. In the Bolivian Andes, for example, two or more people may jointly tell a narrative in conversation as they add to, contradict, question, and elaborate upon each other's words. Often the recounting of events and interpretations that occurs in everyday interaction is formally dialogical and thus far more open-ended and embedded in the context of a particular situation than a western traditional notion of a narrative would assume (e.g., Mannheim and Van Vleet 1998; Ochs and Capps 2001). A narrator may not have an interpretation or overarching plotline already developed when she introduces a character or event. Interlocutors, rather than listening silently to a seamless story of linear chronology or causality, may add their own details or ask questions as well as give back-channel responses such as "yes" and "and then . . ." to keep a story going or change its course. Interlocutors may also remain silent about other conversations, concurrent events, or their own interpretations.


Second, as people tell stories, they also include the words, voices, and styles of others—some present and others not. Thus I also analyze the embedded dialogue in texts. Narratives, whether formally solicited and recorded on tape or spontaneously told in gossip, are dialogical because they contain the words of others as direct and indirect quotations. Embedded or reported speech is ubiquitous in the narratives of Sullk'atas as well as those of many other societies (e.g., Irvine 1996). Moreover, narratives are also dialogical at a third level, because people draw on and refer to other texts—conversations, ritual events, stories, personal histories—to make sense of an interaction as it is in process and even days or years after the event. I explicitly analyze the intertextual dialogue of Sullk'ata narratives by elaborating upon some of the coexisting texts relevant to a particular event. Intertextuality is also an implicit aspect of my analysis, as I draw on additional texts (only some of which are included here) to make sense of Sullk'ata stories, events, and relationships.


Meanings of linguistic and social interactions are also closely linked to the particular situations in which those interactions take place. People interpret narratives in terms of their own experiences, the histories of interaction of various interlocutors, and the context in which a story is told. These aspects of social relationship and narrative engagement are significant to the ways in which relatedness and conflict are played out and interpreted in Sullk'ata. By tracing multiple and overlapping layers of dialogue in texts and highlighting how everyday practices and talk occur in specific circumstances, I demonstrate how relatedness is a mutual production among people and how multiple interpretations of relationships, and stories, emerge and are negotiated in particular situations.


Beyond the domains of written narrative and spoken dialogue, the term "dialogism" also encompasses the complex and layered configurations of talk and action in the (physical or imagined) presence of multiple others. A dialogical perspective on narrative thus has implications for understanding cultural arenas more generally. As Bruce Mannheim and Dennis Tedlock (1995:8) point out, "the task becomes one of identifying the social conditions of the emergence of linguistic and cultural forms, of their distribution among speakers, and of subjectivity itself as an embodied constellation of voices." Identities and relationships are not so much located in the intentions of individual actors as emergent in the practices among actors, which no individual may completely control (see also Hirsch 1998). Not located within an individual or lodged in static structures, relatedness emerges in between embodied individuals in joint performances that act upon the situation at hand but that may not directly reference "relatedness" at all.


The Ethnographic Context


My discussion of relatedness is situated in an apparently out-of-the-way place that is nevertheless integrated into national and global political economies. The region of Sullk'ata encompasses eight small and widely dispersed communities, including Kallpa, the community of fifty families where I lived for the majority of my twenty months of field research in the region. The communities and territory that make up Sullk'ata are located between 11,000 and 13,000 feet above sea level in the northern part of the Department of Potosí, in the Province of Chayanta. Chayanta is one of the poorest provinces in Bolivia, which is, in turn, one of the poorest nations of Latin America. Bolivia has a long history of colonial and postcolonial economic extraction, political unrest, and entrenched social stratification.


Living at elevations too high to support trees and too dry to support ample vegetation, Sullk'atas depend upon herding sheep and llamas and planting a variety of crops for their subsistence. Yet they are not isolated peasants. Most Sullk'ata families depend on wage labor as well as subsistence agriculture for their survival. Much migration is seasonal, with married men typically traveling to the city or to lowland agricultural regions after their own fields have been planted. Unmarried men and women also migrate to cities to go to school, serve their year of mandatory military service, work as domestic servants or day laborers, or just visit family and friends.


The day-to-day demands of locating water and pasture for animals, feeding children, plowing fields with oxen or hand-held tools, harvesting and storing crops, and maintaining relationships of reciprocity with supernatural forces absorb the time, energy, and thoughts of most Sullk'atas. During most of the year, brown is the predominate color of the Sullk'ata landscape. The adobe houses grouped around the hard-packed earth of a central plaza reflect the muted colors of the rounded mountains of Kinsa Kallpa, Aramani, and Wayna Kachi. August is the coldest and driest month, when fields are turned over in preparation for the plowing and planting that occurs in September and October. In spite of the altitude and the scarcity of water, Sullk'atas plant many varieties of potatoes as well as other tubers such as oka and papa lisa and grains such as wheat, quinoa, and barley on the steep slopes of the mountains that undulate throughout the territory. Those individuals with lands at lower elevations also plant corn, fava beans, and peas, plowing the flatter fields with teams of oxen rather than with the hand-held tools necessary at higher elevations. In the short rainy season from December to March, the sides of the mountains rising behind the community are brightened by the pale fluorescent green of wheat fields, the dark green of potato plants laced with purple and white flowers, and the emerald green of young corn plants.


This transformation of the earth's aspect by the new growth is more than a beautiful sign of the change of seasons. It reflects a much broader set of cosmological and material relationships through which Sullk'atas understand their world and navigate their everyday relationships. The earth is animate, gendered, and sacred. Pacha Mama (Earth Mother) nurtures the plants, animals, and human beings. The potatoes growing within Pacha Mama, and on individual plots of land that are sometimes called wirjines (little virgins) or mamitas (little mothers), sustain human beings. The springs of water that flow down the mountains as creeks and rivers are female forces as well. In contrast, mountains (urqus) are male forces that control hail and thunder, produce wealth, and dominate the landscape through which people traverse, daily and seasonally, as they plant potatoes, herd sheep and llamas, and travel to work in cities. The larger mountains are older and more powerful. The gendering of the cosmos, which extends from the land to the sun and moon, from the constellations to the underworld, intertwines Andean Catholics' conceptions of sacred time and place with the regeneration of life—the birth of lambs, the flowering of plants, and the reproduction of households and communities.


Everyday life in Sullk'ata is also permeated with efforts to maintain relationships of reciprocity between human and supernatural beings. Sullk'atas constantly remember the forces of the land through their ch'allas or libations. An integral aspect of all Catholic fiestas and rituals as well as certain activities such as planting, weaving, and harvesting, ch'allas feed the Earth Mother and mountains so that Sullk'atas may themselves be fed. Making libations also reinforces relationships of sociality among human beings.


Additionally, Sullk'atas create relationships of reciprocity through exchanges of labor and products between individuals. In ayni, the most fundamental form of reciprocity, an individual performs a service with the expectation that the service will be reciprocated in kind. As Mannheim (1991b:90) argues, ayni is at once a "comprehensive principle governing the conduct of social life" and "an assumption about how the world is organized." During certain times of the year, especially planting season, labor is in high demand. Individuals develop networks of labor exchange so that they may access the labor of people who are not their kin. Married couples do not exchange labor as a unit. Instead, all labor exchange follows a gender division of labor, with women exchanging labor with other women and men exchanging labor with other men. For Sullk'atas, giving in ayni—whether working in a neighbor's field, feeding the supernatural forces, or helping to build a road—establishes a moral obligation for the labor to be returned.


Peoples' lives are shaped by the broader context of the Bolivian state even though the consumer bustle of cities, national debates over bilingual education, and the political protests of coca growers may at times seem to be a world away. For example, most Sullk'atas speak the Quechua language in their daily interactions. Quechua, the administrative language of the Inca, was systematically spread through the Andean region during the colonial period at the expense of many local indigenous languages as the Spanish attempted to subdue and missionize the diverse ethnic groups of the region (Mannheim 1992). In Sullk'ata and the Province of Chayanta more generally, the shift from the indigenous language Aymara to Quechua has been more recent, taking place in the last several generations (Howard-Malverde 1995). A few of the elderly grandfathers and grandmothers speak Aymara as well as Quechua. Several Sullk'atas also speak some Spanish, which they have learned by attending public school, working in Bolivian cities, and serving in the military.


Most Sullk'atas are also Catholics, missionized in the seventeenth century by the Spanish. Their everyday lives and ritual events are tied to the annual ritual cycle of the Catholic Church. Both Catholic and evangelical Protestant missionaries are still active in the region. Catholic nuns and priests recognize Sullk'atas as Catholics and work to reeducate them about the proper beliefs and practices of the religion. The nuns teach in the local public high school, lead classes on baptism and marriage, and operate a clinic in the region.


The neoliberal reforms of the late twentieth century, including the closing of mines in the highlands and the privatization of national industries, as well as the increase in the coca and cocaine trade, have also created specific political economic conditions that have had an impact on familial relationships in Sullk'ata. By the mid-1990s, for example, young single women were migrating in increasing numbers to urban regions of Bolivia to work as domestic servants. Young women often found work more easily than did single or married men. Although most women returned to the rural region to marry, in recent years some young wives have refused to live with and work for their in-laws, reconfiguring expected residency patterns and strong moral and material obligations to the older generation.


Other young couples have drastically reduced the amount of time they live with the husband's parents by buying building materials, household items, and land with money earned by both partners prior to marriage rather than relying on exchanges of labor to build a house. Once a young couple establishes a separate household, the daughter-in-law is less entangled in kinship and labor obligations to her in-laws. Because daily habitual interactions are crucial to maintaining kinship relationships (see Chapter 2), refusing to live with in-laws removes daughters-in-law from one significant affective and social context through which they are made into kin.


Sullk'atas draw upon layers of personal experience, local and national discourses, and the relations of power and privilege that these entail, as they negotiate the practices and meanings of relatedness. In particular, discourses of relatedness among Sullk'atas are sometimes intertwined with national discourses of "progress" and modernization. Men who have worked in the city may mobilize discourses of being more advanced (avansado, Sp.) than their wives, sometimes using their earnings to buy new shoes for themselves rather than gifts for their families. Women also mobilize these discourses as well. Daughters-in-law may criticize the "backwardness" of their mothers-in-law and recount stories of a "more civilized" life in the city in order to contest their own subordination to older women affines. Mothers-in-law sometimes resort to physical violence in an attempt to reinstate their authority over daughters-in-law. Although Sullk'atas would not admit to envying another person, a person who claims to be envied implicitly draws attention to his or her access to commodities and relationships beyond the subsistence sphere. Thus Sullk'atas collude with and contest national discourses and relationships of inequality as they actively construct relatedness.


Ethnography and Reflexivity


A Methodological Interlude


The question of how to go about making sense of the relationships of those who have very different understandings of the world is not new to the discipline of anthropology. I have approached the problem of how to understand the emergence of relatedness in everyday life among Sullk'atas by gathering information related to three different methodological frames. First, I have explored the everyday habitual practices in which Sullk'atas are engaged. These practices contribute to an aesthetics or sensibility of relatedness (e.g., Bourdieu 1977; Desjarlais 1992) even though people may not explicitly talk about kinship. Second, I have also examined performed or narrated interactions in which the intimacies and hierarchies of relatedness are explicitly negotiated. Finally, I have collected information on local historical events and national discourses that shaped Sullk'ata social interactions and relationships. Integrating these three sets of information has allowed me to recognize configurations of relationships and practices that are significant to Sullk'atas and to link the meanings of talk and actions to specific situations.


In order to collect information in each of these arenas, I used several different methods.


1. Participant Observation


I learned a tremendous amount about Sullk'atas' lives as well as their desires and concerns and their understandings of the world by living in the region for an extended period. Daily practices are imbued with meaning for Sullk'atas: the food one eats, the water one drinks, the people with whom one works all have material, social, political, and spiritual impact upon one's body and network of relationships. I became integrated into the community through the accumulation of my daily interactions with people and by entering into relationships of compadrazgo. In addition, in spite of the local politics of living with a family, I chose to do so in order to acquire an intimate understanding of relationships within and between households, refine my Quechua language skills more rapidly, and ease the strain of loneliness that living without friends and family created. After about three months of living alone in the community of Kallpa, I was invited to live with Ilena's family.


Whenever possible, I spent extended periods among women and their children, spouses, and in-laws. I also paid close attention to tracing people's networks of labor exchange and compadrazgo relationships. I participated in daily activities such as planting and harvesting, preparing food, and making corn beer as well as in the annual cycle of community and regional festivals, work projects, and life course events. Finally, I accumulated information about the broader sociohistorical context of Bolivia as well as locally relevant historical events and histories of relationships among people in Sullk'ata. I gained day-to-day information from radio broadcasts and discussions with community members. I also observed Catholic marriage classes taught to Sullk'atas.


2. Conversational Narratives


In order to understand more explicit negotiation of relatedness, I recorded instances of talk and embodied interaction both on audiotape and in writing. Initially, I formally solicited narratives with the help of an assistant. As I became increasingly integrated into Sullk'ata social life, I realized that narratives more often arose spontaneously in conversations. I tape-recorded several hours of naturally occurring conversations with the permission of Sullk'atas (see the analyses of these conversational narratives in Chapters 4 and 5). I also participated in endless hours of unrecorded informal conversation and gossip (Van Vleet 2003b).


3. Fieldnotes


I took extensive fieldnotes in order to document everyday interactions and practices, ritual events, instances of emotional expression, and historical events. I also took notes on the contexts of interviews, naturally occurring conversations, and narratives. When Sullk'atas did not want to be tape-recorded during an interview, I took notes during the conversation and immediately afterward. I integrate some of the fieldnotes into the following chapters.


4. Open-Ended Interviews


I conducted open-ended interviews on marriage with three generations of married couples. These interviews focused on memories of the events leading up to marriage, wedding rituals, and relationships among affines. I primarily interviewed women and men individually. Four interviews were conducted with the help of an assistant; during these interviews both the husband and wife were present, but the husband was the primary participant. I have determined generational boundaries through attention to local events such as the initiation of marriage classes by the Catholic Church, generational terms employed by Sullk'atas, and historical research in the archives of the local Catholic diocese and the regional archbishopric based on marriage records for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The relatively small numbers of informants for the interviews (twenty-eight) allowed me to collect rich contextual data and detailed descriptions of individual experiences.


Reflections on Fieldwork


I quite explicitly concentrated my research on the ethnographic details of people's lives in the rural communities of Sullk'ata. In spite of their long history of engagements with "external" social, cultural, and political economic institutions, Sullk'ata conceptions of the world—and of relatedness more specifically—may be quite opaque to outsiders. Of the twenty-three months of fieldwork for this project (from December 1994 to July 1996; in March 2001; in August 2001; and from January to March 2003), I spent about twenty months in Sullk'ata and the remainder of the time in the cities of Sucre and Cochabamba. Thus I include discussion of the national social and political economic context and its impact on local relations, but this alone cannot illuminate the lives of Sullk'atas. I nevertheless challenge the image of a timeless rural native Andean, "lo andino" (Starn 1991, 1994; see also Salman and Zoomers 2003), by accentuating the complex heterogeneity of relationships among people, even in small rural enclaves; tracing the ways in which everyday talk is embedded in local historical events; and considering the contradictory ways in which power, identity, and intimacy are intertwined.


Wherever the ultimate location(s) of fieldwork may be, ethnographic research takes place among particularly positioned people, in specific situations, and during certain historical moments. Of course, people continue creating and revising their lives long after the anthropologist has gone; but it is just as important that people have certain relationships with each other and experiences of the world before an anthropologist arrives. Like other anthropologists, I was drawn into already ongoing histories of relationships among interlocutors and became part of other people's "scripts" or frameworks for making sense of interactions (Behar 1995; DeBernardi 1995; Mannheim and Tedlock 1995). Anthropologists are also constrained by the contingencies of situations and may have very different understandings of what is going on than their interlocutors do. Especially in the initial months in an unfamiliar community, ethnographers often depend upon different assumptions about and ability to negotiate the verbal and nonverbal cues of interaction, a shallower history of relationships, and a variable array of social knowledges (Mannheim and Tedlock 1995:14). During the course of ethnographic fieldwork, I constantly reinterpreted and reevaluated my understandings of people's talk and actions and of events more generally. At the same time, my informants—friends, collaborators, acquaintances, interlocutors—made their own interpretations of me, drew on previous knowledges, revised and challenged each other, and stayed silent.


My understanding of Sullk'ata relatedness has developed over the course of several years, through the depth of my relationships with a core of people and the diversity of social interactions, observations, and events in which I have been engaged. A final aspect of my research that bears mentioning here is that most of my day-to-day interactions in the community of Kallpa and more generally in Sullk'ata took place among married women. There is no rule explicitly prohibiting a woman from being in the presence of men, whether kin or stranger. Nevertheless, men and women often operate quite independently of each other. To a certain extent, this corresponds with the division of labor by gender. Women have primary responsibility for herding sheep, cooking, caring for children, washing clothes, and maintaining the household. Men, when they are not working in the city, have primary responsibility for the agricultural fields and tending oxen. Although they eat and sleep together and often work side by side in their fields, women and men gravitate toward separate spheres of relationships.


Women also say that they simply prefer the company of women. Early in the course of fieldwork, because of the questions I was interested in pursuing and as a strategy for becoming integrated into the community, I chose to follow local gender conventions and spend most of my time with women. Indeed, much of my understanding of the conflict and contradiction as well as the camaraderie in Sullk'ata relationships is refracted through informal conversations with Sullk'ata women. Some became my friends or ritual kin; others were simply my neighbors or acquaintances; many were linked to each other by kinship or ritual kinship ties.


Ethnography and Dialogue


In this ethnography I represent Sullk'ata relatedness, both the communality and the conflict, through retellings of stories. I begin with my own rendering of the story about Ilena, but I also draw readers into other stories interwoven throughout this book. Through the retelling of stories, none of them completely mine, I explore the interrelationships of narrative, relatedness, and violence among Sullk'atas. I present these stories, and my interpretations, to demonstrate that husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, strangers and compadres, gringos and native Andeans are not simply categories but rather actors in dynamic relationships negotiated on a daily basis.


In the process I also hope to give readers a sense of the dialogical process of ethnography. Thus I inscribe Sullk'atas' words and actions into this text. I represent the voices of others through transcriptions and translations of tape-recorded interviews and conversations and through entries from my fieldnotes included as quotations or citations embedded in a larger text. The extended quotations demonstrate the ways in which an ethnographer and her interlocutors mutually create the conditions for the form and content of ethnography and allow for a process of reinterpretation and revision. The ethnography is thus dialogical in the sense that it is permeated by multiple voices.


At the same time, I am the one who has chosen whose voices to include and whose to exclude. Even before determining the form and content of this book, I made decisions about what questions to ask, how to transcribe and translate the words of my Quechua-speaking collaborators, and how to represent the spoken words and actions of people as printed texts. Quechua does not have an extensive tradition of written literature—its traditional texts are spoken words, woven textiles, music, and theatrical performances (e.g., Howard-Malverde 1997). But the problem is even more general: inscribing people's words and actions into fieldnotes, audiotapes, or published texts freezes them in time. As philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1981:198) has noted, "In living speech, the instance of discourse has the character of a fleeting event. The event appears and disappears. This is why there is a problem of fixation of inscription. What we want to fix is what disappears."


Thus transcriptions and translations are not neutral; they are always already interpretations. The written transcriptions themselves can be extremely important in conveying meaning, and I used a variety of forms with the recognition that different facets of meaning or aspects of social action and interaction are highlighted or obscured in different forms (Hymes 1980; Irvine 1996; Ochs 1979; Tedlock 1983). Throughout this ethnography, words in quotation marks are drawn from taped recordings or from notes written during the conversation. Because the Quechua texts are significant pieces of evidence that only some readers will be equipped to read, I have included Quechua excerpts in Appendix A and Appendix B but have discussed translation of words and phrases throughout the book. I do this advisedly: as Walter Benjamin (1992:79) notes, "Fidelity in the translation of individual words can almost never fully reproduce the meaning they have in the original." In general, I have tried to render the words of Sullk'atas as faithfully as possible and wherever possible have included longer stretches of speech. I do not present these as perfect translations but as vehicles to carry readers toward meanings that are significant for Sullk'atas.


In the pages of my ethnographic text, I also initiate a discussion of the ways in which people position and reposition themselves in their interactions. By analyzing the relationships between the anthropologist and her interlocutors, rather than leaving them as subtexts, I bring ethnographic interactions into the field of analysis. Although I have given the community in which I lived and the individuals with whom I worked pseudonyms to protect them from any potential harm or embarrassment, I have not created composites of individuals or fictional events. I also represent myself as "an other," as having occupied and occupying different positionalities and remembering events and conversations in particular ways.


In taking this approach I may reinforce the "I was there" claim to authority that literary critic James Clifford (1983) rightly points out to be one of the major tropes of ethnography. However, the "clues" (Ginzburg 1989) that we draw on as interlocutors in the process of interactions impinge on what questions we can ask as ethnographers. The relationship between what a person tells an anthropologist and the situation in which that telling takes place is crucial to the meanings that emerge. Writing from a "situated position" (Haraway 1991) may thus refer to those interactional clues as much as to a reflexive rendering of the gender, racial, ethnic, and sexual categories that a researcher may fit into.16 The conversation between sisters overheard, pages of fieldnotes written under the gaze of children, the conditions of interviewing married couples, and even the books read by lantern-light may be seen as positioning the ethnographer and contributing to the sentimental and epistemological layerings of evidence.


My representation of Sullk'ata relatedness is from this perspective partial, in both senses of the term. Interpretations are shaped by individuals' experiences, their relationships with each other, and the more general social and historical context. Even within a small community, people voice different understandings of the same events. And I have been able to include the words of only a few Sullk'atas in these pages. In writing about Sullk'ata and representing relatedness in a text, the very processes of navigating relationships that transpire in everyday life may also fade to the background. In highlighting the complex ways in which people narrate stories, collude with and contest multiple hierarchies, and claim identities, however, I hope that I have also illuminated Sullk'atas' active participation in the construction of social reality and affective social relations.


Mapping a Terrain of Inquiry


This ethnography is divided into two parts. In the first three chapters I introduce the theoretical stance from which I explore relatedness and the ethnographic context of Sullk'ata. The remaining chapters examine the narratives and practices through which Sullk'atas navigate relationships, both sociable and hierarchical.


In Chapter 2, "Sullk'ata Contexts: Reflections on Identities and Localities," I describe local practices of social and economic exchange that characterize Sullk'ata and broader social and political economic relationships in Bolivia. As I give voice to Sullk'ata perceptions of a clear distinction between the countryside and the city, I also demonstrate the ways in which Sullk'atas navigate national and even transnational discourses and relationships. In Chapter 3, "Circulation of Care: A Primer on Sullk'ata Relatedness," I explore the ways in which Sullk'atas naturalize the intimacies and hierarchies of kinship relationships. By juxtaposing the relationship of parents and children with the relationship of brothers, I show how relatedness is understood and enacted through a paradigm of ayni or reciprocity rather than genetics or "blood." These chapters provide a broad theoretical and ethnographic background for the social, cultural, and political economic issues that I discuss in the following chapters.


In Chapter 4, "Narrating Sorrow, Performing Relatedness: A Story Told in Conversation," I analyze the conventional contexts and expression of llakikuy (sorrow) as an arena for the performance of kinship. Drawing on a narrative told in conversation, I show how Sullk'atas may produce relatedness with participants in the speech event as well as characters in the story. In Chapter 5, "Storied Silences: Adolescent Desires, Gendered Agency, and the Practice of Stealing Women," I analyze a series of "intertexts" about the practices of marriage initiation. Warmi suway (stealing a woman or wife) is considered by many Sullk'atas to be both customary and "uncivilized." Drawing on folk stories told in conversation as well as interviews, informal conversations, and fieldnotes, I trace the multiple meanings that emerge in spite of the silences around the event.


Chapter 6, "Reframing the Married Couple: Affect and Exchange in Three Parts," describes the ways in which discourses of companionate marriage, consumption, and debt shape relationships between spouses. Through the juxtaposition of narrative accounts of different generations of married couples and observed interactions during wedding fiestas and Catholic wedding classes, I explore the ways in which Sullk'atas reconfigure national (and transnational) discourses of progress in terms of relatedness.


In Chapter 7, " 'Now My Daughter Is Alone': Violence and the Ambiguities of Affinity," I use publicly circulating stories of the often ambiguous and sometimes physically violent relations among women and their in-laws to illuminate the articulation of broader social, economic, and political relations of power. The chapter complicates understandings of relatedness by bringing attention to conflict as well as camaraderie among women and understandings of violence by disrupting the distinction between the domestic and public realms.


Sullk'atas negotiate intimacies and hierarchies of relatedness through narrative performances and through the habitual practices of their everyday lives. In Chapter 8, "Conclusion: Reflections on the Dialogical Production of Relatedness," I argue for an approach to ethnography that integrates narrative analysis with ethnographic detail. By tracing the ways in which people's words and actions are situated in a particular moment of time and place and tied to broader social and historical contexts, I show how relatedness in Sullk'ata is lived and emergent in everyday performances of individuals. From this perspective, relatedness is not solely about the genealogical relationships between people but about the practices of connection—and disconnection—through which people maintain and contest the emotional, social, political, and material parameters of their daily lives. An approach that integrates attention to talk and actions, language and practice, enables anthropologists to understand more fully both the social parameters of specific narrative events and the broader discursive frameworks that they illuminate.



Performing Kinship makes a valuable contribution to the study of kinship, but its particular strength lies in the way it bridges an anthropology of relatedness and emotions to issues of political economy and globalization; it is also a wonderful ethnography of Andean life in its own right.”
Current Anthropology


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