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Sibling Action: The Genealogical Structure of Modernity

Stefani Engelstein

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ISBN 10: 0231180403 / ISBN 13: 9780231180405
Published by Columbia University Press
New Condition: New Hardcover
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Title: Sibling Action: The Genealogical Structure ...

Publisher: Columbia University Press

Binding: Hardback

Book Condition: New

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Beginning in the late eighteenth century, Europeans embarked on a new way of classifying the world, devising genealogies that determined degrees of relatedness by tracing heritage through common ancestry. This methodology organized historical systems into family trees, transforming the closest contemporaneous terms on trees of languages, religions, races, nations, species, or individuals into siblings. Encompassing political fraternity, sister languages, racial discourse on brotherhood, evolutionary sibling species, and intense, often incestuously inclined brother-sister bonds in literature, siblinghood stands out as a ubiquitous-yet unacknowledged-conceptual touchstone across the European long nineteenth century. In all such systems the sibling term, not-quite-same and not-quite-other, serves as an active fault line, necessary for and yet continuously destabilizing definition and classification. In her provocative book, Stefani Engelstein explores the pervasive significance of sibling structures and their essential role in the modern organization of knowledge and identity. Sibling Action argues that this relational paradigm came to structure the modern subject, life sciences, human sciences, and collective identities such as race, religion, and gender. Engelstein considers theoretical constructions of subjectivity through Sophocles' Antigone; fraternal equality and its exclusion of sisters in political rhetoric; the intertwining of economic and kinship theory by Friedrich Engels and Claude Levi-Strauss; Darwin and his contemporaries' accounts of speciation; anthropological and philological depictions of Muslims and Jews at the margins of Europe; and evolutionary psychology's theorizing around the incest taboo. Integrating close readings across the disciplines with panoramic intellectual history and arresting literary interpretations, Sibling Action presents a compelling new understanding of systems of knowledge and provides the foundation for less confrontational formulations of belonging, identity, and agency.


In an utterly original way, Engelstein reveals how the figure of the sibling--not quite self and not quite other--has shaped Western understandings of biology, language, and politics. Through deft analysis, she uncovers an epistemological move that since the late eighteenth century has been destabilizing quests for origins and descriptions of unique, historically grounded individuals: a lateral rather than a vertical comparison that blurs boundaries by claiming both affinity and difference.--Laura Otis, author of Rethinking Thought: Inside the Minds of Creative Scientists and Artists

The scope, complexity, and importance of Sibling Action is extraordinary: working fluently and fluidly across German, French, and British eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literatures and sciences, as well as ancient Greek tragedy and its modern interpretations, Engelstein establishes convincingly that the sibling is a key "boundary object" by means of which many of our modern disciplines, as well as the very notion of disciplinarity, have established themselves. Sibling Action is an enormous contribution not only to German and British literary studies, but also to science studies and contemporary feminist theory, and is certain to be a key reference in all of those fields for a long time to come.--Robert Mitchell, author of Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature

As inviting, invigorating, and stimulating an academic book as I have encountered. An astonishing read from the first page to the last.--Adrian Daub, Stanford University

This ambitious, powerful, and highly original study examines the figure of the sibling as a major anchoring device of the epistemological and political systems of modernity--a figure that not only relays the great shift from a vertical model of sovereignty to a horizontal one of fraternité but also causes trouble for the various systems it underwrites by transforming dichotomies into more open relational structures. At the same time, Engelstein interrogates the gender politics of this master trope by way of the figure of the sister, whose role in the new citizenship model that emerged from the French Revolution was to provide a locus of stable affective bonding, while being excluded from the public sphere. Through incisive readings of texts by Sophocles, Schiller, Rousseau, Lessing, Goethe, Shelley, Byron, and George Eliot, among others, Engelstein open up archives in a new way and adds her eloquent voice to the ongoing discussion of cosmopolitanism and participatory democracy.--Marc Redfield, author of Theory at Yale: The Strange Case of Deconstruction in America

Wide-ranging and intriguing.--Choice

A provocative and elegant study that deserves the attention of every historian of nineteenth-century science.--Isis

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