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The Incomplete Family: Ethnographic Explorations on Domestic Relations in Aden

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With the support of ethnographic material from Aden (Yemen), this chapter explores untypical family forms and residential patterns that break the normative conventions as regulated in law and reproduced in popular morality discourses. With material that extends from the late colonial era to the early 2000s, the chapter scrutinizes domestic relations in regards to the background of changes in family regulation (law and legal practice) during the course of the past fifty years. The family is analyzed as a concentration of relations of all kinds, both inside the family and in its contacts with the outside. The article raises pertinent questions about the family unit. How closed and autonomous is the family unit, actually? What outside relationships might dominate over family relations? How do matters of subsistence, translocal migration and global economies influence family patterns, maintenance arrangements and residence forms?

Rather than looking at the family from a state perspective or as part of a nationalist agenda, this chapter draws the perspective from inside the family. What strengthens a family and what threatens it? Why is it that particular family forms are idealized while in practice other types might prevail? How do intimate needs, and sexual preferences and practices influence the experiences of closeness in a family? By applying practice perspective, that is, seeing household dynamics from structural and agentic perspectives complemented by agents' evaluations on the two, the article reviews critically Middle Eastern scholarship on domestic relations.

Affiliations: 1: Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies;, Email:


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