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Scope, Definitions

Kinship a combination of systems (structures) and relatedness (how we engage) - both important for how we understand moral life.

Origins to 19th century theories on the evolution of different social forms and models of classification. Anthropologists consider that kinship forms the necessary foundation for all other social activities. To what extent is this true in the modern world? In the pre-modern socities?

Formalisation of the field of study Kinship involved a separation of what Fortes (1958) termed a 'domestic domain' and a 'politico-jural domain'.

Nature and culture - Philosophy of Science and Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour, David Schneider, Marilyn Strathern. Kinship as mediating between nature and culture - based in nature, and provides an image of the relation between nature and culture. Challenged by Schneider who focused on how kinship simply meant different things in different cultures and did not everywhere arise from the biological 'facts' of procreation. Challenged also by Strathern's focus on modern societies and their ability to challenge biological constraints in procreation through new technologies. Question now is if kinship is still relevant if biology is removed from the definition. Does kinship dissolve into an analysis of relatedness premised solely on social relations? Strathern's critique seems premised on the fact that although transforming biology, man is also relating to it.


Fields are not independent; how do they intercept the connections, e.g. economics and kinship, politics and morality.

Ethnicity; Biological Anthropology; Archaeology; Linguistics; Linguistic Anthropology; Psychological Anthropology; Cognitive Anthropology; Identity; Sociological Theory; Economic Anthropology;

Notions, Nodes, Clusters, Assemblages, Concepts

Relatedness - Janet Carsten : "a move away from a pre-given analytic opposition between teh biological and the social on which much anthropoligiccal study of kinship has rested." "relatedness makes possible comparisons between Inupiat and English or Nuer ways of being related without relying on an arbitrary distinction between biology and culture, and without presupposign what constitutes kinship."

Gender and kinship - Many (Collider and Yanagisako 1987, Howell and Melhuus 1993)

Paternity : Edmund Leach's paper 'Virgin birth' (1967) created a debate that fanned in the pages of Man between I967-75 and revolved around the question of 'whether certain primitive peoples . . . were or were not ignorant of the facts of physiological paternity' (Leach 1967: 39). (Delaney 1986).

Divisions, Fields

Traditions, Theories, Theory Frames, Methodologies


Marilyn Strathern (questions the place of nature in kinship by using discourses on recent technological developments in reproduction - nature is also "produced" or at least not fixed and given. In 1992 book she deconstructed 'nature.'); Janet Carsten (cultures of relatedness considered better term than kinship); James Faubian (2001 ed. The Ethics of Kinship. Ethnographic Enquiries. - kinship 'as a system -- or array of systems -- of subjectivation, if perhaps many other things as well' - following Foucault suggesting it has a double meaning, 'all those processes through which individuals are labelled or made into subjects of one or another kind...' and 'all those processes through which individuals make themselves into subjects of one or another kind...' (in Howell 82) - same with Norwegian adoptees); C Salazar ("On thing is the way humans biologically procreate and reproduce, another is how they culturally understand this process, and still a different thing is the social significance that they attribute to the interpersonal links that originate in these processes." (Kinship and Public Understanding of Genetics).)

Loci classici

Lewis Henry Morgan (gave inception to the truism that kinship is a sphere were nature and culture meet in different way in different societies. Followers of Morgan that did not depart from the basic biogenetic premisses for kinship); Lounsbury; Goodenough; Levi-Strauss; Edmund Leach; Needham; Bronislaw Malinowski (nuclear family a universal social institution necessary to fulfil the functions of producing and rearing children. (Man 1930). Also Fortes (1949)); David Schneider (Pivotal role, claimed that biology just a trope of US anthropology - after that kinship dicey because seen as just biology. Did not change until revival in 1980s. Debate nature-nurture in kinship.); Clifford Geertz (symbolism, Gender in kinship);







Research Questions

Reading Questions



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