Sunday, August 3, 2014

Near the Bookshelf: Ancestors and Relatives

In 2013,  Eviatar Zerubavel's book Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community was released in paperback. This interview is from Rutgers University, where Zerubavel is a professor of sociology. 

I remember the book caused a bit a stir on genealogy lists when it was first published in 2011. I quickly added the book to my "to read" list. I was intrigued by his premise that "[r]ather than simply find out who our ancestors were and identify our relatives, we actually construct the genealogical narratives that make them our ancestors and relatives." As an immigration historian I am all about constructing identity.  I was equally fascinated by the complaints that genealogists had about it. One that sticks in my mind was that he hadn't spoken to any actual genealogists. This seemed odd to me because, in my experience, sociologists are all about talking to people. Sociology and history, particularly in migration studies, have many similarities and reach many of the same conclusions with one big exception. Sociologists study the living and historians study the dead.

I still haven't managed to read Ancestors and Relatives, but after reading this interview, it has moved up the list considerably.  

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