Bridging Difference: Kinship, Friendship and the Creation of Social Bonds

By Mana Kia
Submitted to Session P4814 (Looking East: Knowledge, Travel, and Friendship Between the Middle East and Asia in the 19th Century, 2017 Annual Meeting
India; Iran;
13th-18th Centuries; 19th-21st Centuries;
This paper examines the ways in which Persian-educated people from different regions between Iran and India forged formal and informal bonds at the very end of the early modern period. The circulation of people between West and South Asia did not cease in the aftermath of 18th-century imperial collapse. But we know little about the way rapidly changing circumstances in the respective regions, which saw much political chaos and economic upheavals, affected social relations and perceptions of difference. This paper examines instances of marriage, adoption and other socially recognized forms of kin-making in a number of well known Persian commemorative texts of the 18th century through the early 19th century. What was the work of such practices, and how did they create connections (successfully or not) across social, political, and parochial differences? What does this tell us about the changes or continuities of categories of difference? The language of kinship, while rooted in formally recognized and regulated family relationships or broader idea of social collectivity, could be used to render other kinds of relationships into a socially recognized form of connection, defined by particular kinds of obligations and privileges. This is significant since it extends the meaning of kinship to other forms of companionship and broadens it to include those not linked by birth or law. Both formal and informal kinship practices could create socially and politically beneficial connections between people at moments of dislocation or rupture, seeking to mitigate the effects of broader instabilities of the time. Major sources include Sayyid Ghulam Husayn Tabataba’i’s late 18th-century, Siyar al-Mut’akhkhirin (1786) and Aqa Ahmad Bibahani’s early 19th century travel account to India (1810), read against the background of similar contemporaneous texts. A main consideration of this analysis is to think through which practices are transregionally recognizable Persians, which are of a local nature, and how these distinctions mattered.