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A Question of Substance: Interpreting Kinship and Relatedness in Ancient Egypt

Leire Olabarria


In recent years kinship theory has opened up innovative avenues of enquiry that contrast with the comparatively static nature of some previous analytical models. A prime example of these new interpretative frameworks is the field of socalled new kinship studies, which advocates against the reification of kinship, leaning towards the more encompassing and fluid notion of relatedness. Rather than being defined from an exclusively biological perspective, relatedness relies on alternative parameters such as personhood, gender, and substance, which allow for an understanding of kinship as a performative process. This article addresses how kinship theory may be used to better delineate an emic approach to relatedness in Middle Kingdom Egypt. As a case study, I explore to what extent the idea of substance may be a useful category to construe the way relatedness was represented and perpetuated in the primary sources. By taking kinship as a contextually bounded social representation, it may be possible to attain a more nuanced explanation of ancient Egyptian social fabric.

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