In anthropology, kinship is the web of social relationships that form
an important part of the lives of all humans in all societies,
although its exact meanings even within this discipline are often
Robin Fox states that "the study of kinship is
the study of what man does with these basic facts of life –
mating, gestation, parenthood, socialization, siblingship etc." Human
society is unique, he argues, in that we are "working with the same
raw material as exists in the animal world, but [we] can conceptualize
and categorize it to serve social ends." These social ends include
the socialization of children and the formation of basic economic,
political and religious groups.
Kinship can refer both to the patterns of social relationships
themselves, or it can refer to the study of the patterns of social
relationships in one or more human cultures (i.e. kinship studies).
Over its history, anthropology has developed a number of related
concepts and terms in the study of kinship, such as descent, descent
group, lineage, affinity/affine, consanguinity/cognate and fictive
kinship. Further, even within these two broad usages of the term,
there are different theoretical approaches.
Broadly, kinship patterns may be considered to include people related
by both descent – i.e. social relations during
development – and by marriage. Human kinship relations through
marriage are commonly called "affinity" in contrast to the
relationships that arise in one's group of origin, which may be called
one's descent group. In some cultures, kinship relationships may be
considered to extend out to people an individual has economic or
political relationships with, or other forms of social connections.
Within a culture, some descent groups may be considered to lead back
to gods or animal ancestors (totems). This may be conceived of on a
more or less literal basis.
Kinship can also refer to a principle by which individuals or groups
of individuals are organized into social groups, roles, categories and
genealogy by means of kinship terminologies.
Family relations can be
represented concretely (mother, brother, grandfather) or abstractly by
degrees of relationship (kinship distance). A relationship may be
relative (e.g. a father in relation to a child) or reflect an absolute
(e.g. the difference between a mother and a childless woman). Degrees
of relationship are not identical to heirship or legal succession.
Many codes of ethics consider the bond of kinship as creating
obligations between the related persons stronger than those between
strangers, as in Confucian filial piety.
In a more general sense, kinship may refer to a similarity or affinity
between entities on the basis of some or all of their characteristics
that are under focus. This may be due to a shared ontological origin,
a shared historical or cultural connection, or some other perceived
shared features that connect the two entities. For example, a person
studying the ontological roots of human languages (etymology) might
ask whether there is kinship between the English word seven and the
German word sieben. It can be used in a more diffuse sense as in, for
example, the news headline "Madonna feels kinship with vilified Wallis
Simpson", to imply a felt similarity or empathy between two or more
In biology, "kinship" typically refers to the degree of genetic
relatedness or coefficient of relationship between individual members
of a species (e.g. as in kin selection theory). It may also be used in
this specific sense when applied to human relationships, in which case
its meaning is closer to consanguinity or genealogy.
1 Basic concepts
1.3.1 Descent rules
1.3.2 Descent groups
1.3.3 Lineages, clans, phratries, moieties, and matrimonial sides
126.96.36.199 House societies
1.5 Alliance (marital exchange systems)
2 History of kinship studies
2.1 Morgan's early influence
Kinship networks and social process
Kinship system" as systemic pattern
2.4 Conflicting theories of the mid 20th century
2.5 Recognition of fluidity in kinship meanings and relations
2.6 Schneider's critique of genealogical concepts
3 Biology, psychology and kinship
3.1 Nonreductive biology and nurture kinship
3.2 Evolutionary psychology
4 Extensions of the kinship metaphor
4.1 Fictive kinship
4.2 Fosterage and adoption
4.3 Detailed terms for parentage
6 See also
9 External links
Main article: Family
Family is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity (by recognized
birth), affinity (by marriage), or co-residence/shared consumption
(see Nurture kinship). In most societies it is the principal
institution for the socialization of children. As the basic unit for
raising children, Anthropologists most generally classify family
organization as matrifocal (a mother and her children); conjugal (a
husband, his wife, and children; also called nuclear family);
avuncular (a brother, his sister, and her children); or extended
family in which parents and children co-reside with other members of
one parent's family.
However, producing children is not the only function of the family; in
societies with a sexual division of labor, marriage, and the resulting
relationship between two people, it is necessary for the formation of
an economically productive household.
Different societies classify kinship relations differently and
therefore use different systems of kinship terminology – for example
some languages distinguish between affinal and consanguine uncles,
whereas others have only one word to refer to both a father and his
Kinship terminologies include the terms of address used in
different languages or communities for different relatives and the
terms of reference used to identify the relationship of these
relatives to ego or to each other.
Kin terminologies can be either descriptive or classificatory. When a
descriptive terminology is used, a term refers to only one specific
type of relationship, while a classificatory terminology groups many
different types of relationships under one term. For example, the word
brother in English-speaking societies indicates a son of one's same
parent; thus, English-speaking societies use the word brother as a
descriptive term referring to this relationship only. In many other
classificatory kinship terminologies, in contrast, a person's male
first cousin ( whether mother's brother's son, mother's sister's son,
father's brother's son, father's sister's son) may also be referred to
The major patterns of kinship systems that are known which Lewis Henry
Morgan identified through kinship terminology in his 1871 work Systems
Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human
Iroquois kinship (also known as "bifurcate merging")
Crow kinship (an expansion of bifurcate merging)
Omaha kinship (also an expansion of bifurcate merging)
Eskimo kinship (also referred to as "lineal kinship")
Hawaiian kinship (also referred to as the "generational system")
Sudanese kinship (also referred to as the "descriptive
There is a seventh type of system only identified as distinct later:
Dravidian kinship (the classical type of classificatory kinship, with
bifurcate merging but totally distinct from Iroquois). Most Australian
Aboriginal kinship is also classificatory.
The six types (Crow, Eskimo, Hawaiian, Iroquois, Omaha, Sudanese) that
are not fully classificatory (Dravidian, Australian) are those
identified by Murdock (1949) prior to Lounsbury's (1964) rediscovery
of the linguistic principles of classificatory kin terms.
In many societies where kinship connections are important, there are
rules, though they may be expressed or be taken for granted. There are
four main headings that anthropologists use to categorize rules of
descent. They are bilateral, unilineal, ambilineal and double
Bilateral descent or two-sided descent affiliates an individual more
or less equally with relatives on his father's and mother's sides. A
good example is the Yako of the Crossriver state of Nigeria.
Unilineal rules affiliates an individual through the descent of one
sex only, that is, either through males or through females. They are
subdivided into two: patrilineal (male) and matrilineal (female). Most
societies are patrilineal. Examples of a matrilineal system of descent
are the Nyakyusa of Tanzania and the Nair of Kerala, India. Many
societies that practise a matrilineal system often have a patrilocal
residence and men still exercise significant authority.
Ambilineal (or Cognatic) rule affiliates an individual with kinsmen
through the father's or mother's line. Some people in societies that
practise this system affiliate with a group of relatives through their
fathers and others through their mothers. The individual can choose
which side he wants to affiliate to. The
Samoans of the South Pacific
are an excellent example of an ambilineal society. The core members of
the Samoan descent group can live together in the same compound.
Double descent refers to societies in which both the patrilineal and
matrilineal descent group are recognized. In these societies an
individual affiliates for some purposes with a group of patrilineal
kinsmen and for other purposes with a group of matrilineal kinsmen.
The most widely known case of double descent is the
Afikpo of Imo
state in Nigeria. Although patrilineage is considered an important
method of organization, the
Afikpo considers matrilineal ties to be
A descent group is a social group whose members talk about common
ancestry. A unilineal society is one in which the descent of an
individual is reckoned either from the mother's or the father's line
of descent. With matrilineal descent individuals belong to their
mother's descent group.
Matrilineal descent includes the mother's
brother, who in some societies may pass along inheritance to the
sister's children or succession to a sister's son. With patrilineal
descent, individuals belong to their father's descent group. Societies
Iroquois kinship system, are typically uniliineal, while the
Iroquois proper are specifically matrilineal.
In a society which reckons descent bilaterally (bilineal), descent is
reckoned through both father and mother, without unilineal descent
groups. Societies with the
Eskimo kinship system, like the Inuit,
Yupik, and most Western societies, are typically bilateral. The
egocentric kindred group is also typical of bilateral societies.
Some societies reckon descent patrilineally for some purposes, and
matrilineally for others. This arrangement is sometimes called double
descent. For instance, certain property and titles may be inherited
through the male line, and others through the female line.
Societies can also consider descent to be ambilineal (such as Hawaiian
kinship) where offspring determine their lineage through the
matrilineal line or the patrilineal line.
Lineages, clans, phratries, moieties, and matrimonial sides
A lineage is a unilineal descent group that can demonstrate their
common descent from a known apical ancestor.
Unilineal lineages can be
matrilineal or patrilineal, depending on whether they are traced
through mothers or fathers, respectively. Whether matrilineal or
patrilineal descent is considered most significant differs from
culture to culture.
A clan is generally a descent group claiming common descent from an
apical ancestor. Often, the details of parentage are not important
elements of the clan tradition. Non-human apical ancestors are called
totems. Examples of clans are found in Chechen, Chinese, Irish,
Japanese, Polish, Scottish, Tlingit, and Somali societies.
A phratry is a descent group composed of two or more clans each of
whose apical ancestors are descended from a further common ancestor.
If a society is divided into exactly two descent groups, each is
called a moiety, after the French word for half. If the two halves are
each obliged to marry out, and into the other, these are called
matrimonial moieties. Houseman and White (1998b, bibliography) have
discovered numerous societies where kinship network analysis shows
that two halves marry one another, similar to matrimonial moieties,
except that the two halves—which they call matrimonial
sides—are neither named nor descent groups, although the
egocentric kinship terms may be consistent with the pattern of
sidedness, whereas the sidedness is culturally evident but
The word deme refers to an endogamous local population that does not
have unilineal descent. Thus, a deme is a local endogamous
community without internal segmentation into clans.
Main article: House society
In some societies kinship and political relations are organized around
membership in corporately organized dwellings rather than around
descent groups or lineages, as in the "House of Windsor". The concept
of a house society was originally proposed by
Claude Lévi-Strauss who
called them "sociétés a maison". The concept has been
applied to understand the organization of societies from Mesoamerica
North Africa and medieval Europe.
Lévi-Strauss introduced the concept as an alternative to 'corporate
kinship group' among the cognatic kinship groups of the Pacific
region. The socially significant groupings within these societies have
variable membership because kinship is reckoned bilaterally (through
both father's and mother's kin) and come together for only short
periods. Property, genealogy and residence are not the basis for the
Main article: Marriage
Marriage is a socially or ritually recognized union or legal contract
between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them,
between them and their children, and between them and their
in-laws. The definition of marriage varies according to different
cultures, but it is principally an institution in which interpersonal
relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged. When
defined broadly, marriage is considered a cultural universal. A broad
definition of marriage includes those that are monogamous, polygamous,
same-sex and temporary.
The act of marriage usually creates normative or legal obligations
between the individuals involved, and any offspring they may produce.
Marriage may result, for example, in "a union between a man and a
woman such that children born to the woman are the recognized
legitimate offspring of both partners."
Edmund Leach argued that
no one definition of marriage applied to all cultures, but offered a
list of ten rights frequently associated with marriage, including
sexual monopoly and rights with respect to children (with specific
rights differing across cultures).
There is wide cross-cultural variation in the social rules governing
the selection of a partner for marriage. In many societies the choice
of partner is limited to suitable persons from specific social groups.
In some societies the rule is that a partner is selected from an
individual's own social group – endogamy, this is the case in many
class and caste based societies. But in other societies a partner must
be chosen from a different group than one's own – exogamy, this is
the case in many societies practicing totemic religion where society
is divided into several exogamous totemic clans, such as most
Aboriginal Australian societies. Marriages between parents and
children, or between full siblings, with few
exceptions, have been considered
incest and forbidden. However, marriages between more distant
relatives have been much more common, with one estimate being that 80%
of all marriages in history have been between second cousins or
Alliance (marital exchange systems)
Main article: Alliance theory
Systemic forms of preferential marriage may have wider social
implications in terms of economic and political organization. In a
wide array of lineage-based societies with a classificatory kinship
system, potential spouses are sought from a specific class of relative
as determined by a prescriptive marriage rule. Insofar as regular
marriages following prescriptive rules occur, lineages are linked
together in fixed relationships; these ties between lineages may form
political alliances in kinship dominated societies. French
Claude Lévi-Strauss developed alliance
theory to account for the "elementary" kinship structures created by
the limited number of prescriptive marriage rules possible.
Claude Lévi-Strauss argued in The Elementary Structures of Kinship
(1949), that the incest taboo necessitated the exchange of women
between kinship groups. Levi-Strauss thus shifted the emphasis from
descent groups to the stable structures or relations between groups
that preferential and prescriptive marriage rules created.
History of kinship studies
One of the foundational works in the anthropological study of kinship
was Morgan's Systems of
Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family
(1871). As is the case with other social sciences,
kinship studies emerged at a time when the understanding of the Human
species' comparative place in the world was somewhat different from
today's. Evidence that life in stable social groups is not just a
feature of humans, but also of many other primates, was yet to emerge
and society was considered to be a uniquely human affair. As a result,
early kinship theorists saw an apparent need to explain not only the
details of how human social groups are constructed, their patterns,
meanings and obligations, but also why they are constructed at all.
The why explanations thus typically presented the fact of life in
social groups (which appeared to be unique to humans) as being largely
a result of human ideas and values.
Morgan's early influence
A broad comparison of (left, top-to-bottom) Hawaiian, Sudanese,
Eskimo, (right, top-to-bottom) Iroquois, Crow and Omaha kinship
Morgan's explanation was largely based on the notion that all humans
have an inherent natural valuation of genealogical ties (an unexamined
assumption that would remain at the heart of kinship studies for
another century, see below), and therefore also an inherent desire to
construct social groups around these ties. Even so, Morgan found that
members of a society who are not close genealogical relatives may
nevertheless use what he called kinship terms (which he considered to
be originally based on genealogical ties). This fact was already
evident in his use of the term affinity within his concept of the
system of kinship. The most lasting of Morgan's contributions was his
discovery of the difference between descriptive and classificatory
kinship terms, which situated broad kinship classes on the basis of
imputing abstract social patterns of relationships having little or no
overall relation to genetic closeness but instead cognition about
kinship, social distinctions as they affect linguistic usages in
kinship terminology, and strongly relate, if only by approximation, to
patterns of marriage.
Kinship networks and social process
A more flexible view of kinship was formulated in British social
anthropology. Among the attempts to break out of universalizing
assumptions and theories about kinship,
Radcliffe-Brown (1922, The
Andaman Islands; 1930, The social organization of Australian tribes)
was the first to assert that kinship relations are best thought of as
concrete networks of relationships among individuals. He then
described these relationships, however, as typified by interlocking
Malinowski (1922, Argonauts of the Western
Pacific) described patterns of events with concrete individuals as
participants stressing the relative stability of institutions and
communities, but without insisting on abstract systems or models of
kinship. Gluckman (1955, The judicial process among the Barotse of
Northern Rhodesia) balanced the emphasis on stability of institutions
against processes of change and conflict, inferred through detailed
analysis of instances of social interaction to infer rules and
assumptions. John Barnes, Victor Turner, and others, affiliated with
Gluckman’s Manchester school of anthropology, described patterns of
actual network relations in communities and fluid situations in urban
or migratory context, as with the work of
J. Clyde Mitchell (1965,
Social Networks in Urban Situations). Yet, all these approaches clung
to a view of stable functionalism, with kinship as one of the central
Kinship system" as systemic pattern
The concept of “system of kinship” tended to dominate
anthropological studies of kinship in the early 20th century. Kinship
systems as defined in anthropological texts and ethnographies were
seen as constituted by patterns of behavior and attitudes in relation
to the differences in terminology, listed above, for referring to
relationships as well as for addressing others. Many anthropologists
went so far as to see, in these patterns of kinship, strong relations
between kinship categories and patterns of marriage, including forms
of marriage, restrictions on marriage, and cultural concepts of the
boundaries of incest. A great deal of inference was necessarily
involved in such constructions as to “systems” of kinship, and
attempts to construct systemic patterns and reconstruct kinship
evolutionary histories on these bases were largely invalidated in
later work. However, anthropologist Dwight Read later argued that the
way in which kinship categories are defined by individual researchers
are substantially inconsistent. This occurs when working within a
systemic cultural model that can be elicited in fieldwork, but also
allowing considerable individual variability in details, such as when
they are recorded through relative products.
Conflicting theories of the mid 20th century
In trying to resolve the problems of dubious inferences about kinship
George P. Murdock (1949, Social Structure) compiled kinship
data to test a theory about universals in human kinship in the way
that terminologies were influenced by the behavioral similarities or
social differences among pairs of kin, proceeding on the view that the
psychological ordering of kinship systems radiates out from ego and
the nuclear family to different forms of extended family.
Lévi-Strauss (1949, Les Structures Elementaires), on the other hand,
also looked for global patterns to kinship, but viewed the
“elementary” forms of kinship as lying in the ways that families
were connected by marriage in different fundamental forms resembling
those of modes of exchange: symmetric and direct, reciprocal delay, or
Recognition of fluidity in kinship meanings and relations
Building on Lévi-Strauss’s (1949) notions of kinship as caught up
with the fluid languages of exchange,
Edmund Leach (1961, Pul Eliya)
argued that kinship was a flexible idiom that had something of the
grammar of a language, both in the uses of terms for kin but also in
the fluidities of language, meaning, and networks. His field studies
criticized the ideas of structural-functional stability of kinship
groups as corporations with charters that lasted long beyond the
lifetimes of individuals, which had been the orthodoxy of British
Social Anthropology. This sparked debates over whether kinship could
be resolved into specific organized sets of rules and components of
meaning, or whether kinship meanings were more fluid, symbolic, and
independent of grounding in supposedly determinate relations among
individuals or groups, such as those of descent or prescriptions for
From the 1950s onwards, reports on kinship patterns in the New Guinea
Highlands added some momentum to what had until then been only
occasional fleeting suggestions that living together (co-residence)
might underlie social bonding, and eventually contributed to the
general shift away from a genealogical approach (see below section).
For example, on the basis of his observations, Barnes suggested:
[C]learly, genealogical connexion of some sort is one criterion for
membership of many social groups. But it may not be the only
criterion; birth, or residence, or a parent’s former residence, or
utilization of garden land, or participation in exchange and feasting
activities or in house-building or raiding, may be other relevant
criteria for group membership.”(Barnes 1962,6)
Similarly, Langness' ethnography of the Bena Bena also emphasized the
primacy of residence patterns in 'creating' kinship ties:
The sheer fact of residence in a Bena Bena group can and does
People do not necessarily reside where they do
because they are kinsmen: rather they become kinsmen because they
reside there.” (Langness 1964, 172 emphasis in original)
David M. Schneider raised  deep problems with the notion
that human social bonds and 'kinship' was a natural category built
upon genealogical ties and made a fuller argument in his 1984 book A
critique of the study of Kinship which had a major influence on
the subsequent study of kinship.
Schneider's critique of genealogical concepts
Before the questions raised within anthropology about the study of
David M. Schneider  and others from the 1960s
onwards, anthropology itself had paid very little attention to the
notion that kinship bonds were anything other than connected to
consanguineal (or genealogical) relatedness (or its local cultural
conceptions). Schneider's 1968 study of the symbolic meanings
surrounding ideas of kinship in American
Culture found that Americans
ascribe a special significance to 'blood ties' as well as related
symbols like the naturalness of marriage and raising children within
this culture. In later work (1972 and 1984) Schneider argued that
unexamined genealogical notions of kinship had been embedded in
anthropology since Morgan's early work because American
anthropologists (and anthropologists in western Europe) had made the
mistake of assuming these particular cultural values of 'blood is
thicker than water', common in their own societies, were 'natural' and
universal for all human cultures (i.e. a form of ethnocentrism). He
concluded that, due to these unexamined assumptions, the whole
enterprise of 'kinship' in anthropology may have been built on faulty
foundations. His 1984 book A Critique of The Study of
Kinship gave his
fullest account of this critique.
Certainly for Morgan (1870:10) the actual bonds of blood relationship
had a force and vitality of their own quite apart from any social
overlay which they may also have acquired, and it is this biological
relationship itself which accounts for what
"the source of social cohesion". (Schneider 1984, 49)
Schneider himself emphasised a distinction between the notion of a
social relationship as intrinsically given and inalienable (from
birth), and a social relationship as created, constituted and
maintained by a process of interaction, or doing (Schneider 1984,
165). Schneider used the example of the citamangen / fak relationship
in Yap society, that his own early research had previously glossed
over as a father / son relationship, to illustrate the problem;
The crucial point is this: in the relationship between citamangen and
fak the stress in the definition of the relationship is more on doing
than on being. That is, it is more what the citamangen does for fak
and what fak does for citamangen that makes or constitutes the
relationship. This is demonstrated, first, in the ability to terminate
absolutely the relationship where there is a failure in the doing,
when the fak fails to do what he is supposed to do; and second, in the
reversal of terms so that the old, dependent man becomes fak, to the
young man, tam. The European and the anthropological notion of
consanguinity, of blood relationship and descent, rest on precisely
the opposite kind of value. It rests more on the state of being... on
the biogenetic relationship which is represented by one or another
variant of the symbol of 'blood' (consanguinity), or on 'birth', on
qualities rather than on performance. We have tried to impose this
definition of a kind of relation on all peoples, insisting that
kinship consists in relations of consanguinity and that kinship as
consanguinity is a universal condition.(Schneider 1984, 72)
Schneider preferred to focus on these often ignored processes of
"performance, forms of doing, various codes for conduct, different
roles" (p. 72) as the most important constituents of kinship. His
critique quickly prompted a new generation of anthropologists to
reconsider how they conceptualized, observed and described social
relationships ('kinship') in the cultures they studied.
See also: nurture kinship
Schneider's critique is widely acknowledged  to have
marked a turning point in anthropology's study of social relationships
and interactions. Some anthropologists moved forward with kinship
studies by teasing apart biological and social aspects, prompted by
The question of whether kinship is a privileged system and if so, why,
remains without a satisfactory answer. If it is privileged because of
its relationship to the functional prerequisites imposed by the nature
of physical kinship, this remains to be spelled out in even the most
elementary detail. (Schneider 1984, 163)
Schneider also dismissed the sociobiological account of biological
influences, maintaining that these did not fit the ethnographic
evidence (see more below).
Janet Carsten employed her studies with the
Malays to reassess kinship. She uses the idea of relatedness to
move away from a pre-constructed analytic opposition between the
biological and the social. Carsten argued that relatedness should be
described in terms of indigenous statements and practices, some of
which fall outside what anthropologists have conventionally understood
Ideas about relatedness in Langkawi show how culturally specific is
the separation of the 'social' from the 'biological' and the latter to
sexual reproduction. In Langkawi relatedness is derived both from acts
of procreation and from living and eating together. It makes little
sense in indigenous terms to label some of these activities as social
and others as biological. (Carsten 1995, 236)
Philip Thomas' work with the Temanambondro of
that nurturing processes are considered to be the 'basis' for kinship
ties in this culture, notwithstanding genealogical connections;
Yet just as fathers are not simply made by birth, neither are mothers,
and although mothers are not made by "custom" they, like fathers, can
make themselves through another type of performatively constituted
relation, the giving of "nurture". Relations of ancestry are
particularly important in contexts of ritual, inheritance and the
defining of marriageability and incest; they are in effect the
"structuring structures" (Bourdieu 1977) of social reproduction and
intergenerational continuity. Father, mother and children are,
however, also performatively related through the giving and receiving
of "nurture" (fitezana). Like ancestry, relations of "nurture" do not
always coincide with relations by birth; but unlike ancestry,
"nurture" is a largely ungendered relation, constituted in contexts of
everyday practical existence, in the intimate, familial and familiar
world of the household, and in ongoing relations of work and
consumption, of feeding and farming. (Thomas 1999, 37)
Similar ethnographic accounts have emerged from a variety of cultures
since Schneider's intervention. The concept of nurture kinship
highlights the extent to which kinship relationships may be brought
into being through the performance of various acts of nurture between
individuals. Additionally the concept highlights ethnographic findings
that, in a wide swath of human societies, people understand,
conceptualize and symbolize their relationships predominantly in terms
of giving, receiving and sharing nurture. These approaches were
somewhat forerun by Malinowski, in his ethnographic study of sexual
behaviour on the
Trobriand Islands which noted that the Trobrianders
did not believe pregnancy to be the result of sexual intercourse
between the man and the woman, and they denied that there was any
physiological relationship between father and child. Nevertheless,
while paternity was unknown in the "full biological sense", for a
woman to have a child without having a husband was considered socially
undesirable. Fatherhood was therefore recognised as a social role; the
woman's husband is the "man whose role and duty it is to take the
child in his arms and to help her in nursing and bringing it up";
"Thus, though the natives are ignorant of any physiological need for a
male in the constitution of the family, they regard him as
Biology, psychology and kinship
Human inclusive fitness and Attachment theory
Like Schneider, other anthropologists of kinship have largely rejected
sociobiological accounts of human social patterns as being both
reductionistic and also empirically incompatible with ethnographic
data on human kinship. Notably,
Marshall Sahlins strongly critiqued
the sociobiological approach through reviews of ethnographies in his
1976 The Use and
Abuse of Biology noting that for humans "the
categories of 'near' and 'distant' [kin] vary independently of
consanguinal distance and that these categories organize actual social
practice" (p. 112).
Independently from anthropology, biologists studying organisms' social
behaviours and relationships have been interested to understand under
what conditions significant social behaviors can evolve to become a
typical feature of a species (see inclusive fitness theory). Because
complex social relationships and cohesive social groups are common not
only to humans, but also to most primates, biologists maintain that
these biological theories of sociality should in principle be
generally applicable. The more challenging question arises as to how
such ideas can be applied to the human species whilst fully taking
account of the extensive ethnographic evidence that has emerged from
anthropological research on kinship patterns.
Early developments of biological inclusive fitness theory and the
derivative field of Sociobiology, encouraged some sociobiologists and
evolutionary psychologists to approach human kinship with the
assumption that inclusive fitness theory predicts that kinship
relations in humans are indeed expected to depend on genetic
relatedness, which they readily connected with the genealogy approach
of early anthropologists such as Morgan (see above sections). However,
this is the position that Schneider, Sahlins and other anthropologists
Nonreductive biology and nurture kinship
See also: Social bonding and nurture kinship
In agreement with Schneider, Holland argued that an accurate
account of biological theory and evidence supports the view that
social bonds (and kinship) are indeed mediated by a shared social
environment and processes of frequent interaction, care and nurture,
rather than by genealogical relationships per se (even if genealogical
relationships frequently correlate with such processes). In his 2012
Social bonding and nurture kinship
Social bonding and nurture kinship Holland argues that
sociobiologists and later evolutionary psychologists misrepresent
biological theory, mistakenly believing that inclusive fitness theory
predicts that genetic relatedness per se is the condition that
mediates social bonding and social cooperation in organisms. Holland
points out that the biological theory (see inclusive fitness) only
specifies that a statistical relationship between social behaviors and
genealogical relatedness is a criterion for the evolution of social
behaviors. The theory's originator,
W.D.Hamilton considered that
organisms' social behaviours were likely to be mediated by general
conditions that typically correlate with genetic relatedness, but are
not likely to be mediated by genetic relatedness per se (see Human
inclusive fitness and Kin recognition). Holland reviews fieldwork from
social mammals and primates to show that social bonding and
cooperation in these species is indeed mediated through processes of
shared living context, familiarity and attachments, not by genetic
relatedness per se. Holland thus argues that both the biological
theory and the biological evidence is nondeterministic and
nonreductive, and that biology as a theoretical and empirical endeavor
(as opposed to 'biology' as a cultural-symbolic nexus as outlined in
Schneider's 1968 book) actually supports the nurture kinship
perspective of cultural anthropologists working post-Schneider (see
above sections). Holland argues that, whilst there is nonreductive
compatibility around human kinship between anthropology, biology and
psychology, for a full account of kinship in any particular human
culture, ethnographic methods, including accounts of the people
themselves, the analysis of historical contingencies, symbolic
systems, economic and other cultural influences, remain centrally
Holland's position is widely supported by both cultural
anthropologists and biologists as an approach which, according to
Robin Fox, "gets to the heart of the matter concerning the contentious
relationship between kinship categories, genetic relatedness and the
prediction of behavior".
See also: Evolutionary psychology
The other approach, that of Evolutionary psychology, continues to take
the view that genetic relatedness (or genealogy) is key to
understanding human kinship patterns. In contrast to Sahlin's position
(above), Daly and Wilson argue that "the categories of 'near' and
'distant' do not 'vary independently of consanguinal distance', not in
any society on earth." (Daly et al. 1997, p282). A current view is
that humans have an inborn but culturally affected system for
detecting certain forms of genetic relatedness. One important factor
for sibling detection, especially relevant for older siblings, is that
if an infant and one's mother are seen to care for the infant, then
the infant and oneself are assumed to be related. Another factor,
especially important for younger siblings who cannot use the first
method, is that persons who grew up together see one another as
related. Yet another may be genetic detection based on the major
histocompatibility complex (See Major Histocompatibility Complex and
Sexual Selection). This kinship detection system in turn affects other
genetic predispositions such as the incest taboo and a tendency for
altruism towards relatives.
One issue within this approach is why many societies organize
according to descent (see below) and not exclusively according to
kinship. An explanation is that kinship does not form clear boundaries
and is centered differently for each individual. In contrast, descent
groups usually do form clear boundaries and provide an easy way to
create cooperative groups of various sizes.
According to an evolutionary psychology hypothesis that assumes that
descent systems are optimized to assure high genetic probability of
relatedness between lineage members, males should prefer a patrilineal
system if paternal certainty is high; males should prefer a
matrilineal system if paternal certainty is low. Some research
supports this association with one study finding no patrilineal
society with low paternity confidence and no matrilineal society with
high paternal certainty. Another association is that pastoral
societies are relatively more often patrilineal compared to
horticultural societies. This may be because wealth in pastoral
societies in the form of mobile cattle can easily be used to pay bride
price which favor concentrating resources on sons so they can
The evolutionary psychology account of biology continues to be
rejected by most cultural anthropologists.
Extensions of the kinship metaphor
Main articles: Fictive kinship, Nurture kinship, and Milk kinship
Fosterage and adoption
Detailed terms for parentage
As social and biological concepts of parenthood are not necessarily
coterminous, the terms "pater" and "genitor" have been used in
anthropology to distinguish between the man who is socially recognised
as father (pater) and the man who is believed to be the physiological
parent (genitor); similarly the terms "mater" and "genitrix" have been
used to distinguish between the woman socially recognised as mother
(mater) and the woman believed to be the physiological parent
(genitrix). Such a distinction is useful when the individual who
is considered the legal parent of the child is not the individual who
is believed to be the child's biological parent. For example, in his
ethnography of the Nuer, Evans-Pritchard notes that if a widow,
following the death of her husband, chooses to live with a lover
outside of her deceased husband's kin group, that lover is only
considered genitor of any subsequent children the widow has, and her
deceased husband continues to be considered the pater. As a result,
the lover has no legal control over the children, who may be taken
away from him by the kin of the pater when they choose. The terms
"pater" and "genitor" have also been used to help describe the
relationship between children and their parents in the context of
divorce in Britain. Following the divorce and remarriage of their
parents, children find themselves using the term "mother" or "father"
in relation to more than one individual, and the pater or mater who is
legally responsible for the child's care, and whose family name the
child uses, may not be the genitor or genitrix of the child, with whom
a separate parent-child relationship may be maintained through
arrangements such as visitation rights or joint custody.
It is important to note that the terms "genitor" or "genetrix" do not
necessarily imply actual biological relationships based on
consanguinity, but rather refer to the socially held belief that the
individual is physically related to the child, derived from culturally
held ideas about how biology works. So, for example, the Ifugao may
believe that an illegitimate child might have more than one physical
father, and so nominate more than one genitor. J.A. Barnes
therefore argued that it was necessary to make a further distinction
between genitor and genitrix (the supposed biological mother and
father of the child), and the actual genetic father and mother of the
3/4 siblings or sibling-cousin
Double first cousin
First cousin once removed
Double second cousin
Triple second cousin
Quadruple second cousin
Australian Aboriginal kinship
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Look up kinship in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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