By Luna Nájera | Published on March 11, 2021
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.
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?