Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-vpsfw Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-20T11:51:38.010Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Transnational Political Cosmology: A Central Mediterranean Example

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 October 2014

Naor Ben-Yehoyada*
Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies Weatherhead Center for International Affairs


This paper examines the workings of kinship and marriage idioms in transnational political imaginary in the central Mediterranean to challenge current academic reliance on the notion of fraternity as the symbolic building block of both national and global political relations. Since the 1960s, the Sicilian town of Mazara del Vallo and its fishing fleet have become entwined in intensifying interactions with Tunisia and the wider Maghreb. These interactions—specifically the Tunisian-Italian “Fish War” and construction of a trans-Mediterranean natural gas pipeline between North Africa and Europe—rejuvenated the old geopolitical imagination of the Mediterranean and helped produce the central Mediterranean as a spatio-temporal field of political action. Italians and Tunisians perceived each other as related, and staged the trans-Mediterranean infrastructural project as a sort of European-African (cross-cousin) marriage. I begin by examining the tensions between two central kinship idioms—fraternity and cousinage—in current understandings of transnational relations. I then discuss the growing prevalence of a transnational political cosmology of affinity across difference over that of shared descent and sameness that characterize national alignments. I conclude by examining how Tunisians and Sicilians in Mazara today cast each other in roles deriving from segmentary schemes they share, but on the content of which they disagree. By applying concepts associated with kinship and marriage studies to recent Mediterranean history, I show how segmentation, a concept anthropologists abandoned when they crossed the Mediterranean on their way into Europe, can help us understand transnational politics.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. 2d ed.London: Verso.Google Scholar
Armitage, David. 2009. Three Concepts of Atlantic History. In Armitage, David and Braddick, Michael, eds., The British Atlantic World, 1500–1800. 2d ed.Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 1329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Asad, Talal, Fernandez, James, Herzfeld, Michael, Lass, A., Rogers, S. C., Schneider, Jane, and Verdery, Katherine. 1997. Provocations of European Ethnology. American Anthropologist 99, 4: 713–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ballinger, Pamela. 2011. Adriatic Forum: A Comment. Austrian History Yearbook 42: 5663.Google Scholar
Barbagallo, Francesco. 1989. Potere Politico Ed Economia Assistita Nel Mezzogiorno Repubblicano. Studi Storici 30, 1: 4352.Google Scholar
Beck, Ulrich and Sznaider, Natan. 2006. Unpacking Cosmopolitanism for the Social Sciences: A Research Agenda. British Journal of Sociology 57, 1: 123.Google Scholar
Ben-Yehoyada, Naor. 2011. The Moral Perils of Mediterraneanism: Second-Generation Immigrants Practicing Personhood between Sicily and Tunisia. Journal of Modern Italian Studies 16, 3: 386403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blok, Anton. 1981. Rams and Billy-Goats: A Key to the Mediterranean Code of Honour. Man 16, 3: 427–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bromberger, Christian. 2006. Towards an Anthropology of the Mediterranean. History and Anthropology 17, 2: 91107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burke, Edmund III. 1998. Theorizing the Histories of Colonialism and Nationalism in the Arab Maghrib. Arab Studies Quarterly 20, 2: 519.Google Scholar
Campbell, John. 1964. Honour, Family, and Patronage: A Study of Institutions and Moral Values in a Greek Mountain Community. Oxford: Clarenon Press.Google Scholar
Canut, Cécile and Smith, Étienne. 2006. Pactes, Alliances et Plaisanteries: Pratiques Locales, Discours Global. Cahiers d'Études Africaines 46, 184: 687754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clancy-Smith, Julia. 2011. Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Clarke, Morgan. 2007. The Modernity of Milk Kinship. Social Anthropology 15, 3: 287304.Google Scholar
Cremasco, Maurizio and Luciani, Giacomo. 1985. The Mediterranean Dimension of Italy's Foreign and Security Policy. International Spectator: Italian Journal of International Affairs 20, 1: 2733.Google Scholar
Davis, John. 1977. People of the Mediterranean: An Essay in Comparative Social Anthropology. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Dresch, Paul. 1986. The Significance of the Course Events Take in Segmentary Systems. American Ethnologist 13, 2: 309–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dresch, Paul. 1988. Segmentation: Its Roots in Arabia and Its Flowering Elsewhere. Cultural Anthropology 3, 1: 5067.Google Scholar
Dresch, Paul. 1998. Mutual Deception: Totality, Exchange, and Islam in the Middle East. In James, Wendy and Allen, N. J., eds., Marcel Mauss: A Centenary Tribute. New York: Berghahn, 111–34.Google Scholar
Dworkin, Ronald. 1986. Law's Empire. Cambridge: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1940. The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Galt, Anthony. 1985. Does the Mediterraneanist Dilemma Have Straw Horns? American Ethnologist 12, 2: 369–71.Google Scholar
Gellner, Ernest. 1981. Muslim Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Goswami, Manu. 2002. Rethinking the Modular Nation Form: Toward a Sociohistorical Conception of Nationalism. Comparative Studies in Society and History 44, 4: 770–99.Google Scholar
Greene, Molly. 2002. Beyond the Northern Invasion: The Mediterranean in the Seventeenth Century. Past & Present 174: 4271.Google Scholar
Guyer, Jane. 2004. Anthropology in Area Studies. Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 499523.Google Scholar
Hannachi, Karim. 1998. Gli immigrati tunisini a mazara del vallo: inserimento o integrazione. Gibellina: CRESM.Google Scholar
Hayes, Mark. 2006. The Transmed and Maghreb Projects: Gas to Europe from North Africa. In Victor, David, Jaffe, Amy, and Hayes, Mark, eds., Natural Gas and Geopolitics: From 1970 to 2040. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 4990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herzfeld, Michael. 1987. Anthropology through the Looking-Glass: Critical Ethnography in the Margins of Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Herzfeld, Michael. 2003. Localism and the Logic of Nationalistic Folklore: Cretan Reflections. Comparative Studies in Society and History 45, 2: 281310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herzfeld, Michael. 2005a. Practical Mediterraneanisms. In Harris, William V., ed., Rethinking the Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 4563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herzfeld, Michael. 2005b. Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. 2d ed.New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Horden, Peregrine and Purcell, Nicholas. 2000. The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Horden, Peregrine and Purcell, Nicholas. 2006. The Mediterranean and ‘the New Thalassology.’ American Historical Review 111, 3: 722–40.Google Scholar
Lentini, Rosario. 2004. La Marineria e le Attività Produttive: Note sulla Storia dell'Economia Mazarese. In Cusumano, Antonino and Lentini, Rosario, eds., Mazara 800–900: Ragionamenti intorno all'Identità di una CittÀ. 2d ed.Palermo: Sigma, 199226.Google Scholar
Lieberman, Victor. 2008. Protected Rimlands and Exposed Zones: Reconfiguring Premodern Eurasia. Comparative Studies in Society and History 50, 3: 692723.Google Scholar
Löfgren, Orvar. 2004. Concrete Transnationalism Bridge Building in the New Economy. Focaal 43: 5776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mahmud, Lilith. 2014. The Brotherhood of Freemason Sisters: Gender, Secrecy, and Fraternity in Italian Masonic Lodges. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
McKinnon, Susan and Cannell, Fenella. 2013. Vital Relations: Modernity and the Persistent Life of Kinship. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press.Google Scholar
Messina, Giuseppe. 1994. La Pesca nel Diritto Interno ed Internazionale. Palermo: Istituto Siciliano di Studi Politici ed Economici.Google Scholar
Pace, Michelle. 2007. The Politics of Regional Identity: Meddling with the Mediterranean. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Parkes, Peter. 2001. Alternative Social Structures and Foster Relations in the Hindu Kush: Milk Kinship Allegiance in Former Mountain Kingdoms of Northern Pakistan. Comparative Studies in Society and History 43, 1: 436.Google Scholar
Parkes, Peter. 2003. Fostering Fealty: A Comparative Analysis of Tributary Allegiances of Adoptive Kinship. Comparative Studies in Society and History 45, 4: 741–82.Google Scholar
Peebles, Gustav. 2011. The Euro and Its Rivals: Money and the Construction of a Transnational City. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
Péristiany, John. 1966. Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.Google Scholar
Perrone, Nico. 1995. Obiettivo Mattei: Petrolio, Stati Uniti e Politica dell'ENI. Roma: Gamberetti.Google Scholar
Pitt-Rivers, Julian Alfred. 1963. Mediterranean Countrymen: Essays in the Social Anthropology of the Mediterranean. Paris: Mouton.Google Scholar
Pitt-Rivers, Julian Alfred. 1977. The Fate of Shechem: Or, the Politics of Sex: Essays in the Anthropology of the Mediterranean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Polara, Giorgio Frasca. 1973. Metanodotto Dall'Algeria. L'Unità, 4 June: 4.Google Scholar
Polara, Giorgio Frasca. 1977. ENI E Snam Confermano Gli Impegni. L'Unità, 27 July, Le Regioni: 11.Google Scholar
Redazione. 1975a. Oggi I Funerali Del Giovane Marittimo Salvatore Foraneo. L'Unità, 7 Oct.: 6.Google Scholar
Redazione. 1975b. Migliaia Di Pescatori E Cittadini Ieri Ai Funerali Di Salvatore Foraneo. L'Unità, 8 Oct.: 6.Google Scholar
Sahlins, Marshall. 2011. What Kinship Is (Part One). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17, 1: 219.Google Scholar
Schiller, Nina Glick. 2005. Transnational Social Fields and Imperialism. Anthropological Theory 5, 4: 439–61.Google Scholar
Schneider, David. 1977. Kinship, Nationality, and Religion in American Culture: Toward a Definition of Kinship. In Dolgin, Janet, Kemnitzer, David, and Schneider, David, eds., Symbolic Anthropology: A Reader in the Study of Symbols and Meanings. New York: Columbia University Press, 6371.Google Scholar
Schneider, Jane. 1971. Of Vigilance and Virgins: Honor, Shame and Access to Resources in Mediterranean Societies. Ethnology 10, 1: 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schneider, Jane. 1990. Spirits and the Spirit of Capitalism. In Religious Orthodoxy and Popular Faith in European Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2454.Google Scholar
Schneider, Jane. 1998. Italy's Southern Question: Orientalism in One Country. Oxford and New York: Berg.Google Scholar
Shore, Cris. 1993. Inventing the ‘People's Europe’: Critical Approaches to European Community ‘Cultural Policy.’ Man 28, 4: 779800.Google Scholar
Shryock, Andrew. 1997. Nationalism and the Genealogical Imagination: Oral History and Textual Authority in Tribal Jordan. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Silverman, Sydel. 2001. Defining the Anthropological Mediterranean: Before Aix 1966. In Albera, Dionigi, Blok, Anton, and Bromberger, Christian, eds., L'anthropologie de La Méditerranée = Anthropology of the Mediterranean. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 4357.Google Scholar
Silverstein, Paul. 2002. France's Mare Nostrum: Colonial and Post-Colonial Constructions of the French Mediterranean. Journal of North African Studies 7, 4: 122.Google Scholar
Silvestri, Stefano. 1968. Problems and Prospects of the Mediterranean Area. Lo Spettatore 3, 2: 148–56.Google Scholar
Smail, Daniel and Shryock, Andrew. 2011. Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Stancanelli, Bianca. 1978. E Se Il Metano per La Sicilia Diventasse Soltanto Un Tubo? L'Unità, 16 July, Le Regioni: 9.Google Scholar
Stevens, Paul. 2000. Pipelines or Pipe Dreams? Lessons from the History of Arab Transit Pipelines. Middle East Journal 54, 2: 224–41.Google Scholar
Tabak, Faruk. 2008. The Waning of the Mediterranean, 1550–1870: A Geohistorical Approach. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Trautmann, Thomas R. 2001. The Whole History of Kinship Terminology in Three Chapters: Before Morgan, Morgan, and after Morgan. Anthropological Theory 1, 2: 268–87.Google Scholar
Tsing, Anna. 2000. The Global Situation. Cultural Anthropology 15, 3: 327–60.Google Scholar
Vasile, Vincenzo. 1975. Provocatoria Incursione Fascista Ad Una Assemblea Di Pescatori. L'Unità, 9 Oct.: 6.Google Scholar
Verdery, Katherine. 1998. Transnationalism, Nationalism, Citizenship, and Property: Eastern Europe since 1989. American Ethnologist 25, 2: 291306.Google Scholar
Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2004. Perspectival Anthropology and the Method of Controlled Equivocation. Tipití 2, 1: 220.Google Scholar
Wigen, Kären. 2006. Oceans of History. American Historical Review 111, 3: 717–21.Google Scholar
Zamberletti, Giuseppe. 1979. Seduta Di Martedì. 16 Oct. Rome: VI Legislatura—Discussioni.Google Scholar