As one pos­sible horizon for our con­ver­sation, Hussein Fancy’s rereading of the notion of con­vivencia dis­lodges it from the binary aca­demic dis­course into which it has become locked since the bitter debates between Américo Castro and Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz over Spain’s identity in relation to its medieval Iberian past. Approaching the con­tro­versy from the per­spective of intel­lectual history and decon­struction, Fancy pro­poses that “Con­vivencia was not about the rela­tions between communities…but rather about the pos­si­bility of com­munity itself”; that is, it was about the pos­si­bility of the community-to-come. 

In his paper, Naor Ben-Yehoyada com­ments on recent ini­tia­tives to crim­i­nalize some asso­ci­a­tions that fall outside the strict purview of anti-mafia criminal justice, calling attention to “a new anthro­po­logical imag­inary of the power of ritual broth­erhood to motivate or oblige a person’s action.” Having noted that the leg­is­lation of friendship scales up friendship while also making some forms of friend­ships illegal, Ben-Yehoyada states that the leg­is­lation of friendship “becomes the hinge of the rela­tionship between kinship at large and the law.” Ben-Yehoyada closes with an his­torical framing of broth­erhood and modern states. Con­tem­porary states, he observes, are late­comers in a long chain of monop­o­lizing attempts by emergent insti­tu­tions to reartic­ulate and scale up dif­ferent terms of relatedness. 

Jessica Marglin’s work offers a closer look at two dif­ferent kinds of scaled up group for­ma­tions that are premised on relat­edness. She turns her attention par­tic­u­larly to the work of Mancini, one of Italy’s most renowned jurists and a founding father of the modern dis­ci­pline of inter­na­tional law, as her case study. Marglin sets out to show that a familial framework inter­twines nation­alism with inter­na­tion­alism. In her case studies of Italian laws con­cerning nation­ality and inter­na­tional laws con­cerning the mem­bership of Tunisia in the family of nations, Marglin shows some ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the family metaphor and its relation to equality.  Coun­ter­posing the rep­re­sen­tative views of Husayn b. ‘Abdallah, a Tunisian statesman, and of Mor­rocan gov­ernment offi­cials, whose views of nation­ality and equality are based on religion for Muslims and on the pact of dhimma for non-Muslim sub­jects, Marglin brings into relief the con­struct­edness of the kinship-based metaphor and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, the inequal­ities, era­sures, and even the acts of vio­lence that the familial framework implies. 

Lilith Mahmud’s work on the “broth­erhood” of Freemason sisters in Italy pro­vides a dif­ferent per­spective from which to notice tension points in what Ben-Yehoyada described as the long chain of monop­o­lizing attempts by emergent insti­tu­tions to reartic­ulate and scale up dif­ferent terms of relat­edness. In her accounts of the use of the term “dis­crezione” (dis­cretion) by Freemasons, Mahmud shows that it is a ritual practice of belonging resulting from “Freemasonry’s troubled political history.” She shows how that history has been dis­cur­sively shaped by con­spiracy the­ories about the Freemasons that asso­ciate them in the popular imag­i­nation with criminal orga­ni­za­tions and the state. She observes: “…con­spir­acies about Freemasons have the effect of both strength­ening and weak­ening the state.” 

I have for­mu­lated a few ques­tions to think with you about the theme of today’s session, tri­an­gu­lation of friendship, kinship, and the law in the Mediter­ranean and I have also for­mu­lated ques­tions about methodology. 

Some ques­tions

Hussein Fancy, in your paper, you con­clude by saying that “one cannot unravel the para­doxes of con­vivencia without unrav­elling the para­doxes of friendship.” 

Can you elab­orate on the entan­glement between those two paradoxes? 

Naor Ben-Yehoyada, in your account of anthro-historical tri­an­gu­la­tions of friendship, kinship, and the law, you show that the state interacts and nego­tiates with group for­ma­tions premised on relat­edness to legit­imate its claim over physical force. Toward the end of your paper, you state that the rela­tionship among kinship, friendship, and law  par­takes in “‘the detailed political processes through which the uncertain yet pow­erful dis­tinction between state and society is pro­duced.’” Assuming that, like the state, broth­er­hoods are also insti­tu­tions, can you say what the dis­tinction between state and society brings to your study?

Jessica Marglin: Can your char­ac­ter­i­zation of the power of the familial framework for legal under­standings of nation­ality and mem­bership in inter­na­tional orga­ni­za­tions shed light on rel­evant con­tem­porary Italian laws? 

Lilith Mahmud: In your work you fore­ground the ethno­graphic cat­egory of dis­cretion to suggest that the Freemasons are not a secret society, but rather a dis­creet society (in their view?). You state that you borrow from the Freemasons’ “own ideas of  ‘dis­crezione’” (1) and explain what you mean: “I have used the word dis­cretion to mean a set of embodied prac­tices that conceal and reveal poten­tially sig­nif­icant infor­mation and that per­for­ma­tively establish a subject’s posi­tion­ality within a spe­cific com­munity of practice (Mahmud 2012b).” 

My question is about method­ology and the work of ethnog­raphy. Can you speak to how you balance or how you nego­tiate the meta-language of the actors you study with your own, as the analyst?

Have your infor­mants read the books and articles that you have written about them? If so, how have they responded? For example, how did they respond to your obser­vation that they also produce con­spiracy theories? 

That is part of a more general question for everyone: What are the friendship and kinship rela­tion­ships that relate the ethno­g­rapher and the pop­u­la­tions they study? For his­to­rians of early modernity, the question might be to what com­mu­nities are we accountable when the sub­jects we study cannot speak back?