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Governmentality and the Family: Neoliberal Choices and Emergent Kin Relations in Southern Ethiopia



ABSTRACT  Rather than strictly local expressions of relatedness, kinship in southern Ethiopia has long been entangled with broad political and economic forces as people negotiate relations with each other, past generations, and the state. Accompanying government reforms in the 1990s, idioms of individualism and choice have circulated in transnational and national neoliberal discourses of development, rights, and economics. People in southern Ethiopia who use ideologies of ascribed social statuses to define local social hierarchies have employed these discourses in reshaping relatedness through an expansive trade association, which is referred to as a family and works through kinship principles of descent and generation. Drawing from recent scholarship on kinship and new reproductive technologies, I argue that, through mobile knowledges in neoliberal contexts, people choose this family and its lineage founder, transforming descent relations and land-based ideologies. These choices represent the workings of neoliberal governmentality in altering cultural relations of power and inequality. [Keywords: kinship, neoliberalism, governmentality, hereditary status groups, Ethiopia]