Margarita Xanthakou

Defining Identity Publication date : April 13, 2007

The question of identity is studied here through the lives of twelve subjects from the Greek region of Mani (part of ancient Sparta). The author examines the lives of her predominantly female subjects from two angles: each person is seen as an individual and as a member of a lineage, with one angle sometimes taking precedence over the other.
Cases studied here include: an alleged village idiot, an adopted orphan girl who was reduced to slavery, two inseparable sisters, a homosexual (fabricated or intentional), and numerous abused or abandoned women.
The originality of the author’s method lies in the reversal of the traditional approach: instead of using kinship to determine the types of rape and incest that recur throughout her subjects’ lives, she attempts to reconstitute the type of kinship relations that predominate in Mani society on the basis of those cases of rape and incest.

This ethnographic study of the lives of villagers in the region corresponding to ancient Sparta shows how Greek society was disrupted both by traditional forms of violence and by recent historical events such as World War II, the Greek civil war and the Colonels’ dictatorship. The author takes a fresh look at kinship relations by examining those acts that transgress the rules and taboos defined by kinship.
Each individual story is movingly told in this beautifully written book.

Margarita Xanthakou, an anthropologist, is a senior research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and a member of the laboratory for social anthropology at the Collège de France. She is the co-author, with Françoise Héritier, of Corps et Affects (Odile Jacob, 2004).