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C Families, Kinship, and Descent
h
This chapter introduces students to the
a anthropological study of kinship. It
discusses the different classifications that
p anthropologists use for kin groups, descent
and residence, and kinship terminology
t systems.
e
r 15
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FAMILY
the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two
parents rearing their children

KINSHIP
refers to the web of social relationships that form an
important part of human lives

DESCENT
• social group whose members have common ancestry

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Nuclear and Extended Families
 The nuclear family consists of a married couple and their
children.
 The nuclear family is ego-centered, and impermanent, while
descent groups are permanent (lasting beyond the lifespans
of individual constituents) and reckoned according to a
single ancestor.
 One’s family of orientation is the family in which one is
born and grows up, while one’s family of procreation is
formed when one marries and has children.
 Claims made for the universality of the nuclear family,
based upon the universality of marriage, do not hold up—
the nuclear family is widespread, but not universal.
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Nuclear and Extended Families
 In societies where the nuclear family is important, this
structure acts as a primary arena for sexual, reproductive,
economic, and enculturative functions, but it is not the only
structure used by societies for these (e.g., the Etoro, Nayar,
Betsileo, etc.).
 In many societies, the extended families are the primary unit
of social organization.

 An extended family is a family that extends beyond


the nuclear family, consisting of parents like father,
mother, and their children, aunts, uncles, grandparents,
and cousins, all living in the same household.
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 Among the Muslims of western Bosnia, nuclear families are
embedded within large extended families called zadrugas
headed by a male household head and his wife.
 The Nayars are a matrilineal society in which extended
families live in compounds called tarawads headed by a senior
woman.

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Nuclear and Extended Families

Map showing the Kerala state in India,


where the Nayars live.

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Industrialism & Family Organization
 The most prevalent residence pattern in the United States is
families of procreation living neolocally.
Neolocal residence is a type of post-marital residence in
which a newly married couple resides separately from both
the husband's natal household and the wife's natal
household.
 In the US, as in other large, industrialized societies, patterns
of residence and family types may change from class to
class, in response to the conditions of these different
contexts (e.g., extended families as a response to poverty).

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Changes in North American Kinship
 In 1995, 25 percent of American households were inhabited
by nuclear families.
 Increasing representation of women in the work force is
associated with a rise in marriage age.
 The divorce rate rose steeply between 1970 and 1994.

Divorce, also known as dissolution of marriage, is the


process of terminating a marriage or marital union. Divorce
usually entails the canceling or reorganizing of the legal
duties and responsibilities of marriage, thus dissolving
the bonds of matrimony between a married couple under the
rule of law of the particular country or state.

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 The media is reflecting and intensifying these changes.
 Comparatively, Americans (especially middle class) identify
a smaller range of kindred than members of nonindustrial
societies.
 A comparison between American and Brazilian kinship is
made.

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The Family Among Foragers
 The two basic units of social organization among foragers
are the nuclear family and the band.
 Typically, the band exists only seasonally, breaking up into
nuclear families when subsistence means require it.

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Descent Groups
 A descent group is a permanent social unit whose members
claim common ancestry.
 With matrilineal descent individuals automatically join the
mother’s descent group when they are born.
 With patrilineal descent individuals automatically join the
father’s descent group when they are born.
 Matrilineal and patrilineal descent are types of unilineal
descent in which individuals only recognize one line of
descent.

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Descent Groups
 A lineage is a descent group who can demonstrate their
common descent from an apical ancestor.
 A clan is a descent group who claims common descent from
an apical ancestor but cannot demonstrate it (stipulated
descent).
 When a clan’s apical ancestor is nonhuman, it is called a
totem.

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Descent Groups

A matrilineage five
generations deep.

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Descent Groups

A
patrilineage
five
generations
deep.

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Lineages, Clans, and Residence Rules
 In tribal societies, the descent group, not the nuclear family,
is the fundamental unit.
 In many societies, descent groups are corporate, sharing
resources and property.
 Unilocal Residence

 Patrilocality—married couple lives with husband's family;


associated with patrilineal descent and is more common than
matrilocality.
 Matrilocality—married couple lives with wife's family;
associated with matrilineal descent and is less than
patrilocaility.

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Ambilineal Descent
 People can choose the descent group that they want to
belong to.
 Membership is fluid as people can change their descent
group membership.
 With unilineal descent, membership is ascribed, but for
ambilineal descent, membership is achieved.

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Kinship Calculation
 Kinship calculation is any systemic method for reckoning
kin relations.
 Genealogical Kin Types and Kin Terms.

 Kin terms are the labels given in a particular culture to


different kinds of relatives.
 Biological kin type refers to the degree of actual
genealogical relatedness.

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Kinship Calculation

Kinship symbols and genealogical kin


type notation.

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Bilateral Kinship
 Bilateral kinship is used by most Americans and Canadians.
 Kinship is traced through both male and female lines.

 Kin links through males and females are perceived as being


similar or equivalent.
 In North American bilateral kinship there is often
matrilineal skewing, a preference for relatives on the
mother's side.

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Kinship Terminology
 Kinship terminologies are native taxonomies (emic), not
developed by anthropologists.
 Lineal terminology: most Americans and Canadians use
lineal terminology, which distinguishes lineal, collateral,
and affinal relatives.
 Bifurcate merging terminology: this is the most common,
associated with unilineal descent and unilocal residence.
 Generational terminology: typical of ambilineal societies,
this calls ascending, same sex relatives by the same names.
 Bifurcate collateral terminology: common to North Africa
and the Middle East, this is the most particular system.
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Kinship Terminology
Four systems of kinship terminology.
Kinship Kin Group Residence Rule Economy
Terminology

Lineal Nuclear family Neolocal Industrialism,


foraging
Bifurcate merging Unilineal descent Patrilocal or Horticulture,
group – patrilineal matrilocal pastoralism,
or matrilineal agriculture

Generational Ambilineal Ambilocal Agriculture,


descent group, horticulture,
band foraging
Bifurcate Varies Varies Varies
collateral

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Kinship Terminology

The distinctions
among Lineals,
Collaterals, and
Affinals as
perceived by
Ego.

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Lineal Kinship Terminology

A lineal kinship terminology system.


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Bifurcate Merging Kinship

Bifurcate Merging kinship terminology.

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Generational Kinship Terminology

Generational kinship terminology system.


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Bifurcate Collateral Kinship

Bifurcate Collateral kinship terminology system.

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