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Chapter Outline

Where Do Our Relatives Come from and Why Do They Matter?

How Do Human Beings Organize Interdependence?

What Is Friendship?

What Is Kinship?

What Is the Role of Descent in Kinship?

Bilateral Kindreds

What Role Do Lineages Play in Descent?

Lineage Membership

The Logic of Lineage Relationships

What Are Patrilineages?

What Are Matrilineages?

Matrilineality, Electoral Politics, and the Art of the Neutral Partisan

What Are Kinship Terminologies?

What Criteria Are Used for Making Kinship Distinctions?

What Is Adoption?

Adoption in Highland Ecuador

What Is the Relation Between Adoption and Child Circulation in the Andes?

How Flexible Can Relatedness Be?

Negotiation of Kin Ties among the Ju/’hoansi

European American Kinship and New Reproductive Technologies

Assisted Reproduction in Israel

Compadrazgo in Latin America

Organ Transplantation and the Creation of New Relatives

What Is Marriage/

Toward a Definition of Marriage

Woman Marriage and Ghost Marriage among the Nuer

Why Is Marriage A Social Process?

Patterns of Residence after Marriage

Single and Plural Spouses

What Is the Connection between Marriage and Economic Exchange?

What Is a Family?

What Is the Nuclear Family?

What Is the Polygynous Family?

Extended and Joint Families

How Are Families Transformed over Time?

Divorce and Remarriage

How Does International Migration Affect the Family

Families by Choice

The Flexibility of Marriage

Love, Marriage, and HIV/AIDS in Nigeria

Main Points:

  1. Human life is group life; we depend on one another to survive. All societies invent forms of relatedness to organize this interdependence. People in all societies recognize that they are connected to certain other people in a variety of ways and that they are not connected to some people at all. Anthropologists have traditionally paid closest attention to those formal systems of relatedness called kinship systems. But anthropologists also draw attention to other forms of relatedness, like friendship, that may provide ways of counterbalancing relations with kin. It is important to remember that all forms of relatedness are always embedded in and shaped by politics, economics, and worldviews.
  2. To recognize the varied forms that institutions of human relatedness can take is to acknowledge fundamental openness in the organization of human interdependence. New shared experiences offer raw material for the invention of new forms of common identity. Anthropologists now argue that all communities—even face-to-face communities—larger than a single individual are contingent, “imagined” communities. That is, all human communities are social, cultural, and historical constructions. They are the joint outcome of shared habitual practices and of symbolic images of common identity promulgated by group members with an interest in making a particular imagined identity endure.
  3. Friendships are relatively “unofficial” bonds of relatedness that are personal, affective, and, to a varying extent from society to society, a matter of choice. Nevertheless, in some societies, friendships may be so important that they are formalized like marriages. Depending on the society, friendships may be developed to strengthen kin ties or to subvert kin ties, because friendship is understood as the precise opposite of formal kin ties. This illustrates the ways in which people everywhere struggle to find ways to preserve certain ties of relatedness without being dominated by them.
  4. The system of social relations that is based on prototypical procreative relationships is called kinship. Kinship principles are based on but not reducible to the universal human experiences of mating, birth, and nurturance. Kinship systems help societies maintain social order without central government. Although female–male duality is basic to kinship, many societies have developed supernumerary sexes or genders.
  5. Patterns of descent in kinship systems are selective. Matrilineal societies emphasize that women bear children and trace descent through women. Patrilineal societies emphasize that men impregnate women and trace descent through men. Adoption pays attention to relationships based on nurturance, whether or not they are also based on mating and birth.
  6. Descent links members of different generations with one another. Bilateral descent results in the formation of groups called kindreds that include all relatives from both parents’ families. Unilineal descent results in the formation of groups called lineages that trace descent through either the mother or the father. Unlike kindreds, lineages are corporate groups. Lineages control important property, such as land, that collectively belongs to their members. The language of lineage is the idiom of political discussion, and lineage relationships are of political significance.
  7. Kinship terminologies pay attention to certain attributes of people that are then used to define different classes of kin. The attributes most often recognized include, from most to least common, generation, gender, affinity, collaterality, bifurcation, relative age, and the gender of the linking relative.
  8. Anthropologists recognize six basic terminological systems according to their patterns of classifying cousins. In recent years, however, anthropologists have become skeptical of the value of these idealized models, because they are highly formalized and do not capture the full range of people’s actual practices.
  9. By prescribing certain kinds of marriage, lineages establish long-term alliances with one another. Two major types of prescriptive marriage patterns in unilineal societies are a father’s sister’s daughter marriage system (which sets up a pattern of direct exchange marriage) and a mother’s brother’s daughter marriage system (which sets up a pattern of asymmetrical exchange marriage).
  10. Achieved kinship statuses can be converted into ascribed statuses by means of adoption. In Zumbagua, Ecuador, most adults have several kinds of parents and several kinds of children, some adopted and some not. Zumbaguan adoptions are based on nurturance—in this case, the feeding by the adoptive parent of the adopted child.
  11. From the complexities of Ju/’hoansi kinship negotiations to the unique features of compadrazgo in Latin America to the dilemmas created by new reproductive technologies and organ transplantation, anthropologists have shown clearly that kinship is a form of relatedness, a cultural construction that cannot be reduced to biology.
  12. Marriage is a social process that transforms the status of a man and woman, stipulates the degree of sexual access the married partners may have to each other, establishes the legitimacy of children born to the wife, and creates relationships between the kin of the wife and the kin of the husband.
  13. Woman marriage and ghost marriage highlight several defining features of marriage and also demonstrate that the roles of husband and father may not be dependent on the gender of the person who fills the role.
  14. There are four major patterns of postmarital residence: neolocal, patrilocal, matrilocal, and avunculocal.
  15. A person may be married to only one person at a time (monogamy) or to several (polygamy). Polygamy can be further subdivided into polygyny, in which a man is married to two or more wives, and polyandry, in which a woman is married to two or more husbands.
  16. The study of polyandry reveals the separation of a woman’s sexuality and her reproductive capacity, something not found in monogamous or polygynous societies. There are three main forms of polyandry: fraternal polyandry, associated polyandry, and secondary marriage.
  17. Bridewealth is a payment of symbolically important goods by the husband’s lineage to the wife’s lineage. Anthropologists see this as compensation to the wife’s family for the loss of her productive and reproductive capacities. A woman’s bridewealth payment may enable her brother to pay bridewealth to get a wife.
  18. Dowry is typically a transfer of family wealth from parents to their daughter at the time of her marriage. Dowries are often considered the wife’s contribution to the establishment of a new household.
  19. In some cultures, the most important relationships a man and a woman have are with their opposite-sex siblings. Adult brothers and sisters may see one another often and jointly control lineage affairs.
  20. Different family structures produce different internal patterns and tensions. There are three basic family types: nuclear, extended, and joint. Families may change from one type to another over time and with the birth, growth, and marriage of children.
  21. Most human societies permit marriages to end by divorce, although it is not always easy. In most societies, childlessness is grounds for divorce. Sometimes nagging, quarreling, adultery, cruelty, and stinginess are causes. In some societies, only men may initiate a divorce. In very few societies is divorce impossible.
  22. Families have developed ingenious ways of keeping together, even when some members live abroad for extended periods. Gays and lesbians in North America have created families by choice, based on nurturance, which they believe are as enduring as families based on marriage and birth.
  23. Marriage rules are subject to negotiation, even when they appear rigid. This is illustrated by Iteso marriage. The Iteso depend on women from the outside to perpetuate their patrilineages, and the women express their ironic awareness of this fact through ritualized laughter at marriage.


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