Chen Bo (Sichuan University), “House Society” Revisited "

Réalisation : 20 février 2016 Mise en ligne : 20 février 2016
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In this paper, I will begin by considering the concept of “house society” and its applicability to Southwest China. I ask the question of why no scholar, Levi-Strauss included since he originally framed this concept, has successfully used this concept to go beyond the traditional framework of descent and alliance. After making a thorough survey of the history of European views on Tibetan kinship, I argue that the dominance of Ladakh metonymy was responsible for the failure to reconsider both this area and the concept. Based on this dual consideration, I further scrutinize Levi-Strauss’s concept of “house society” in light of the case of Dra-pa Tibetans, who are regarded as the link between two large areas: societies on the Tibetan plateau characterized and demarcated by two kinship-marriage models, and the Ye (house) societies that include ethnic groups such as the Yi, Dra-pa, Na and Naxi. For several reasons, I argue that the house society model was not a social institution that emerged later but that it was one of the earliest. Though the earliest records we obtained were about one thousand and five hundred years ago, it might possibly date back to earlier time. While the mode of sexual relations among Dra-pa is being transformed towards marriage, the matrilineal/local-based visit by males still dominates. I further argue that associating women with the house plays a crucial role in the emergence of this institution. This binding relationship between women (men included) and the house is a form of house fetishism and has contributed to social phenomena we are witnessing today in Dra-pa, as well as other areas westward, such as local competition over building the best house.

International conference “Territories, Communities, and Exchanges in the Sino-Tibetan Kham Borderlands,” Februray 18-20, 2016. This conference is an outcome of a collaborative ERC-funded research project (Starting grant no. 283870).

For more information, please visit the project's Website:






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