First-Year Studies: Making Connections: Gender, Sexuality, and Kinship From an Anthropological Perspective


Like Goldilocks in her selections of porridge and resting places, human beings are supposed to choose marriage partners who are “just right.” To marry a close relative or someone of the same gender may be deemed unnaturally close; but marriages across great differences such as age, race, culture, or class can also be perceived as problematic due to social distance. This question of closeness or distance in marriage prescriptions is particularly timely in light of the current debates about gay marriage and will be one topic of exploration in this yearlong seminar on gender, sexuality, and kinship from an anthropological perspective. Anthropology is a discipline that explores the ways in which people make sense of the world and the social relations in which we engage. In this class, we will explore two parallel themes: the extraordinary diversity in the ways that people understand and enact kinship, sexuality, and gender cross-culturally and changes in the ways that anthropologists have understood and documented (or failed to document) these themes. We will read ethnography, oral history, and anthropological theory, as well as literature beyond the discipline; we will also view some films. Topics under our consideration will include female husbands in southern Africa, hermaphrodism in 19th-century France, institutionalized homosexuality in New Guinea, transnational and interracial adoption, childhood, and sexual rights. Along the way, we will learn to be better writers, readers, speakers, and listeners.