Crisis and its aftermath in Iceland: Kinship as recovery after economic collapse

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Copyright: Heffernan, Timothy
This thesis is an anthropological study of kinship among residents in Reykjavík, Iceland, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Through ethnographic research with families and citizens’ collectives, kinship is explored as the cultures of relatedness developed in response to an economic crisis that turned into a political one. I argue that kin bonds provide affective support to recast the moral landscape after the economic collapse and revelations of corruption among politicians. The backdrop to this thesis is the effect of the crisis on culturally sanctioned ideas about accepted behaviours for the benefit of present and future kin. This is traced through debates over legislating a new constitution drafted after the crisis. While a distinction is often made between the domains of politics and kinship, this thesis engages recent anthropological literature on collective action and protest against the nation-state to illustrate the political utility of affective support and social intimacy among kin networks for rebuilding Iceland’s moral landscape. Kinship is shown to provide the conditions necessary to build this landscape and mount democratic reform. Kinship and politics blend in this context, thereby leading to the development of new shared values, ethics and attitudes for reinstating social equality, which are then channelled into politics through sustained efforts in the public sphere to build recovery and enact lasting reform. Noting Iceland’s peripheral location from the metropolitan centres of Europe and my cultural and geographic position as an Australian anthropologist, this research asks what can be known about crisis and recovery when we look to the margins. With reference to Raewyn Connell’s Southern theory (2007), I join Icelandic scholars in questioning what accounts of the crisis–aftermath nexus outside the global centres of capitalism tells us about the crisis phenomenon. In this context, citizens’ collectives comprising kin networks are shown to be revitalising national politics, demonstrating kinship’s enduring appeal for social organisation and belonging when leaders are seen to fail in their elected responsibilities.
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PhD Doctorate