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“Creating Descent” after Nancy Jay: A Reappraisal of Sacrifice in Relation to Social Reproduction

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This paper uses a range of ethnographic evidence to challenge Nancy Jay’s theory that ritual sacrifice involves the violent appropriation of female biological powers for male cultural/political ends, and that the social identities thereby reproduced necessarily possess a pseudo-biological character. Sacrificially reproduced forms of kinship are shown to differ from modern nonsacrificial forms of social identity precisely in their transcendence of those dichotomies of biological and cultural, domestic and political, on which Jay’s theory rests. The inappropriate application of such dichotomies to sacrificing societies constitutes an essentialization of Western conceptual categories, entailing distortions of ethnographic interpretation.


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