Living Kinship, Fearing Spirits

Sociality among the Khmu of Northern Laos

Rosalie Stolz

  • Published: 2021
  • Pages: 352 pp.
  • 2 maps, 18 illustrations
  • Series: NIAS Monographs
  • Series number: 153
Available worldwide after publication
ISBN Hardback: 978 87 7694 298 4, £70.00 (March 2021)
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 7694 299 1, £25 (May 2021)

About the book

  • An intimate study of how kinship and sociality is lived on the ground in rural Laos today. 
  • Bridges the knowledge and conceptual heritage of classical ethnography and the concerns and questions of new kinship studies with rich findings from extensive fieldwork. 
  • Significant addition to the field of Khmu (Kammu) studies with the first ethnographic study of kinship among this upland minority group. 

How can we conceive of kinship and sociality in the rapidly transforming uplands of mainland Southeast Asia? How to write about kinship in a way that neither falls into the trap of taking for granted kinship phenomena nor ignores the body of knowledge from earlier research? This in-depth study uses its rich findings from extensive fieldwork among the Khmu, upland dwellers of northern Laos, to bridge the divide between classical ethnography and modern approaches to kinship studies. 

Here, the author offers a fresh perspective on kinship by, first of all, stepping backwards and delving into how it is actually lived locally in northern Laos. She highlights that not only the beginning of life but also its ending deserves our attention when considering the relevance of kinship. Indeed, to a considerable extent, living kinship is about death. The context of kinship and sociality among the Khmu is significant here, these being framed by ties of matrilateral cross-cousin marriage and patrilineal descent – concepts on which this study casts new light. 


Dr Stolz explores this complexity in an absorbing series of intimate and self-reflective accounts. These touch upon a variety a topics, beginning with the language of kinship, then proceeding to examine the house, the changing importance of kinship throughout the life cycle, the key roles that gifting and commensality play, the meaning of work and, finally, to offer glimpses of the intricacies of village sociality and its cosmological dimensions. The underlying approach here is asking how the nature and praxis of kinship bring us closer to understanding what it means to live kinship – not just in upland northern Laos but in other societies as well. This is a significant study, one of long-term significance. 

About the author

Rosalie Stolz is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Anthropology at Heidelberg University. In her ethnographic research, focused on Southeast Asia (and Laos in particular), she specializes in the topics of houses, kinship, sociality and socio-economic change. As well as being published recently on kinship, spirits and houses, she is co-editor of a volume on Being a Parent in the Field. 

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by Brett Le Saint, Université de Picardie
From journal: Sojourn
At first glance, this book appears to be a classic ethnographic study of kinship among a minority group in the uplands of Laos; but it is much more. … Rosalie Stolz delivers a very intimate and self-reflective account of what kinship actually entails … [T]he author’s first monograph not only constitutes a significant contribution to Khmu and kinship studies in general, but it is also a vivid lesson of what ethnography should look like.
by Guido Sprenger, Heidelberg University
From journal: Journal of Asian Studies
Written in highly accessible prose, Living Kinship, Fearing Spirits stands out for its fresh and intimate look on some of anthropology’s central topics. It also appeals to anyone interested in life in the Asian uplands, especially the Southeast Asian mainland. … [The] book combines lively, sensitive, and empathic description with thoughtful analysis into an exemplary study of contemporary life in the Asian highlands.
by Monica Janowski, Centre for SE Asian Studies, SOAS, University of London
From journal:
Rosalie Stolz’s book is a beautifully detailed exploration of kinship among the Khmu, with many vignettes of the everyday. I particularly like her focus on understanding kinship as a process and kin ties as needing to be ‘worked’ at; and her focus on the centrality of food – and alcoholic drink! – in bringing kinship into being.
by Oliver Tappe, University of Heidelberg
From journal:
One year of intensive field research and immersion into the social intricacies of a Khmu village in upland Laos, transformed into a masterful monograph. Rosalie Stolz explores new exciting methodological and epistemological pathways to kinship anthropology and offers a multi-faceted contribution to the field.