PhD Courses in Denmark

Prospects in Contemporary Anthropological Theory: Session 2: Kinship

Copenhagen Graduate School of Social Sciences

Through a series of plenary sessions comprising a talk and an extended discussion, this course aims to facilitate critical reflection and discussion of influential or promising concepts in contemporary anthropological theory. Based on readings of key texts circulated to participants prior to the course and a lecture by the session’s invited senior researcher participants are invited to critically consider and discuss contemporary movements and concepts within anthropology through in depth consideration of particular concepts.

By foregrounding concepts rather than specific research projects, we aim to facilitate spirited as well as collegial debate over the relative merits and challenges connected to particular concepts and their related theoretical frameworks

This second session, taught by Tatjana Thelen, University of Vienna, explores the concept of “kinship”.

Kinship- A useful concept? Narratives of modernity, care and politics
Anthropology was built from its inception largely on the assumption that kinship was a universal institution of “traditional” societies. A conviction that processes of modernization and bureaucratic state building render kinship structures irrelevant remains deeply entrenched in public and scientific discourses. This temporal framework is linked to normative ideas about an “appropriate” separation of state and kinship. In this light, the modern “family” is contrasted with traditional “kinship” and seemingly stripped of its political meaning as well as its ability to enforce care between relatives, even though anthropologists have repeatedly shown the persistent political importance of kinship and that care creates kinship rather than resulting from it. In my talk, I will show this history with the aim of highlighting the continuous work necessary to establish kinship as “self-evident” in some societies and leave it unseen in others. Kinship may be analytically useless, but empirically we cannot overlook its profound political impact as a concept, a way of knowing, and a scientific topic. Using the example of how shared assumptions of kinship are built into practices of state care, I show some of their serious consequences for the reproduction of inequalities and marginalization of individuals and populations held to be characterized by “traditional” kinship.

Course organisers:

Date and time: 3 December 2021 from 9 AM to 12 (noon) 

Max. number of participants: 15

ECTS: 0.5

Registration and fee: Please register via the link in the box no later than 3 November 2021. Registration is closed. However, there are still a few places available at the course. If you are interested in a place, please write an e-mail to the PhD Administration ( A fee of DKK 1200 per ECTS is charged for PhD students who are not enrolled at Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Copenhagen University.

Further information: For more information about the PhD course, please contact the PhD Administration ( or the course organisers.