What Makes a Family? A Visual Approach to Ontological and Substantial Dimensions of the Domestic in Nepal
What makes a family? On the one hand, tangible aspects such as a shared household, eating practices, and marriage alliances come to mind. On the other hand, that ineffable dominium of feelings of attachment that is difficult to articulate also must have its role. I define the former a ‘substantial’ dimension, and the latter an ‘ontological’ dimension of kinship. Substantial and ontological dimensions are often profoundly intertwined in familial groups in most societies, yet in differing ways. Also, while substantial elements are not necessary for a group to identify as a family, as demonstrated by transnational family arrangements that do not share a household or eating practices, at the same time the expected exchange of substances might also follow obligations that do not correspond to one’ s personal sense of belonging. The present essay visualizes the intersubjective processes through which middle-class people conceive of the family in the Newar city of Bhaktapur (Nepal), through the negotiation of domestic spaces and practices. Drawing upon fifteen months of ethnographic research in 2018-2019, I show how ontological and substantial dimensions come together to shape modern ideas of family.
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