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In anthropology, kinship is the web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of most humans in most societies, although its exact meanings even within this discipline are often debated. Anthropologist 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."[1] 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[2] 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 entities.

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.

Basic concepts

Family types

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.[3][4][5]

Kinship terminologies

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 brothers. 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 as brothers.

The major patterns of kinship systems that are known which Lewis Henry Morgan identified through kinship terminology in his 1871 work Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family are:

There is a seventh type of system only identified as distinct later:

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.


Descent rules

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 descent.[6]

  • 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 Nayar 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 more important.

Descent groups

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 with the 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[7]—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 imperfect.[8]

The word deme refers to an endogamous local population that does not have unilineal descent.[9] Thus, a deme is a local endogamous community without internal segmentation into clans.

House societies

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".[10][11] The concept has been applied to understand the organization of societies from Mesoamerica and the Moluccas to North Africa and medieval Europe.[12][13] 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 group's existence.[14]

Marriage (affinity)

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.[15] 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."[16] 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).[17]

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,[18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25] 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 closer.[26]

Alliance (marital exchange systems)

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.[27] French structural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss developed alliance theory to account for the "elementary" kinship structures created by the limited number of prescriptive marriage rules possible.[28]

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.[29]


Kinship Degree of
Inbred Strain not applicable 99%
Identical twins not applicable 100%[30]
Full sibling first-degree 50% (2−2+2−2)
Parent-offspring[31] first-degree 50% (2−1)
Offspring/progeny first-degree 50% (2−1)
Half-sibling second-degree 25% (2−2)
3/4 siblings or sibling-cousin second-degree 37.5% (2−2+2⋅2−4)
Grandmother/grandfather second-degree 25% (2−2)
Niece/nephew third-degree 25% (2⋅2−3)
Aunt/uncle third-degree 25% (2⋅2−3)
Half-aunt, half-uncle third-degree 12.5% (2⋅2−4)
Half-niece/half-nephew third-degree 12.5% (2⋅2−4)
Great grandparent third-degree 12.5% (2−3)
First cousin fourth-degree 12.5% (2⋅2−4)
Double first cousin fourth-degree 25% (2−3+2−3)
Half-first cousin fourth-degree 6.25% (2−4)
First cousin once removed fifth-degree 6.25% (2⋅2−5)
Second cousin sixth-degree 3.125% (2−6+2−6)
Double second cousin sixth-degree 6.25% (4⋅2−6)
Triple second cousin sixth-degree 9.375% (6⋅2−6)
Quadruple second cousin sixth-degree 12.5% (8⋅2−6)
Third cousin seventh-degree 0.781% (2⋅2−8)
Fourth cousin tenth-degree 0.20% (2⋅2−10)[32]

Extensions of the kinship metaphor

Fictive kinship

Fosterage and Adoption

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, Anthropology and 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 systems.

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.[8]

Kinship networks and social process[33]

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 interpersonal roles. 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 stable institutions.

"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.[34] 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.[35]

Conflicting theories of the mid 20th century[36]

In trying to resolve the problems of dubious inferences about kinship "systems", 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 generalized exchange.

Recognition of fluidity in kinship meanings and relations[8]

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 marriage. Work on symbolic kinship by David M. Schneider in his (1984, A Critique of The Study of Kinship) reinforced this view. In response to Schneider's 1984 work on Symbolic Kinship, Janet Carsten re-developed the idea of "relatedness" from her initial ideas, looking at what was socialized and biological, from her studies with the Malays (1995, The substance of kinship and the heat of the hearth; feeding, personhood and relatedness among the Malays in Pulau Langkawi, American Ethnologist). She uses the idea of relatedness to move away from a pre-constructed analytic opposition which exists in anthropological thought 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 as kinship (Cultures of Relatedness, 2000). This kind of approach – recognizing relatedness in its concrete and variable cultural forms – exemplifies the ways that anthropologists have grappled with the fundamental importance of kinship in human society without imprisoning the fluidity in behavior, beliefs, and meanings in assumptions about fixed patterns and systems.

Beyond biological relationships

Ideas about kinship do not necessarily assume any biological relationship between individuals, rather just close associations. Malinowski, in his ethnographic study of sexual behaviour on the Trobriand Islands 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.[37] 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";[38] "Thus, though the natives are ignorant of any physiological need for a male in the constitution of the family, they regard him as indispensable socially".[39]

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).[40] 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.[41] 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.[42]

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.[43] 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 child.

Legal ramifications

Kinship and descent have a number of legal ramifications, which vary widely between legal and social structures.

Next of Kin traditionally and in common usage refers to the person closest related to you by blood, such as a parent or your children.

In legal terms, for example in intestacy, it has come to mean the person closest to you, which is generally the spouse if married, followed by the natural children of the deceased.

Whilst someone is alive they may nominate any person close to them to be their next of kin. The next of kin is usually asked for as a contact in case of accident, emergency or sudden death. It does not involve completing any forms or registration in the UK, and may be a friend or carer unrelated to you by blood or marriage.

Most human groups share a taboo against incest; relatives are forbidden from marriage but the rules tend to vary widely when one moves beyond the nuclear family. At common law, the prohibitions are typically phrased in terms of "degrees of consanguinity."

More importantly, kinship and descent enters the legal system by virtue of intestacy, the laws that at common law determine who inherits the estates of the dead in the absence of a will. In civil law countries, the doctrine of legitime plays a similar role, and makes the lineal descendants of the dead person forced heirs. Rules of kinship and descent have important public aspects, especially under monarchies, where they determine the order of succession, the heir apparent and the heir presumptive.

Compatibility with other sciences

See also: Nurture kinship, Attachment theory, Kin selection, Evolutionary psychology

Within the biological sciences, there are theoretical approaches to understanding under what conditions some species live in groups (typically due to the distribution of key food resources and patterns of predation), and in particular, under what conditions significant social behaviors can evolve to become a typical feature of a species (Kin selection theory). Because these characteristics are common to most primates, including humans, biologists maintain that these theories should in principle be generally applicable. The question arises as to how these 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 derivations of Kin selection theory and the related field of Sociobiology, encouraged some biologists such as Darwinian anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists to approach human kinship with the assumption that kin selection 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).

This biological position, coming at a time (the 1970s) when anthropologists were starting to reject the genealogical basis of human kinship patterns provoked criticism from ethnographers including notably, Marshall Sahlins who strongly critiqued the approach through reviews of ethnographies in his 1976 The Use and Abuse of Biology.[full citation needed] Such counter evidence and critiques did not dissuade the program however, and fundamental and heated disagreements between the two sides continued. These early disagreements over the nature of human kinship and cooperative behaviour have formed an important core of the continuing controversies related to evolutionary psychology and sociobiology ever since.[citation needed].

There have since been two approaches that seek to reconcile the anthropological and biological perspectives. Holland[44]argued that biologists themselves have not sufficiently recognised that kin selection theory does not in fact require that genetic relatedness per se is the condition that mediates social bonding and social cooperation in any species. Holland speculates that in ancestral environments, social cooperation mediated through ties of familiarity and attachments would typically have increased the inclusive fitness of genes (the key criterion in kin selection theory) without any form of detection of actual genetic relationships. Kin selection theory in this view is seen as specifying an ultimate cause rather than a proximate cause (See Tinbergen's four questions) of social bonding and cooperation. Holland thus argues that properly understood, the findings of cultural anthropologists and the theories of evolutionary biologists are compatible.[44]

Fitting with this approach, Nurture kinship[44][45] emphasizes that social relationships, and the cooperation that accompanies them, are commonly built upon emotional bonds and attachments. This perspective re-unites current ethnographic findings both with the work of earlier anthropologists such as Audrey Richards, and also with John Bowlby and colleagues' foundational work on emotional attachment theory. In this perspective, biological theories are indeed compatible with ethnographic data on human kinship, though their explanatory scope is much narrower than the approaches of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology had typically assumed. Biology's relevant application is limited to theorizing the ultimate causes of the (non-deterministic) proximate mechanisms of cooperation such as emotional attachments. Bowlby himself emphasized the compatibility of his own work with kin selection theory.[46] Anthropological kinship data is also thus considered compatible with current psychological theory of social bonding and relationships. In this perspective, whilst theoretical approaches are unified across biology, psychology and anthropology, for a full account of specific kinship patterns in any particular human society, ethnographic methods, including the analysis of historical contingencies, symbolic systems, economic and other influences, remain central.

The other approach, that of Evolutionary psychology, continues to take the view that genetic relatedness (or genealogy) is key to understanding human kinship patterns. 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.[47]

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.[48]

According to an evolutionary psychology hypothesis that assumes that descent systems are optimized to assure genetic 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 marry.[48]

See also


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  2. On Kinship and Gods in Ancient Egypt: An Interview with Marcelo Campagno Damqatum 2 (2007)
  3. Wolf, Eric. 1982 Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley: University of California Press. 92
  4. Harner, Michael 1975 "Scarcity, the Factors of Production, and Social Evolution," in Population. Ecology, and Social Evolution, Steven Polgar, ed. Mouton Publishers: the Hague.
  5. Rivière, Peter 1987 "Of Women, Men, and Manioc", Etnologiska Studien (38).
  6. Oke Wale, An Introduction to Social Anthropology Second Edition,Part 2, Kinship
  7. Houseman and White 1998b
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Houseman and White 1998a (Bibliography)
  9. Murphy, Michael Dean. "Kinship Glossary". Retrieved 2009-03-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Lévi-Strauss, Claude (1982). The Way of the Mask. Seattle: University of Washington Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1987. Anthropology and Myth: Lectures, 1951-1982. R. Willis, trans. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  12. Joyce, Rosemary A. & Susan D. Gillespie (eds.). 2000. Beyond Kinship: Social and Material Reproduction in House Societies. University of Pennsylvania Press.
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