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The Mistress of the Hearth: Female mobility, domestic divinities, and reproductive power in North Central China

When May 02, 2017 04:30 PM to
May 18, 2017 06:00 PM
Where The MIASU seminar room, Mond Building, Free School Lane
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The Mistress of the Hearth: Female mobility, domestic divinities, and reproductive power in North Central China with Charlotte Bruckermann

 

Anthropological concepts of masterhood and hospitality are particularly elaborated among highly mobile people whose movements put them into constant contact with strangers to whom they may extend hospitality and thereby assume sovereignty over these guests. In the sedentary Han Chinese context, offering kindnesses to strangers as hospitality is deemed less important than hosting known relations. For instance, humans host deities as their masters, and thereby extend the male household or community hosts’ sovereignty over attendees. This paper examines how this interplay between mobility and hosting plays out for Chinese women in north-central Shanxi Province, where women’s sociality is ruptured by mobility as they move at marriage and become outsiders of the patrilineages for whom they bear offspring. Women subvert their outsider status within Chinese kinship by appealing to a divine mistress of the hearth both as a stranger and as kin. Women also compete to extend their sovereignty over kin across domestic divides by hosting celebrations of their reproductive powers and thereby claim offspring. The analytical crux between female mobility and the mistress/hostess reveals the subversive potential of being both stranger and kin, situated both outside of and at the centre of reproduction.

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