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Transnational Political Cosmology: A Central Mediterranean Example

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 October 2014

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

Abstract

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.

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

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