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João de Pina Cabral
Antónia Pedroso de Lima

Part I. Dynastic Sentiments

3. Patriarchal Desire: Law and Sentiments of Succession in Italian Capitalist Families

Sylvia Yanagisako

Texte intégral

1This chapter explores the relationship between law and sentiment in the dynamics of succession among wealthy, industrial capitalist families in northern Italy. Through the analysis of managerial succession and inheritance among family firms in the Italian silk industry, I demonstrate that law and sentiment operate in more complex ways than has been configured in anthropological models of kinship. Prevailing models of kinship succession represent law as the basis of the structural continuity of corporate kin groups, and sentiment as a destabilizing force that undermines it. I argue, in contrast, that the productive power of law incites desires and mobilizes sentiments that operate as forces both for and against corporate continuity.

2In his study of dynastic, capitalist families in the US, Marcus has proposed a historical model of American family/business formations that emphasizes how legal rules and instruments become an integral dimension of family relationships themselves, even as they are being used to adapt family-owned concentrations of capital to the socio-economic environment. His model is based on family/business formations founded by entrepreneurs in commerce and industry during the late-nineteenth-century era of economic expansion in the United States, particularly those on which he has conducted research in Galveston, Texas.

3In charting the role of law in these kinship formations, Marcus writes:

It is important to know at the outset that the role of law in these formations has in no way replaced or negated the flexible normative content of middle-class kinship which characterizes American family life. Rather, law overlays, and to a degree complicates kin relations by giving a more formal organization to the extended family than that of most middle-class families. As will be seen from the Galveston case, formations are set on a structured course by their internal administration of patrimonial capital and businesses, but final outcomes of this process still depend very much upon the long-term emotional atmosphere of a dynastic family. Popular interest in formations has focused on their 'human drama' aspect to the exclusion of their legal dimension. I argue that without consideration of this dimension, their distinctive nature as groups in modern societies cannot be fully understood (Marcus 1992: 16).

4While Marcus's model is fashioned from research on family formations in the US that have endured from the late nineteenth century to the present as both extended family and business organizations, he has proposed that

the basic model [of this chapter] also applies with some adjustments to contemporaneous formations in European societies (particularly Great Britain and Ireland)... In the broadest terms, what I am describing is a major structural manifestation of the interrelationships between law, wealth-holding, and elite family organization over the past century in Western capitalist societies (Marcus 1992: 29).

  • 1 See Coombe 1998 for a useful discussion of the constitutive power of law.

5In this chapter, I adjust Marcus's model to fit the processes of succession in industrial-capitalist families in northern Italy. In the course of making these adjustments, I reformulate his model to go beyond the idea that law 'overlays' and 'complicates kin relations by giving a more formal organization to the extended family'. I suggest instead that law is itself a crucial force that shapes the 'emotional atmosphere' of capitalist families and, conversely, that emotions operate as social forces that set families on a structured course. In attending to the emotionally-constitutive power of law1 and the structuring power of emotion, I challenge a convention of anthropological studies of kinship in which emotions are viewed as prior to law and yet incapable of producing either structural continuity or structural transformation. I trace this convention to a critical juncture in the history of kinship studies in anthropology-namely, the ascendance of British descent theory and Radcliffe-Brown's theory of structural functionalism.

Northern Italian Industrial-Capitalist Families

  • 2 Since 1984, I have conducted fifteen months of research on family firms in the silk industry of Com (...)
  • 3 In 1985, the industry employed about 13,000 workers in the province of Como, thus constituting its (...)

6The Northern Italian industrial-capitalist families on which this discussion is based constitute the wealthiest fraction of the capitalist families who own and manage firms in the silk manufacturing industry of Como, Italy.2 From its pre-industrial beginnings to the present, the silk industry of Como has been characterized by a decentralized structure of production. As in the early development of the northern European textile industry (E. Goody 1982), in the nineteenth century merchants functioned as the industry's entrepreneurs by taking on both supply and marketing functions. Rather than grouping the weavers together in factories, the merchants bought the thread and had it woven by artisans who owned their own looms. Even after the industrial transformation of the industry, production has continued to be highly decentralized. Today, there are few vertically-integrated firms in the industry, and the vast majority of firms operate in only one phase of the production process. The twisting of the silk thread, its preparation for weaving, the dyeing, weaving and printing of the fabric, the preparation of screens for printing, and the packaging and marketing of fabric all take place in different firms. The industry is also characterized by the overwhelming predominance of local ownership by Como families. In 1985, out of the approximately 400 firms in the industry, there was only one joint-stock company that had been started by investors outside of Como, and there was no multinational ownership.3

  • 4 Como's industrial structure bears some resemblance to what called 'the most important recent experi (...)

7The industry is often cited as a prime example of the flexible specialization that has led to the success of decentralized networks of small firms since the early 1970s. Whether these industrial networks are touted as heralding a new era of industrialism that will lead to the demise of Fordist mass production (Piore and Sabel 1984), as a new phase of disorganized capitalism (Lash and Urry 1988), or as a new regime of capital accumulation (Harvey 1989), most theorists agree that they have enhanced capitalists' ability to respond flexibly to global market conditions.4

  • 5 I have divided Como's industrial-capitalist families into three upper, middle, and lower-based on a (...)

8At the top of the industrial network are the highly capitalized, vertically-integrated firms that employ the services of smaller, less-capitalized subcontracting firms. The discussion of succession in this chapter is limited to those families in my study that fall within the 'upper bourgeois' fraction of Como's industrial-capitalist class, although other fractions show similar dynamics.5

Succession and Patriarchal Desire6

  • 6 My use of the term 'desire' rather than 'goal' or 'sentiment' is intentionally provocative. In doin (...)
  • 7 The official histories of family firms in the Italian silk manufacturing industry constitute narrat (...)

9In the official origins narratives of firms the ideal founder is one who has the generative power to create his own firm, his own family, and his own destiny.7 Fathering a family and fathering a business are mutually interdependent projects of creation in the cosmology of kinship and business, family and capitalism, which are conveyed in firms' origin stories. To head a family is to provide for it, including providing the productive means of the independence of the family and the means to reproduce that independence in the next generation.

  • 8 Four of the forty firms in my sample are headed by women. One of these women took over the firm aft (...)

10All men who head family firms and who have sons want to be succeeded by them.8 Indeed, many men say that the only reason they have worked hard to build a successful firm is so that they can hand it on to their son or sons. In contrast, men without children say they are inclined to sell their firms when they retire. Moreover, they express strong reservations about the prevalent practice of filial succession in the industry, claiming that it often leads to disaster and to undermining the productive capacity of firms and the industry as a whole.

11Fathers' desires to pass their firms on to their sons are best understood in relation to a dense system of meanings about the male self, its actualization through men's projects, its relation to the projects of other men, and its perpetuation through the lives of sons. 'Independence' is a key symbol in this ideology of masculinity, and a close examination of its configuration of meanings reveals a complex and contradictory set of desires among men.

12Independence is something fathers want both for themselves and for their sons. In the realm of work, being independent means being your own boss, being an employer rather than an employee (which in Italian is to be literally a dipendente). In the realm of the family, being independent means being the head of your own family. Fathers want to give their sons the means of production, which are the means of their economic independence as well as their means of becoming the heads of their own families. As one successor son put it, 'My father always said to us [his sons]: "I will not leave you money, but the means to make a living."'

13Endowing a son with the means to be independent of other men enables him to attain an ideal of male adulthood. To do so requires accumulating sufficient capital to reinvest in the firm so that it can survive competition with other firms. In other words, succession necessitates accumulation. To endow two or more sons with the means of their independence requires even greater accumulation, because the firm must have sufficient capital to expand or diversify.

14Rooted as it is in an ideal of male parity and a disdain for any man who is subordinate to the authority of another man and who is constrained to work for another man's project, this desire to give one's sons the means of independence entails an internal contradiction. For what seems attainable in an abstract model of male parity is not so when it comes to relationships on the ground - or, rather, in families. Instead, it turns out, one man's independence results in another man's dependence. To retain his position as head of an enduring family a man must have a family to head. Once his children grow up, his daughters are lost to him through marriage, for married women are viewed as falling under the authority of their husbands, not their fathers. Fathers are also in danger of losing their authority over their sons, not through marriage but through the sons' employment. A son who works for someone else not only comes under the authority of another man (his padrone), but also has the financial means to be independent of his father. In giving his sons the means to be independent of employers, a father prolongs his headship of the family - often, until his death. Such a father has the good fortune of having both ensured his headship of an enduring family that includes his sons and, at the same time, provided for their independence from other men. Such a father, it could be said, has mediated the contradiction embodied in a male ideal of independence that entails the dependence of other men.

15Whence comes this goal of endowing a son with the means of producing his independence? One line of reasoning points to the economic roots of lineal succession. Along these lines, Goody (J. Goody 1976) has contended that in both European and Asian kinship systems the need to provide 'security' lies behind lineal succession, which functions to preserve the status of offspring in a society with differentiated strata based on property-holding. He contrasts these systems with African systems, where devolution in an individual man's personal line is unnecessary because of hoe-farming and its associated productive resources.

16Unless we are satisfied with an explanation that attributes contemporary capitalist desires for lineal succession to dispositions formed in a pre-capitalist past, Goody's explanation would appear inadequate for our purposes. Moreover, his reductionist model lumps all Asian and European societies together into a single structural-functional formation based on plough agriculture. Such a sweeping hypothesis does not enable us to differentiate Italian capitalist desires for filial succession from, for example, Japanese capitalist desires for lineal succession. Yet the latter do not appear to be spurred on by the desires for independence articulated by the Como bourgeoisie (Kondo 1990; Hamabata 1990).

17The search for an answer that moves beyond a utilitarian, functionalist theory of culture might well begin with an investigation of the historical process in which these desires were formed. In the following section of this chapter, I suggest that it is in the forces that impede the fulfilment of patriarchal desire for succession that we can find clues as to incitement.

Impediments as Incitements of Patriarchal Desire

18Several impediments stand in the way of the fulfilment of the patriarchal desire for male filial succession. The first is reproductive outcomes. The failure to produce a son can transform patriarchal desire into patriarchal denial, as was evidenced in the reservations about filial succession expressed by men without children. Those who have no sons, but who have daughters, respond in more subtle and complex ways to queries about their desires for succession. They also draw on a wider array of alternative strategies of succession. In the past, a common one was to marry a daughter to an enterprising young man with strong managerial or technical skills who could function as an interim successor, and then groom one's grandson as the eventual successor. As we shall see, this strategy is complicated these days by daughters 'interest in succeeding to management leadership themselves. Another was to install a nephew as the interim successor, again with the plan of eventually replacing him with a grandson.

  • 9 The 1865 Civic Code was revised under Mussolini in April 1942, when the Civil and Commercial Codes (...)

19A second and more formidable obstacle to the fulfilment of patriarchal desire for male filial succession is Italian inheritance law. With the imposition of the Napoleonic code on Northern Italy in 1808, equal division of the patrimony among all children irrespective of gender became the law, if not the practice, in the region. When Napoleon's empire collapsed in 1815, Austria once again took over Venice and Lombardy. Their inheritance codes struck a compromise between the egalitarian principles of the Enlightenment and the values of a conservative, ruling aristocracy. After the unification of Italy, the Civil Code promulgated in 1865 was modelled upon the Napoleonic code, which had a strong Jacobin thrust, attacking the concentration of aristocratic wealth. This Civil Code governed Italian inheritance until it was revised by the Nuovo Diritto di Famiglia in 1975.9

Italian Inheritance Law

  • 10 John Davis (1973: 174-86) gives a detailed description of the proportioning of inheritance claims.

20Italian inheritance law recognizes three basic types of inheritance rights: legitimate (legitim), testamentary, and legal. Legitimate inheritance has absolute priority over the others-it represents 'overriding duty' (Davis 1973: 175). What proportion of the estate is reserved for the heirs, who the heirs are, and the proportions they receive are complexly codified.10 If there are legitimate descendants, then ascendants are excluded. If there are illegitimate descendants, then they inherit with the legitimate descendants or (if there are none) with the ascendant. The proportion of the estate that must be legitimately inherited varies between one-third and two-thirds. It is, for instance, one-third if the heir is a single illegitimate descendant. It is one-half if there is a single legitimate descendant. It is two-thirds with two or more legitimate descendants, and it is divided in equal shares among these descendants regardless of gender.

  • 11 Testamentary inheritance applies only to what is left after the legitim-distribution. The testator' (...)

21Until 1975, spouses were in the fourth category of priority under legitimate inheritance. This meant, for instance (see Davis 1973, Table 20), that if there were two legitimate children (which means two-thirds of the property is legitimately inherited) then they split 5/12 of the total and the spouse received 3/12. The legitim inheritance of spouses, however, was limited only to usufruct (ibid.: 176), not to full ownership. Usufruct, in Italian law, entailed the right to an income and to administer the property. Dowry, officially recognized under the Civil Code, was returned to the wife or to the giver of the dowry or their heirs upon the death of the husband (Davis 1973: 173).11

22By means of this precise calculation of the division of patrimonial property, the Italian state has legislated a national, standardized model of the family as a property-owning collectivity, specifying the precise proportion of shares to which particular family members are entitled. This makes capitalist families-and, indeed, all families in Italy with any substantial property-more like each other than those in the United States where individuals and married couples have great leeway in deciding how to distribute their property. While legal instruments such as trusts and holding companies may be tailored for particular families, in both countries they are severely constrained in their ability to concentrate capital. The standardization of property distribution sets up a standard emotional structure in Italian property-owning families, which, in turn, generates standard human dramas of succession.

23The legally constituted family - interpellated and buttressed by the state - is both affirmed as a property-owning corporate group and weakened in its ability to reproduce itself. As a deliberate attempt to break up concentrations of wealth and political power in aristocratic, landowning families, equal division of the patrimony undermines a father's attempt to concentrate the patrimony under the control of a chosen successor. Italian inheritance law thus favours the interests and sentiments of daughters and non-successor sons rather than that of fathers and successor sons.

  • 12 A second contradiction generated by this desire for the intergenerational transmission of the means (...)

24The persistence of patriarchal desire for male filial succession despite nearly two centuries of state-decreed equal inheritance among siblings could be chalked up as yet another example of the strength of 'custom' over 'law'. But, this stock explanation obscures the ways in which patriarchal desire for filial succession has been incited by the same emancipatory ideology that led to the inheritance laws impeding its fulfilment. The bourgeois goal of independence from a pre-capitalist hierarchy, I suggest, incited both the law of equal inheritance and the desire to concentrate control of the patrimony in the hands of successor sons. As I have shown, a father's attempt to reproduce the family's independence in the next generation requires endowing his son with the means of their independence from the authority of other men. As Marx and Engels argued (1976: 434), from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, liberation through economic competition was the only way of providing individuals with a new career freed from the old feudal fetters. This desire for freedom from a pre-capitalist hierarchy generates the internal contradiction I have already noted - namely that for a son to have the means to attain full adult male bourgeois status - to be truly independent - he must be dependent on his father's property.12

25For fathers who grew up before the Italian economic miracle of the 1950s and 1960s, independence drew its meaning from an agrarian model of society in which the struggle of families to free themselves from the paternalism of landowners made sense of the paternalism within their own families. More recently, a concept of personal independence more familiar to North Americans has encroached upon the old one, peppering the speech of Como entrepreneurs and their children with such English phrases as 'self-made man'. The American version of the bourgeois liberal celebration of the independence of individuals has brought new significance to the contradiction already lurking in the older commitment to emancipation from subordination to authority outside the family. For younger men coming of age since the 1960s, independence has increasingly signified a self-actualization that requires emancipation from authority within the family.

Daughters and Patriarchal Desire

  • 13 Fathers with more than one son obviously had to figure out how to endow them with the means of prod (...)

26Bourgeois gender ideology rendered female independence an oxymoron. Daughters who were destined to be subordinate to their husbands were automatically disqualified from being the agents of the family's continued independence. Consequently, until recently, bourgeois hopes for reproducing the family's independence rested with sons, in the face of laws of equal inheritance, male succession depended on strategies for liquidating daughters' rights to the patrimony without depleting it beyond what was needed to maintain its capital-regenerating capacity. Daughters' claims had to be met without destroying sons' means of production and independence.13 In the past, the threat that daughters' jural rights to inheritance posed to male succession was met by a variety of customary practices among propertied families in Northern Italy. Among the Como bourgeoisie, fathers gave daughters their share of the inheritance in the form of a dowry or other pre-mortem settlements. Once having invested in their daughters' education-whether in elite German or Swiss 'finishing schools' or, more recently, in Italian universities, where they commonly majored in foreign languages-fathers often invested capital in their daughters 'husbands' firms. Over time, these shares were transferred to the daughter and her children.

27It is highly unlikely that the dowries and other pre-mortem payments and investments that daughters of propertied families received came close to equalling the portion of the patrimony that was their legal due. Daughters did not have the resources, however, to enforce their claims. For one thing, their bourgeois husbands shared an interest in male inheritance and female dowry, and were unlikely to challenge a practice from which they benefited. For another, daughters themselves had some stake in the undivided strength of their natal patrimony, for fathers and brothers were their only refuge from a failed marriage. The continuity or expansion of her family's capitalist enterprises, moreover, was both a source of symbolic capital and a potential source of the means of financial independence of her own sons.

28Mothers, on the other hand, shared their sons' interest in keeping the patrimony intact by virtue of the fact that the legitim inheritance guaranteed them by law as widows was limited to usufruct, not actual ownership. Dependent as they were upon sons to manage the business and provide them with a stipend, widows could not be strong advocates of their daughters' inheritance rights. Even today, widows who were raised in capitalist families emphasize the importance of an undivided patrimony and the perpetuation of their husbands' and fathers' projects.

The Transformation of Patriarchal Desire

29Just as the emergence of bourgeois ideologies of independence incited both egalitarian laws of inheritance and the patriarchal desire for male filial succession, so have more recent political and cultural movements generated new laws and new sentiments that are shaping the 'emotional atmosphere' of Italian capitalist families and transforming patriarchal desire. Marcus notes that in the United States case, 'As the organizational core of a formation, the [legal] surrogate is challenged externally by long-term political and economic trends which have tended to constrain the inheritance of great wealth and to diminish generally the directing role of family interests in modern business organization'(1992: 17).

30The burden of inheritance taxes and other legal impediments to the accumulation and transmission of wealth have been constraints to which family formations have had continually to adapt in the United States as well as in Italy. At the national level, political battles over tax law, inheritance law and family law have played out conflicting visions of the relations among property, class, kinship and gender. The outcomes of these battles in the form of new laws have called forth adjustments in the strategic practices of individuals and families among the bourgeoisie.

31The 1975 Family Law in Italy is an excellent example of such processes. Advocated by the left and supported by feminist groups, the 1975 reform of the Civil Code both legalized divorce and strengthened women's property rights. In establishing spousal community property - considered a necessary protection in the event of divorce - the law granted widows actual property rights rather than merely rights of usufruct. As a consequence, a woman with two or more children is now entitled to at least one third of the patrimony if her husband dies intestate and at least one-fourth if he leaves a will disposing of that proportion of his property that he can freely assign to whomever he wishes. Falling within the community property of spouses are acquisitions made (even separately) during the marriage, the property assigned for the practice of an enterprise of one of the spouses founded after the marriage, and any increase in the value of the enterprise.

32Wives' acquisition of community property and inheritance rights with the reform of family law in 1975 not only strengthened their position in relation to their husbands but in relation to their children, in particular their sons. Mother in the bourgeois family has become not merely than a moral and emotional force to be reckoned with, but an owner of capital who can bring considerable economic pressure to bear on her children. As a consequence, the new family law has reconfigured the emotional structure and dynamics of bourgeois families. As wives and mothers have acquired new power, they have awakened to new interests. These have emerged at the intersection of older gender ideologies about women's responsibilities in the family and new gender ideologies of equality.

33The wives and mothers in Como capitalist families who came of age before the 1960s are, for the most part, conservative Christian Democrats steeped in bourgeois feminist commitments to la famiglia unita. As such, they are far from being advocates of la liberazione delle donne, nor do they pursue an Italian feminist vision of women's autonomy. What has changed is not their commitment to keeping the family together, but the kind of family they have in mind. The altered political-legal context of the family has led bourgeois mothers to advocate a new kind of collectivity-namely, the inclusive family of parents (or of a widow), their adult children and the latter's spouses and children. Even before they are widowed, wives look beyond their husbands' deaths to their futures in these new inclusive families. Whereas their husbands' goal of filial succession drives them to consolidate control over the patrimony, these wives' goal of keeping the family together drives them in turn to distribute the patrimony more or less equally among all children, thereby strengthening the continuity of the family as a unit of enduring solidarity.

34Daughters in these families who came of age after the 1960s have a different vision of their rights and duties in the family - one that has been undeniably affected by the political-cultural movements that led to the 1975 reform of family law. Their sense of entitlement to both patrimonial wealth and managerial control has increased by the decade, and many of them under the age of forty hope to succeed their fathers or at least share management leadership with their brothers. Some already do. They are adamant that they will not be content to take on a marginal role in the firm. Nor are they willing to be bought off with investments in their husbands' firms or by being set up in allied, but much less capitalized, sectors of the industry such as wholesale or retail outlets.

35Just as nineteenth-century bourgeois ideas of independence infused both law and sentiment in bourgeois families - simultaneously undermining and fuelling patriarchal desire for male filial succession - so new ideas of independence reflected in the 1975 family law and the sentiments of family members are reconfiguring patriarchal desire. Fathers with daughters who have entered the family business and who have shown a keen interest in management take a discursive middle path between the patriarchal desire for male filial succession and the rejection of it voiced by men without children. Whether they have only daughters or both sons and daughters who are potential successors, these fathers advocate a kin meritocracy in which all their children are eligible for, but not automatically guaranteed, management leadership of the family business. Which child will succeed to the headship of the family corporation will depend, they say, on which demonstrates the strongest management skills.

36While fathers may well be rooting for their sons to surface to the top of this kin competition, the legal and cultural challenges to patriarchal control of succession have bolstered daughters' and wives' sense of their rights, necessitating an adjustment of patriarchal desire. Patriarchal desire is transforming from a desire for male succession to an increasingly gender-neutral desire for filial succession and family corporate continuity. At the same time, younger bourgeois women view autonomy as requiring rights to the family patrimony equal to those of their brothers. In other words, the desire for succession is being incited among women, who now feel like their brothers that they must be their own boss and endow their own children with the means of their independence. The cultural trajectory of patriarchal desire, increasingly uncoupled from ideas of masculinity, is now being charted by this emerging generation of successors.

Patriarchal Desire and Kinship Theory

37In identifying the forces shaping dynastic families in Western industrial-capitalist society, Marcus contrasts his focus on legal and fiduciary arrangements with what he describes as the conventional focus of anthropological studies on lineages, descent groups, and 'the community of kin focused on reverence for ancestors in small-scale, tribal societies'(1992: 4). Anthropological common sense, he writes, has been to focus on the anthropological staples of 'the politics of kinship, family rituals, and reverence toward ancestors', whose role he views as less important in the reproduction of dynastic motivation and ideology.

My interpretation goes against the conventional wisdom of anthropology: I suggest that lineages here and now are not what they appear to be from the vantage point of knowledge about places where and times when they were the dominant form of social organization. The fact that the dynamic processes that shape mature dynasties may not rest primarily within lineages of descendants requires a rethinking of anthropological categories in their repatriation (1992: 4).

38Marcus is correct that the politics of kinship, family rituals, and reverence for ancestors have been 'anthropological staples'. At the same time, however, he overlooks the fact that the structural core of kinship theory has been, since the 1940s, precisely what he has focused upon: law and corporate continuity. For the past half-century, interpersonal relations and the symbolic realm of ritual have been deemed secondary to 'jural principles' in defining the structure and function of lineages and other kinship groups that have been viewed as crucial to the continuity of social order in non-state societies.

39Continuity of the social order was a primary concern of Radcliffe-Brown and the other descent theorists who studied 'stateless' societies lacking formal legal institutions and coercive state sanctions. Radcliffe-Brown believed that any social system had to 'conform to certain conditions' to survive (1952: 43). One such law was the 'functional consistency amongst the constituent parts of the system'. Another was the necessity for continuity: 'We must appeal to another sociological law, the necessity not merely for stability, definiteness and consistency in the social structure, but also for continuity. To provide continuity of social structure is essentially a function of corporations' (Radcliffe-Brown 1952: 45-6).

40By 'continuity' British descent theorists meant more than the stability of interpersonal relations throughout the course of an individual's life. In order to transcend the destabilizing effects of human mortality, social systems required the transgenerational continuity of aggregates of individuals organized into social groups. In the case of the classic descent-based corporate group, the lineage, this entailed 'perpetual structural existence in a stable and homogeneous society' that preserves the 'existing scheme of social relations as far as possible' (Fortes 1970: 79-80).

41The extent to which kinship groups such as lineages play a part in the social, political or religious life of the tribe depends, according to Radcliffe-Brown, on the degree to which they are corporate groups.

A group may be spoken as 'corporate' when it possesses any one of a certain number of characters: if its members, or its adult members, or a considerable proportion of them, come together occasionally to carry out some collective action - for example, the performance of rites; if it has a chief or council who are regarded as acting as the representatives of the group as a whole; if it possesses or controls property which is collective, as when a clan or lineage is a land-owning group (Radcliffe-Brown 1950: 41).

42Continuity, moreover, depended on shared understandings of rights and duties among persons.

The sociological laws, i.e. the necessary conditions of existence of a society, that have been here suggested as underlying the customs of unilineal (patrilineal or matrilineal) succession are: 1. The need for a formulation of rights over persons and things sufficiently precise in their general recognition as to avoid as far as possible unresolved conflicts. 2. The need for continuity of the social structure as a system of relations between persons, such relations being defined in terms of rights and duties (Radcliffe-Brown 1952: 47).

43In attempting to illuminate the social order of what they perceived to be societies most lacking in it, British social anthropologists fashioned a universalistic, jural model of society that granted structural primacy to those normative 'principles' and 'rules' that most closely resembled the state-enforced laws of Western European nations.

44In the next generation of British descent theorists, Fortes argued that true corporate descent groups can exist only in more or less homogeneous societies - in particular those of central Africa. Yet his invocation of Maine's usage of 'corporation' in the analysis of testamentary succession and Weber's analysis of the 'corporate group' suggests that Africa served for Fortes as a 'simple society' upon which theories of European kinship and law could be mapped:

The most important feature of unilinear descent groups in Africa... is their corporate organization. When we speak of these groups as corporate units we do so in the sense given to the term 'corporation' long ago by Maine in his classical analysis of testamentary succession in early law (Maine 1861). We are reminded also of Max Weber's sociological analysis of the corporate group as a general type of social formation (Weber 1947), for in many important particulars the African descent groups conform to Weber's definition (Fortes 1970: 78-9).

Where the lineage concept is highly developed, the lineage is thought to exist as a perpetual corporation as long as any of its members survive. This means, of course, not merely perpetual physical existence ensured by the replacement of departed members. It means perpetual structural existence, in a stable and homogeneous society; that is, the perpetual exercise of defined rights, duties, office and social tasks vested in the lineage as a corporate unit (Fortes 1970: 79-80).

45Fortes's characterization of the central African lineage in these terms seems a clear example of the projection of a core legal structure of European capitalist society - the corporate firm - on to other societies.

46The idea that the structural continuity of the social groups that constitute the foundation of a social structure is rooted in the system of rights and duties that is the functional equivalent of the formal laws of state society has continued to haunt anthropological kinship theory for most of this century. The legal institutions that Marcus contends are crucial in shaping dynastic families' 'distinctive nature as groups in modern societies' (1992: 16) are precisely those from which descent theorists derived their model of the jural domain in tribal society. Rather than rethinking anthropological categories, Marcus's model of the role of law repatriates a core analytic premise of descent theory: the primacy of law in the continuity of kinship corporations.

  • 14 Until feminist critiques called into question the universal, biological basis of gender, the mother (...)

47This assumption rests, in turn, on the more fundamental assumption that the jural principles' defining the rights and duties between kin in stateless societies can be differentiated from the diffuse moral commitments and emotional attachments between kin. That some kinship sentiments are themselves normatively prescribed was obvious even to the descent theorists who proposed this analytic distinction.14 Kinship relations, after all, were viewed by them as structured not only by precise jural rules of rights and duties but by more diffuse moral norms such as' prescriptive altruism'. Normative sentiments could not, however, be the basis of structural continuity.

48The lack of confidence British descent theorists had in emotions as a force for a stability and continuity - indeed their distrust of sentiment - was exacerbated by their disciplinary battle against the 'psychologizing' of Bronislaw Malinowski, who was Radcliffe-Brown's strongest rival for theoretical hegemony in British social anthropology. As Radcliffe-Brown's brand of functionalism gained ascendance in British social anthropology after the Second World War, Malinowski's brand of functionalism became increasingly discredited. The critique of Malinowskian functionalism focused in good part on his ideas about the universal physiological and psychological needs of individuals, which Malinowski viewed as the fundamental requirements of all human societies. In elevating the focus of anthropological theory from the individual to society - itself viewed as a functioning organic system - Radcliffe-Brown and his followers eschewed Malinowski's concern with the organic needs of individuals. Any interest social anthropology might have had in the survival and reproduction of the human organism was displaced on to society through an organic metaphor. The continuity of the social body - construed as social structure-by means of its stable equilibrium rather than the continuity of human organisms became the proper object of theory in social anthropology.

49The survival of the social structure, moreover, was viewed by Radcliffe-Brown and his successors as dependent on structures of law rather than structures of sentiment. Malinowski's fatal error was, for them, the attention he had paid to the latter rather than the former.

In sum, what is inadequately stressed by Malinowski is that kinship relations have to be seen as a system, within the framework of the total social structure. Their fundamental juridical nature, then emerges, as Rivers appreciated (Fortes 1957: 164, my emphasis). Questions of right and duty are, however, secondary to emotion and sentiment in Malinowski's analysis of these [Trobriand] data (ibid.).

50From the perspective of Radcliffe-Brown's model of society, Malinowski's attention to the power of sentiment, such as a father's affection for his son, rather than to structure-affirming law, constituted a prima facie case of psychological reductionism. Malinowski's belief in sentiments as motivating forces of social action was deemed as troubling as his theory of universal human instincts.

Malinowski had no sense for social organization... Kinship is to him primarily a tissue of culturally conditioned emotional attitudes (Fortes 1970: 71).

As I have said, a psychological framework was essential to Malinowski's functionalism. Everything he wrote was riddled with psychological explanation partly because his functionalism meant seeing custom as motive, partly because its instrumental and utilitarian form led back to physiological needs, and the simplest way in which these can be visualized as emerging in action is as the driving forces behind instincts, sentiments and emotions (Fortes 1957: 170).

51Rooted as it was in his theory of the universal physiological and psychological needs of individuals, Malinowski's focus on the psychological forces behind social institutions warranted this refutation. In purging 'psychology' from the study of kinship, however, Malinowski's critics threw sentiment out with it. Having concluded that 'kinship behaviour and not kinship sentiment is the study of the anthropologist'(Firth 1960: 576), they purged emotion from their theory of social action. As a consequence, they denied themselves the opportunity to analyse the interplay among sentiment, law and action. Instead, they lumped emotions with instincts, relegating them to the realm of universal human nature - ironically, just as Malinowski himself had done.

52Subsequent contributions to kinship theory in anthropology have reaffirmed this distrust of emotion and sentiment. Despite his disagreement with British descent theorists as to whether descent or alliance lay at the core of kinship, Lévi-Strauss concurred with his British colleagues 'distinction between' moral norms'(the bonds in the restricted family, such as the value placed on conjugal faithfulness and parental attachment) and the legal rules governing broader kinship structures. 'Affect' was, for Lévi-Strauss (1963a, 1963b), something other than a product of cognitive processes, and he shared his British colleagues' view of it as an epiphenomenon of social structure rather than as a constitutive force.

  • 15 See Schneider (1965) for an excellent analysis of this debate and the theoretical premises informin (...)

53Kinship theory in anthropology has taken several turns since the debate between descent theorists and alliance theorists and their respective total models of social structure.15 Rule-based models of social structure have been supplanted by social interactionist (Barth 1966) and practice-oriented analyses (Bourdieu 1977). Feminist kinship theory (Reiter 1975; Strathern 1980, 1988, 1992; Yanagisako and Collier 1987; Yanagisako and Delaney 1995) has undermined the assumption that all members of kin groups share the same commitments and goals, not to mention questioning whether they follow the 'rules' to the same degree. Yet, despite these challenges to rule-based models of kinship, law continues to be viewed as a more powerful structural force than sentiment.

54The distrust of emotion as a productive force capable of shaping the course of kin groups or of reproducing the social order appears to stem from a dichotomous model of human social action that has deep roots in Western European cosmology. In the 1980s, M. Rosaldo characterized these oppositions of thought/feeling, cognition/affect, outer 'mask' /inner 'essence', 'custom'/personality as products of a 'bifurcating and Western cast of mind' (1984: 137), which she believed to be wedded to a Western cosmology of self and society. At the same time, she argued that the interpretative turn in anthropology (Geertz 1973) provided potent conceptual resources for challenging these dichotomies and rethinking our notions of selves, affects, and personalities (1984: 137). She pointed to developments in psychology (Ricouer 1970) and philosophy (Foucault 1972 and 1978) that enabled us to understand how human beings understandings of themselves do not emerge from an inner, pre-social world, but 'from experience in a world of meanings, images and social bonds, in which all persons are inevitably involved' (Rosaldo 1984-139):

... instead of seeing feeling as a private (often animal, presocial) realm that is - ironically enough-most universal and at the same time most particular to the self, it will make sense to see emotions not as things opposed to thought but as cognitions implicating the immediate, carnal 'me' - as thought embodied (Rosaldo 1984: 138).

... recognition of the fact that thought is always culturally patterned and infused with feelings, which themselves reflect a culturally ordered past, suggests that just as thought does not exist in isolation from affective life, so affect is culturally ordered and does not exist apart from thought (1984: 137).

  • 16 See also Abu-Lughod and Lutz (1990) for a similar argument against the psychological, universalist, (...)

55After a couple of decades in which cultural constructivist approaches have pervaded anthropological theory,16 the idea that sentiments are no less culturally ordered and no more private than beliefs by now would seem a banal observation. Yet, Rosaldo's argument (1984: 147-50) that selves and feelings are more productively understood as the creation of particular sorts of polities and social relations does not seem to have been fully appreciated in many studies of kinship. Such an appreciation would open the door to the analysis of emotion, reclaiming it as a product of cultural processes as well as a process itself in the production, reproduction and transformation of social action. In such an analytic project, emotion would not stand outside law as a pre-jural, pre-political psychological force, but rather would be conceptualized as a constitutive force itself, incited by law and other social forces.

56In this chapter I have attempted such an analysis. I have tried to show that in the case of capitalist-industrial families in northern Italy, law and sentiment operate in more complex ways than are configured in conventional anthropological analyses of succession. Law does not function simply as a force for the continuity of corporate kin groups. Nor is it accurate to characterize it as setting kinship formations on a 'structured course' whose final outcome is shaped by the 'emotional atmosphere' of the family (Marcus 1992). Rather, the productive power of law should be seen as inciting desires and strategies that work to skirt and subvert law, as well as ones that carry out its designs. Although Italian law provides legal instruments that can be used by bourgeois families to promote the concentration of capital, one of its major effects has been to undermine family corporate continuity. Conversely, while some family sentiments work to undermine family corporate continuity, others - such as the patriarchal desire for filial succession - operate as forces for corporate continuity. Our understanding of processes of succession, whether among the elite or other sectors of society, would benefit greatly from our jettisoning the bifurcated model of law/sentiment, thought/emotion, society/self that has impeded our understanding of the processes through which sentiment and law constitute each other as forces of cultural production.


1 See Coombe 1998 for a useful discussion of the constitutive power of law.

2 Since 1984, I have conducted fifteen months of research on family firms in the silk industry of Como, Italy, including ethnographic and historical research on forty of the approximately 400 firms in the industry. These forty firms constitute a stratified sample according to the dimensions of firm size (number of employees) and age (years since founding). I have interviewed the owner-managers of all these firms and, in a third of the cases, several of their family members and relatives. For each firm, a detailed history has been obtained on family and kinship relationships, gender division of labour in family and firm, managerial organization of firm, inheritance and succession, capitalization and capital accumulation. Finally, I have interviewed industry officials and union leaders and collected archival materials, including firm records, industry surveys, government censuses, and notarial documents on property transfers.

3 In 1985, the industry employed about 13,000 workers in the province of Como, thus constituting its leading manufacturing industry. Although the total number of firms and employees in the industry declined in the 1970s and 1980s, the size distribution of firms has been fairly stable since 1961, with 68 per cent of firms having fewer than 10 workers, 18 per cent having 11-50 workers and on cent having 51 or more. Total sales figures continued to in the 1980s-in 1981 the industry sold goods worth 950 million 600 million of which came from export sales (Piore and Sabel 1984, quoting an industry report). Almost half the weaving firms are twenty years old, and 30 per cent are at least thirty years old.

4 Como's industrial structure bears some resemblance to what called 'the most important recent experiment in corporate production' – the 'flexible combination of mass assembly and subcontracting systems, of modern firms and home work as linked by units dominated by transnational capital' (1991: 283). It has strong similar Hong Kong's export-industrial economy, where most product place in subcontracting family firms (Salaff 1981). In the Como's silk industry, however, this flexible combination of mass assembly and subcontracting systems has existed since the beginnings district's industrial manufacturing of textiles in the latter ha nineteenth century. As in Japan, manufacturing in Italy h long-established pattern, where 'even under Fordism, small sub-contracting acted as a buffer to protect large corporate the cost of market fluctuations'(Harvey 1989: 152). According Harvey, these subcontracting firms constitute the 'other end business scale' from the increased monopolization of certain al and financial sectors, in which flexible accumulation has about massive mergers and corporate diversifications (Harvey 1989:158). Como family capitalism was reinvigorated by the n world recession and the rising labour conflicts of the late sixties: early seventies, which underscored the advantages of decentralized but co-ordinated, networks of small firms. While these Como owned and managed by family members, this does not mean constitute an autonomous, regional production system that is isolated from translocal and even transnational flows of capital, technology and labour. During its early history in the nineteenth century the Como industry as a whole was tied to German and Swiss finance capital, German textile machinery firms, and French manufacturers-for whom it fulfilled many of the earlier stage production, leaving the final, and most highly valued-added, phases French firms. With Italy's increasing industrial success, Com have come to be tied in more with Italian finance capital; but is still integrally linked with transnational industrial and commercial networks.

5 I have divided Como's industrial-capitalist families into three upper, middle, and lower-based on a combination of firm and family characteristics. Firm characteristics include annual gross in number of employees, and location in the industry hierarch who sell their own products, as opposed to subcontracting which sell their productive services), and ownership of other Family characteristics include a number of indicators of social class and social class trajectory, including the class of the founder's father, founder's mother, and founder's spouse, and the education of the founder and his children. The nine families out of forty in my sample that fall in the 'upper bourgeoisie' own firms that have an annual gross income of between thirty million and five million dollars, with most of them clustering around ten million dollars. The numbers of the workers employed by their firms range from eight hundred and fifty to fifty. This wide range steins from the fact that some firms farm work out to subcontracting firms, as well as to outworkers who are not officially classified as employees of the firm. The number of the firm's registered employees, consequently, is not a useful indicator of a firm's annual earnings or capital assets. Neither is it a good indicator of the wealth of the family. More revealing of the character of this fraction is the fact that none of their main firms are subcontractors and six of the nine are vertically-integrated firms that include all the phases of production required to transform raw silk into finished fabric. Every one of these upper bourgeois families, moreover, owns all or a majority of the shares in at least two other firms. This not only means that these families control more capital assets than those included in a single firm, but that they also control firms that specialize in other phases of production and even firms in allied marketing and retailing sectors. The family characteristics of this fraction reveal even more about its social character. The class backgrounds of the founders of these firms are varied, with four of their fathers' having been themselves members of the upper bourgeoisie and four divided among the middle bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie. Only one founder, whose father was a sharecropper, came from a non-bourgeois background. Six of the nine founders, however, had fathers who were already firm owners in the silk industry or an allied manufacturing sector.

6 My use of the term 'desire' rather than 'goal' or 'sentiment' is intentionally provocative. In doing so, I hope to blur the boundaries that have come to be taken for granted in much of cultural and social theory between goals conceptualized as embodied (e.g., sexual desire) and those that are construed as mental constructs and thus denied the energy associated with the body.

7 The official histories of family firms in the Italian silk manufacturing industry constitute narratives of origins not dissimilar to the stories of coming-into-being that have been the conventional object of analysis of anthropologists studying oral traditions in pre-literate societies. I use the term 'origin narratives' to draw attention to the mythic significance of these accounts of the beginnings of firms. I do not intend to imply, however, that these narratives are purely fanciful tales ungrounded in historical fact. Rather, I mean that these narratives constitute a discursive practice that can tell us a good deal about Italian bourgeois ideas of personhood, capitalist firm, family, and, succession.

8 Four of the forty firms in my sample are headed by women. One of these women took over the firm after the death of her husband, two co-founded the firm with their husbands, and one bought out and succeeded a non-relative founder. While these women heads of firms share some of the goals and sentiments of succession of their male counterparts, they also differ from them in ways that would require too lengthy a discussion to undertake here.

9 The 1865 Civic Code was revised under Mussolini in April 1942, when the Civil and Commercial Codes were combined, but inheritance provisions were not affected. Although the 1942 code did make some important changes in family law - among them redefining the family as asocial' rather than a 'natural' institution-many Fascist planners were disappointed that there was not a more sweeping revision (Horn 1994).

10 John Davis (1973: 174-86) gives a detailed description of the proportioning of inheritance claims.

11 Testamentary inheritance applies only to what is left after the legitim-distribution. The testator's will is restricted by a number of provisions, among them that the inheritor must be eighteen and mentally competent (Lessico Universale 1979: 199) and that illegitimate children may not, if there are legitimate children, receive more than would be their share if legal inheritance (see below) were followed (ibid.: 181). Legal inheritance takes effect when there is no will, and applies to the part not distributed by legitim. Again there is a complex set of rules governing the proportion received by various kin under different scenarios (summarized in Davis 1973: 181). In general, Davis notes (1973: 180), legal inheritance 'places much more emphasis on the nuclear family than does the law of legitim, which, by excluding siblings and other collateral kin, emphasizes the direct line of descent and ascent. Even in legal inheritance, however, priority is given to the descendants and then to ascendant over spouse and siblings.' If there are no surviving kin, the legal inheritance and the legitim go to the state (Mengoni 1961: 5).

12 A second contradiction generated by this desire for the intergenerational transmission of the means of independence is that it leads to the pursuit of capital accumulation, which in turn requires the appropriation of the labour of workers: in short, the independence of some families necessitates the subordination of others.

13 Fathers with more than one son obviously had to figure out how to endow them with the means of production without depleting the capital of the family firm. The ideal was to accumulate enough capital to diversify the family's holdings so that each son could have his own, adequately capitalized, firm. Short of that would be to expand the firm so that each son could head a department of the firm. A full discussion of these strategies cannot be undertaken here, and I have chosen instead to focus on the challenges that daughters' inheritance rights pose for male succession.

14 Until feminist critiques called into question the universal, biological basis of gender, the mother-child relation and women's kin relations in general tended to be naturalized in kinship studies, while men's relations were characterized as socially constituted (Yanagisako 1979; Yanagisako and Collier 1987).

15 See Schneider (1965) for an excellent analysis of this debate and the theoretical premises informing it.

16 See also Abu-Lughod and Lutz (1990) for a similar argument against the psychological, universalist, and essentialist view of emotion.


(Ph.D. Washington) is Professor of Anthropology at Standard University and Chair of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology. She was Director of the Program in Feminist Studies at that University. She is the author of Transforming the Past (Stanford, 1985) and with Jane Collier of Gender and Kinship (Stanford, 1987) and with Carol Delaney of Naturalizing Power (London, 1995).

© Etnográfica Press, 2000

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