Skip to main content

Transnational Political Cosmology: A Central Mediterranean Example

  • Naor Ben-Yehoyada (a1)

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.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Anderson Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. 2d ed.London: Verso.
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.
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.
Ballinger Pamela. 2011. Adriatic Forum: A Comment. Austrian History Yearbook 42: 5663.
Barbagallo Francesco. 1989. Potere Politico Ed Economia Assistita Nel Mezzogiorno Repubblicano. Studi Storici 30, 1: 4352.
Beck Ulrich and Sznaider Natan. 2006. Unpacking Cosmopolitanism for the Social Sciences: A Research Agenda. British Journal of Sociology 57, 1: 123.
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.
Blok Anton. 1981. Rams and Billy-Goats: A Key to the Mediterranean Code of Honour. Man 16, 3: 427–40.
Bromberger Christian. 2006. Towards an Anthropology of the Mediterranean. History and Anthropology 17, 2: 91107.
Burke Edmund III. 1998. Theorizing the Histories of Colonialism and Nationalism in the Arab Maghrib. Arab Studies Quarterly 20, 2: 519.
Campbell John. 1964. Honour, Family, and Patronage: A Study of Institutions and Moral Values in a Greek Mountain Community. Oxford: Clarenon Press.
Canut Cécile and Smith Étienne. 2006. Pactes, Alliances et Plaisanteries: Pratiques Locales, Discours Global. Cahiers d'Études Africaines 46, 184: 687754.
Clancy-Smith Julia. 2011. Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Clarke Morgan. 2007. The Modernity of Milk Kinship. Social Anthropology 15, 3: 287304.
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.
Davis John. 1977. People of the Mediterranean: An Essay in Comparative Social Anthropology. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Dresch Paul. 1986. The Significance of the Course Events Take in Segmentary Systems. American Ethnologist 13, 2: 309–24.
Dresch Paul. 1988. Segmentation: Its Roots in Arabia and Its Flowering Elsewhere. Cultural Anthropology 3, 1: 5067.
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.
Dworkin Ronald. 1986. Law's Empire. Cambridge: Belknap Press.
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.
Galt Anthony. 1985. Does the Mediterraneanist Dilemma Have Straw Horns? American Ethnologist 12, 2: 369–71.
Gellner Ernest. 1981. Muslim Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gellner Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Goswami Manu. 2002. Rethinking the Modular Nation Form: Toward a Sociohistorical Conception of Nationalism. Comparative Studies in Society and History 44, 4: 770–99.
Greene Molly. 2002. Beyond the Northern Invasion: The Mediterranean in the Seventeenth Century. Past & Present 174: 4271.
Guyer Jane. 2004. Anthropology in Area Studies. Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 499523.
Hannachi Karim. 1998. Gli immigrati tunisini a mazara del vallo: inserimento o integrazione. Gibellina: CRESM.
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.
Herzfeld Michael. 1987. Anthropology through the Looking-Glass: Critical Ethnography in the Margins of Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Herzfeld Michael. 2003. Localism and the Logic of Nationalistic Folklore: Cretan Reflections. Comparative Studies in Society and History 45, 2: 281310.
Herzfeld Michael. 2005a. Practical Mediterraneanisms. In Harris William V., ed., Rethinking the Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 4563.
Herzfeld Michael. 2005b. Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. 2d ed.New York: Routledge.
Horden Peregrine and Purcell Nicholas. 2000. The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Oxford: Blackwell.
Horden Peregrine and Purcell Nicholas. 2006. The Mediterranean and ‘the New Thalassology.’ American Historical Review 111, 3: 722–40.
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.
Lieberman Victor. 2008. Protected Rimlands and Exposed Zones: Reconfiguring Premodern Eurasia. Comparative Studies in Society and History 50, 3: 692723.
Löfgren Orvar. 2004. Concrete Transnationalism Bridge Building in the New Economy. Focaal 43: 5776.
Mahmud Lilith. 2014. The Brotherhood of Freemason Sisters: Gender, Secrecy, and Fraternity in Italian Masonic Lodges. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McKinnon Susan and Cannell Fenella. 2013. Vital Relations: Modernity and the Persistent Life of Kinship. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press.
Messina Giuseppe. 1994. La Pesca nel Diritto Interno ed Internazionale. Palermo: Istituto Siciliano di Studi Politici ed Economici.
Pace Michelle. 2007. The Politics of Regional Identity: Meddling with the Mediterranean. New York: Routledge.
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.
Parkes Peter. 2003. Fostering Fealty: A Comparative Analysis of Tributary Allegiances of Adoptive Kinship. Comparative Studies in Society and History 45, 4: 741–82.
Peebles Gustav. 2011. The Euro and Its Rivals: Money and the Construction of a Transnational City. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Péristiany John. 1966. Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Perrone Nico. 1995. Obiettivo Mattei: Petrolio, Stati Uniti e Politica dell'ENI. Roma: Gamberetti.
Pitt-Rivers Julian Alfred. 1963. Mediterranean Countrymen: Essays in the Social Anthropology of the Mediterranean. Paris: Mouton.
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.
Polara Giorgio Frasca. 1973. Metanodotto Dall'Algeria. L'Unità, 4 June: 4.
Polara Giorgio Frasca. 1977. ENI E Snam Confermano Gli Impegni. L'Unità, 27 July, Le Regioni: 11.
Redazione. 1975a. Oggi I Funerali Del Giovane Marittimo Salvatore Foraneo. L'Unità, 7 Oct.: 6.
Redazione. 1975b. Migliaia Di Pescatori E Cittadini Ieri Ai Funerali Di Salvatore Foraneo. L'Unità, 8 Oct.: 6.
Sahlins Marshall. 2011. What Kinship Is (Part One). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17, 1: 219.
Schiller Nina Glick. 2005. Transnational Social Fields and Imperialism. Anthropological Theory 5, 4: 439–61.
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.
Schneider Jane. 1971. Of Vigilance and Virgins: Honor, Shame and Access to Resources in Mediterranean Societies. Ethnology 10, 1: 124.
Schneider Jane. 1990. Spirits and the Spirit of Capitalism. In Religious Orthodoxy and Popular Faith in European Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2454.
Schneider Jane. 1998. Italy's Southern Question: Orientalism in One Country. Oxford and New York: Berg.
Shore Cris. 1993. Inventing the ‘People's Europe’: Critical Approaches to European Community ‘Cultural Policy.’ Man 28, 4: 779800.
Shryock Andrew. 1997. Nationalism and the Genealogical Imagination: Oral History and Textual Authority in Tribal Jordan. Berkeley: University of California Press.
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.
Silverstein Paul. 2002. France's Mare Nostrum: Colonial and Post-Colonial Constructions of the French Mediterranean. Journal of North African Studies 7, 4: 122.
Silvestri Stefano. 1968. Problems and Prospects of the Mediterranean Area. Lo Spettatore 3, 2: 148–56.
Smail Daniel and Shryock Andrew. 2011. Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Stancanelli Bianca. 1978. E Se Il Metano per La Sicilia Diventasse Soltanto Un Tubo? L'Unità, 16 July, Le Regioni: 9.
Stevens Paul. 2000. Pipelines or Pipe Dreams? Lessons from the History of Arab Transit Pipelines. Middle East Journal 54, 2: 224–41.
Tabak Faruk. 2008. The Waning of the Mediterranean, 1550–1870: A Geohistorical Approach. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
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.
Tsing Anna. 2000. The Global Situation. Cultural Anthropology 15, 3: 327–60.
Vasile Vincenzo. 1975. Provocatoria Incursione Fascista Ad Una Assemblea Di Pescatori. L'Unità, 9 Oct.: 6.
Verdery Katherine. 1998. Transnationalism, Nationalism, Citizenship, and Property: Eastern Europe since 1989. American Ethnologist 25, 2: 291306.
Viveiros de Castro Eduardo. 2004. Perspectival Anthropology and the Method of Controlled Equivocation. Tipití 2, 1: 220.
Wigen Kären. 2006. Oceans of History. American Historical Review 111, 3: 717–21.
Zamberletti Giuseppe. 1979. Seduta Di Martedì. 16 Oct. Rome: VI Legislatura—Discussioni.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 69 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 333 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th February 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.