"The Language of Gender: Problems and Counter-problems in Anthropological Description" - Marilyn Strathern

Event Date

Shields Library 360

For this event, we will pre-circulate a text. Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern will present a paper, and this will be followed by a lively discussion about the text and presentation. So please come having read the text in advance. Food and refreshments will be provided!

If you are interested in attending, please RSVP using the google form. We will send a copy of the text a week before the event to those who register.

Abstract: This is a work in progress paper, imagined as a kind of clearing ground.  What has to be cleared up, or out of the way, are formulations of gender and sexuality that at one stage seemed to be solutions to problems in the conceptualization of Melanesian social life.  Certain renderings of the ‘partible person’ or ‘androgyne’ are among are among those I have propagated, and they have since become problems too.  Perhaps the fineness of the line between maintaining responsibility for one’s words and recognizing when they have had their day justifies the personal nature of this account.

The presentation revisits vocabulary she used mostly in The Gender of the Gift—perhaps her most famous work. As background, and with “no need to absorb it” (her words in an email exchange) we will read Chapters 1, 5, and 8 from the book. The chapters are not ethnographic—rather they are a discussion of the work that analytical language does with or without the author’s explicit intention. “It is important what concepts we use to think concepts…” –the conversation may have that sentence as backdrop.

Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern is a British Anthropologist. Since 1985, she taught at Manchester University where she was Chair and head of the Social Anthropology Department. She subsequently held the William Wyse Professorship of Social Anthropology at Cambridge from 1993-2008 and Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge from 1998 to 2009.

Professor Dame Strathern's interests have been divided between Melanesian and British ethnography: Papua New Guinea has been a principal area of fieldwork, from 1964 to most recently in 2006, although she is also intrigued by developments in knowledge practices in the UK and Europe. Initial work on gender relations led in two directions: feminist scholarship and the new reproductive technologies (1980s-1990s), and legal systems and intellectual and cultural property (1970s, 1990-00s). She is most well known for The gender of the gift (1988), a critique of anthropological theories of society and gender relations applied to Melanesia, which she pairs with After nature: English kinship in the late twentieth century (1992), a comment on the cultural revolution at home. She is also well-known for her work on the comparative method called Partial connections (1991).

This event is sponsored by the Program in Science and Technology Studies, CSIS, and the Department of Anthropology.