Constitutive Knowledge: Tracing Trajectories of Information in New Contexts of Relatedness

One much-commented upon feature of globalization is an increased access to information. If new kinds of information, and a new speed of access to it, characterize the so-called "global society," then how do new kinds of kinship information and kinship knowledge affect Western practices of kinship, or a Western "sense of self?" Examining the place of certain kinds of knowledge in Western idioms and practices of relatedness and personhood, this paper explores the effects of new kinds of information upon family ties. The role of information and knowledge in pre-natal testing, in adoptive kinship, in the searches undertaken by adoptees for their birth kin, and in transfers of bodily substance in fertility treatment, provide some specific contexts to understand the way that kinship knowledge contributes to people's sense of connectedness to their relatives, and to their own sense of identity. Rather than assuming a clear trajectory from a world of ascribed ties to one in which such ties are achieved, I highlight some of the more complex processes which people put to work when they constitute themselves through their various kinds of relations. A web of intertwinings, separations, and rejoinings between what is apparently inherited from the past, and what is created anew can be discerned as central to Western kinship practices.