La Famiglia : The Ideology of Sicilian Family Networks

Abstract: Anthropological data from fieldwork carried out among a fishing population in western Sicily show how related matrifocal nuclear families are tightly knit within larger, male-headed networks. The mother focus at the basic family level is thereby balanced and the system indicates that the mother-child unit does not function effectively on its own, as has often been argued for this type of family structure. As a result of dominating moral values which strongly emphasise the uniqueness of family and kin, people are brought up to depend heavily upon and to be loyal to their kin networks, to see themselves primarily as parts of these social units and less so as independent clearly bounded individuals, and to distinctly separate family members from non-family members. This dependence is further strengthened by matri- and/or patrivicinity being the dominant form of locality, by the traditional naming system as well as a continual use of kin terms, and by related people socialising and collaborating closely. The social and physical boundaries thus created around the family networks are further strengthened by local architecture that symbolically communicates the closed family unit; by the woman, who embodies her family as well as their house, having her outdoor movements restricted in order to shield both herself and her family; by self-mastery when it comes to skilfully calculating one's actions and words as a means of controlling the impression one makes on others; and by local patriotism that separates one's co-villagers from foreigners. Hospitality, which brings inclusion and exclusion into focus, is shown to be a means of ritually incorporating non-kin and thus containing the danger the stranger represents. The author aims to answer the question of whether the social and physical boundaries around the family network, together with the distrust towards non-family members referred to by the informants themselves, constitute a hindrance as regards collaboration with non-kin, or if collaboration beyond the family boundaries is possible and, if so, whether or not this has to lead to the family's losing its position.