In many non-industrial, non-Western societies, power and prestige are closely linked to the extent of an individual's or group's perceived connection to the supernatural realm, which also explains and validates tangible activities such as economic success, victories in war, or control over lucrative trade. Affines (in-laws), ancestors, and aristocrats, in particular, are connected to the realm of creative cosmological origins (i.e., to Genesis), which accords them distinctive, supernatural powers and gives them a natural and legitimate right to worldly authority.
This is the hypothesis that Mary W. Helms pursues in this broadly cross-cultural study of aristocracy in chiefly societies. She begins with basic ideas about the dead, ancestors, affines, and concepts of cosmological origins. This leads her to a discussion of cosmologically defined hierarchies, the qualities that characterize aristocracy, and the political and ideological roles of aristocrats as wife-givers and wife-takers (that is, as in-laws). She concludes by considering various models that explain how societies may develop or define aristocracies.
In recent years, different family types have begun demanding recognition to an unprecedented extent. Despite notable changes to our cultural and academic landscapes, however, adoptive families remain overlooked. According to census data, about two and a half percent of children in the United States are adopted. But mere numbers do not begin to indicate the profound impact that these families have on cultural definitions of kinship.
Adoptive Families in a Diverse Society brings together twenty-one prominent scholars to explore the experience, practice, and policy of adoption in North America. While much existing literature tends to stress the potential problems inherent in non-biological kinship, the essays in this volume consider adoptive family life in a broad and balanced context.
Essays explore our current fascination with genetics, showing how our intense belief that we are produced, shaped, and controlled by our genes has affected the authenticity and value that we credit to adoptive parent/child relations. Other essays look at identity development, community attitudes toward adoption, gay adoptive fathers’ experiences, the ways in which single mother adoptive families create kinship, and the ways in which cultural assumptions about race and class operate in the system.
Bringing new perspectives to the topics of kinship, identity, and belonging, this path-breaking book expands more than our understandings of adoptive family life; it urges us to rethink the limits and possibilities of diversity and assimilation in American society.
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