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Hardcover | Out of Print | 344 pp. | 6 x 9 in | November 1999 | ISBN: 9780942299335
Paperback | $24.95 Short | £19.95 | 344 pp. | 6 x 9 in | February 2002 | ISBN: 9780942299342
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Two Sisters and Their Mother

The Anthropology of Incest
Translated by Jeanine Herman


The sharing of a sexual partner between relatives has always been taboo. In this stunning work, anthropologist Françoise Héritier charts the incest prohibition throughout history, from the strict decrees of Leviticus to modern civil codes, and finds a secondary type of incest, which she calls the incest of two sisters. The term refers not to incest between two sisters, or between two sisters and their mother, but to a love triangle of sorts in which the transfer of bodily fluids among sexual partners, two of whom are related to each other, creates undeniable bonds. Drawing on her field work in West African societies where the bans against two sisters are particularly stringent and on various cultural practices (such as milk kinship), Héritier fashions a complex "mechanics of fluids" in which blood, milk, and semen form the basis for kinship and prohibition. The intricate connections among the social, the natural, and the bodily emerge, fully apparent, and kinship studies are seen in a new light, one that illuminates the primacy of the symbolic.

About the Author

Françoise Héritier is Professor of Anthropology, Chair of Comparative Studies in African Societies at the Collège de France, and Director of the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, where she is Claude Lévi-Strauss’s successor. She is the author of L’Exercice de la parenté, De L’inceste, Masculin/féminin: la pensée de la différence, and De la violence.