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Kinship Dynamics. What is kinship?. Sense of being related to another person(s) Set by rules (sometimes laws) Often taken for granted as being “natural” rather than cultural Cultures define “blood” relative differently. Kinship. Includes relationships through blood and through marriage.

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What is kinship l.jpg
What is kinship?

  • Sense of being related to another person(s)

  • Set by rules (sometimes laws)

  • Often taken for granted as being “natural” rather than cultural

  • Cultures define “blood” relative differently

Kinship l.jpg

Includes relationships through blood and through marriage.


  • Provides continuity between generations.

  • Defines a group on whom a person can rely for aid.

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Descent Groups

  • Affiliations between children and parents.


  • Organize domestic life.

  • Enculturate children.

  • Allow transfer of property.

  • Carry out religious ritual.

  • Settle disputes.

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Principles of Classifying Kin

  • Generation

  • Relative age

  • Lineality vs. Collaterality

  • Gender

  • Consanguineal vs. Affinal kin

  • Sex of linking relative

  • Side of the family

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¨KIN TYPES: The basic relationships anthropologists use to describe the actual contents of kinship categories.

1. Kin types are supposedly culture-free (ETIC) elements : what WE call these people.

2.    Kin types are based upon biological relationships.

¨KIN TERMS: The labels for categories of kin that contain one or

more kin types (EMIC)

In other words….what THEY call people.

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A kin type is used to designate each individual relationship e.g. Mother, father, mother’s brother, mother’s sister.

Each relationship between kin is described by a sequence of primary components strung together to indicate biological relationships.

Mother = M

Father = F

Sister = Z

Brother = B Mother’s Sister = MZ

Daughter = D Mother’s Sister’s Daughter = MZD

Son = S Sister’s Son = ZS

Husband = H

Wife = W

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  • Kin terms are specific to particular cultures

  • Uncle, cousin, grandfather ~ these terms are peculiar to English terminology.


  • Kin Categories are not specific to biological relations.

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KINDREDS: A concept different than that of “Kin”. Kindred are those to whom one is related and who come together for support and for special social occasions.


KIN: All those individuals who are considered to be related to you; all members of your extended family.

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Cognatic descent rules: both male and female parentage are used to establish relationships

  • Bilateral descent: The most common cognatic rule

    Bilateral descent takes into account descent evenly on both the male and female sides

  • Ambilineal Descent: rather “Ambiguous”. Depending on the social benefits (such as tracing ones lineage to a famous distant ancestor) the lineage is a mix of male and female relatives.

    Unilineal Descent rules: rules restrict parental links exclusively to males or exclusively to females.

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Kinship Characteristics



deceased female

deceased male

female “ego” of the diagram

male “ego” of the diagram

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Kinship Relationships

is married to

is cohabiting with

is divorced from

is separated from

adopted-in female

adopted-in male

is descended from

Is the sibling of

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Unilineal descent

  • Basis of kinship in 60% of world’s cultures

  • Most associated with pastoralism, horticulture and agricultural systems

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Unilineal Descent

  • Descent based on links through paternal or maternal line.


  • Forms nonoverlapping descent groups that perpetuate themselves over time even though membership changes.

  • Provide clear group membership for everyone in the society.

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  • Descent is traced through male lineage.

  • Inheritance moves from father to son, as does succession to office.

  • Man’s position as father and husband is the most important source of male authority.

  • Example: Nuer or Sudan.

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  • Found among 44% of all cultures

  • Kinship is traced through the male line

  • Males dominate position, power and property

  • Girls are raised for other families

  • Found in East and South Asia and Middle East

Patrilineal Descent

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  • Descent is traced through the female line.

  • Children belong to the mother’s descent group.

  • The inclusion of a husband in the household is less important.

  • Women usually have higher status.

  • Example: Hopi.

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Matrilineal Decent

  • Found among 15% of all cultures

  • Kinship is traced through the female line

  • Women control land and products

  • Found in the Pacific, Australia, small parts of Mediterranean coast

  • Declining though capitalism

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Matrilineal vs. Patrilineal.

Patrilineal Kin ~ linked through males

Matrilineal Kin ~ linked through femalesal Kin - linked through females

Cross relatives ~ cross sex linked

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Bilineal Descent

  • Descent is traced equally from both parents

  • Married couples live away from their parents

  • Inheritance is allocated equally between siblings

  • Dominant in foraging and industrial cultures

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  • The ambiguities of bilateral descent are not useful for establishing fixed obligations, inheritance etc.

  • In cases where it is important to be linked to an ancestor albeit through complex means, ambilineal descent rules often occur.

    The establishment of a cognatic ambilineal descent rule means that a lineage must be decided upon:


  • the group of individuals who claim relation through the various combinations of male and female relatives. The membership in the lineage will look the same for all members.

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A series of relationships, culturally determined, which are not based upon birth or marriage

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  • In very large and complex lineages, divisions are recognized which indicate degrees of close relationship, as well as potential obligations to others in the lineage.

  • Maximal Lineage: All members distant and near

  • Minimal Lineage: Only three generations

  • CLAN: Unilineal descent group descended from a real or fixtive ancestor through real or fictive relationships.

  • Patriclan or Matriclan

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Phratries and Moieties

Some societies group their clans into even larger-scale unilineal descent groups called phratries.  As with clans, the actual genealogical links are not clear and the phratry ancestors are usually mythical.

Entire societies may be divided into two large unilineal descent groups that have reciprocal responsibilities and privileges.  These groups are known as moieties    (from the French word for half).  The distinction between phratries and moieties is not simply a matter of the number of groupings.  Moieties are intended to produce a balanced opposition within a society.  The constantly reinforced social and economic exchanges between them results in economic equality and political stability.

Societies with moieties usually consist of a few thousand people or less.  In contrast, societies with phratries are often larger.  As in the case of clans and phratries, moiety members usually cannot demonstrate all of the descent links back to their supposed common ancestor.

Membership in unilineages, clans, moieties, and phratries is inherited and usually continues throughout life.  As a result, these unilineal descent groups often function successfully as long-term joint property owners and economic production teams.

[Source: Palomar Department of Behavioral Science]

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Kinship Classification and Culture

  • Outlines rights and obligations.

  • Specifies how people act toward each other.

  • Determines the types of social groups that are formed.

  • Regulates the systems of marriage and inheritance.

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Systematic Kinship Terminologies

There are Six basic classes of kinship systems. All known kinship patterns are variants of one of these basic systems.

  • Sudanese

  • Hawaiian

  • Eskimo

  • Iroquois

  • Omaha

  • Crow

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Sudanese Kinship System

  • Sudanese Naming System ~ The most descriptive system, named after the groups that use them in Africa (primarily Ethiopia).

  • The Sudanese system is completely descriptive, assigning a different kin term to each distinct relative

  • Eight different cousin terms, and distinguishes between F, FB, MB

  • There are technically no general categories

  • Often associated with societies with distinct class divisions

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Eskimo Kinship System

  • Inuit (Eskimo) System – Typically found among hunting-and-gathering people in North America and correlated with bilateral descent.

    • There is an emphasis on bilateral descent

    • No division is made between patrilineal and matrilineal kin

    • Nuclear family members are assigned unique labels not extended to any other relatives.

    • More distant collateral relatives are grouped together on the basis of distance. This practice is called Collateral Merging

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Hawaiian Kinship System

  • Hawaiian Naming System – This is the least descriptive system.

    • Emphasizes distinctions between generations

    • Merges together many different relatives into a few categories

    • Ego differentiates relatives only on the basis of sex and generation.

    • Reflects the equality between the mother’s and the father’s sides of the family.

    • Traditional Hawaiian society was highly stratified in terms of commoners and the royalty. Membership in a particular lineage and age was important for social standing. Your collateral position in the lineage was somewhat less important.

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Iroquois Kinship System

  • Iroquois Naming System ~ A system common in unilineal descent systems where it is important to distinguish between Father’s and Mother’s Kin.

    • Based upon the principle of BIFURCATE MERGING

    • The same term of reference is used for father and father's brother (1) as well as mother and mother's sister (2). 

    • Parallel cousins from both sides of the family are lumped together with siblings but distinguished by gender (5 = male and 6 = female). 

    • All cross cousins are similarly lumped together and distinguished by gender (7 = male and 8 = female).

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Omaha Kinship System

  • Omaha Naming System - found among patrilineal peoples including the Native American group of that name.

    • An example of a bifurcate merging system

    • Patrilineally based kin naming system in which relatives are lumped together on the basis of descent and gender.  

    • Siblings and parallel cousins of the same gender are given the same term of reference (5 = male and 6 = female). 

    • Father and father's brother also have the same kin term (1).

    • Other people in ego's mother's patrilineage are lumped across generations (2 = female and 4 = male).

    • This system is common in unilineal descent systems where it is important to distinguish between Father’s and Mother’s kin.

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Crow Kinship System

  • The Crow Naming System- is named for the Crow Indians of North America. It is the matrilineal equivalent of the Omaha system.

    • Matrilineally based kin naming system in which siblings and parallel cousins of the same gender are given the same term of reference (5 = male and 6 = female) as are mother and mother's sister (2). 

    • Other people in ego's father's matrilineage are lumped across generations (1 = male and 3 = female), reflecting the comparative unimportance of the father's side of the family in societies using the Crow system.

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In multi-spouse marriages, two wives are more stable than three or more


Bilineal descent cultures have a more fluid system of joining and breaking up

Research suggests divorce rate is lower in unilineal descent cultures

Gender affects ability to divorce

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Widowhood and Remarriage three or more

  • In some cultures, women’s position as a widow is often marked symbolically

    • modest clothes

    • asexual

    • little food intake

  • Remarriage is dependent on economic factors and gender expectations

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Household Forms three or more

  • Single-person

  • Nuclear

    • dominant in foraging and industrial cultures

  • Polygamous and Extended

    • dominant in horticultural, pastoral societies

    • household may contain 50 members

    • will decline with industrialization?

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Households as Social Units three or more

  • Spouse/Partner relationships

    • studies suggest marital satisfaction is strongly correlated to sexual activity

  • Sibling relationships

  • Domestic violence

    • Males as perpetrators, women as victims is found in all cultures

    • More common where men control wealth

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Households in Social Change three or more

  • International immigration

    • challenges for parents and siblings

  • Shrinking households in the US

  • Increasing move away from nuclear households in industrialized cultures

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  • For the most part where a married couple or family resides parallels their general kinship pattern

  • AMBILOCALITY: The couple may stay with either the wife’s or husband’s domestic group

    • Relatively permanent resident relations

    • Most often associated with cognatic lineages and clans

    • Sets the stage for more complex permanent economic/social groups (Why?)

  • BILOCALITY: The couple may switch between the wife’s and husband’s group

    • Relatively frequent moves between wife and husband’s sides

    • Most often associated with bilateral descent in mobil societies

    • Makes for wide-spread informal relationships

  • NEOLOCALITY: The couple does not reside with either family group.

  • PATRILOCALITY: With husbands father

  • MATRILOCALITY: With wife’s mother

  • AVUNCULOCALITY: With husband’s mother’s brother

  • AMITALOCALITY: With wife’s father’s sister

  • Uxorilocality: with the wife’s kin

  • Virilocality: with the husband’s kin