Working Paper 126

Avuncular Terminology in Buriad Diaspora Relationships with both Homeland and Host Society

Sayana Namsaraeva

Siberian Studies Centre

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Working Paper 126

The significance of the kinship relationship between the mother’s brother and the sister’s son (avunculate) was one of the most discussed topics in the history of social anthropology. Two theories of pre-Schneiderian age – descent and alliance approaches – both consider avuncular relations as tense and contradictive, associated with certain privileges of the maternal uncle and his senior hierarchical position in relations to the ego. This paper tries to show the relevance of the classic anthropological theme for contemporary social and political realities in Buriad society, specifically to extend the discussion of the classificatory/metaphorical use of avuncular kinship terminology to a new context – that of diaspora relationships with both homeland and host society. There is a tendency in recent kinship studies to argue that kinship terminology can be employed very flexibly to handle relationships of various kinds, and that kinship terms should often be understood as referring to a kind of social relationship rather than to a specifically genealogical connection. Two cases, which I present in the paper, show how Buriad diaspora communities in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia (China) involve the avuncular relationship to define both their concerns and tensions in relations to colonisers in the homeland in Russia and the social inequality of migrants in the host society. This local phenomenon shows that kinship terminology continues to have a wider social significance, being used, for example, to express current inequalities of power and the impact of political changes on local experience.

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