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Kinship, ritual kinship and political milieus in an alpine Valley in 19th century
The History of the Family
In my paper I will present some results about ritual kinship and political mobilization of popular groups in an alpine Valley: the Val de Bagnes, in the Swiss canton of Valais. There are two major reasons to choose the Val de Bagnes for our inquiry about social networks: the existence of sharp political and social conflicts during the 18th and the 19th century and the availability of almost systematic genealogical data between 1700 and 1900. The starting point of my research focuses on this question: what role did kinship and ritual kinship play in the political mobilization of popular groups and in the organization of competing factions? This question allows us to shed light on some other uses and meanings of ritual kinship in the local society. Was ritual kinship a significant instrument for economic cooperation? Or was it a channel for patronage or for privileged social contacts? The analysis highlights the importance of kinship and godparentage for the building of homogeneous social and political networks. If we consider transactions between individuals, the analysis of 19th century Val de Bagnes gives the impression of quite open networks. Men and women tried to diversify their relations in order to avoid strong dependency from powerful patrons. Nevertheless, when we consider the family networks, we can notice that most relations took place in a structured social space or a specific "milieu", were intense contacts enhanced trust, although political allegiances and social choices were not fully predictable on the basis of such preferential patterns. In a politically conflictual society, like 19th century Bagnes, ritual kinship interacted with kinship solidarities and ideological factors shaping dense social networks mostly based on a common political orientation. Such milieus sustained the building of political factions, which show surprising stability over time. In this sense, milieus are important factors to understand political and religious polarization in 19th century Switzerland.
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