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Structure and Dynamics

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The Structure and Dynamics eJournal welcomes articles, book reviews, data, simulations, research material, and special issues that examine aspects of human evolution, social structure and behavior, culture, cognition, or related topics. Our goal is to advance the historic mission of anthropology in the broadest sense to describe and explain the range of variation in human biology, society, culture and civilization across time and space. Submissions of databases, software tutorials, programs, and teaching materials are welcomed, as are communications on research materials of interest to a wide variety of science and social science researchers, including networks, dynamical models, and complexity research and related genre.

Back To Kinship II

Special Issue with articles presented at sessions on kinship at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association 2012 and 2013.


Back to Kinship II: A General Introduction

The two failed orientations to kinship, nurture and fitness, are transcended as this collection of original kinship work moves forward, building on the rich theoretical and ethnographic past of kinship study to a reinvigorated future of new data, reconceptualization of paradigms, fresh debates and new theory. Using kinship to anthropomorphize nonhuman primates is rejected. Contributions from 18 distinguished scholars of kinship cover the four-field, cross-cultural science of anthropology. Issues in kinship study are explored through marriage, kin terms, space, incorporation, ritual, primate studies, and contributions from Russia. This collection carries kinship study into the future.

Frames of Reference and Kinship Terminology Systems

The content of the spatial relationships module has been extensively studied and a fundamental part of such content is the concept of frame of reference; that is, a set of coordinates that generates an oriented space within which relationships between objects are established. There are three major types (and six subtypes) of frames of reference: the relative, the intrinsic, and the absolute. The content of the spatial relationships module has been proposed as being foundational to the development of both language and cognition. In this work I explore the possibility that the various types of frame of reference participate in the construction of the basic patterns of the kinship terminology systems: descriptive-Sudanese, bifurcate merging-Iroquois (also Crow and Omaha), classificatory and/or generational-Hawaiian (also classificatory-Dravidian), and lineal-Eskimo.

The Evolutionary Origins of Kinship Structures

Patrilineal kinship structures are among the most complex manifestations of the impact of kinship on human social life. Despite the fact that such structures take highly diverse forms across cultures, that they are absent in many human societies and, moreover, that they are not observed in other primate species, a comparative analysis of human and nonhuman primate societies reveals that human kinship structures have deep evolutionary roots and clear biological underpinnings. I argue here that the first patrilineal kinship structures came into being as the emergent products of the combination, in the course of human evolution, of ten biologically grounded components, seven of which are observed in our closest relative, the chimpanzee, the remaining three being consequences of the evolution of pair-bonding in humans. This indicates that contemporary patrilineal kinship structures are not cultural creations, but cultural constructs that built upon, and diversified from a rich biological substrate. The same reasoning applies to many other complex human kinship phenomena, such as marital arrangements. I conclude that models and theories from cultural anthropology must be compatible with the relevant biological evidence.

Why Marriage?

Marriage is not founded straightforwardly upon procreation.  Rather, marriage is universally — not withstanding groups such as the Mosuo of China lacking institutionalized marriage — a contractua l relationship legitimating a woman’s childbearing and giving her offspring social identity.  While a child-bearing woman may simply take on the motherhood role, the same is not true for fatherhood.  Rather, marriage defines a male conceptually as father for social purposes, regardless of his biological status.  From a conceptual perspective, this, in conjunction with the introduction during hominin evolution of the cognitive ability to recognize a relation of a relation as a relation, enabled the formation, by our ancestors, of genealogical tracing as a recursive process connecting pairs of individuals through parent/child links.  But genealogical tracing becomes problematic, both with regard to accurate transmission of genealogical connections across generations and to horizontal inclusion of individuals in disjoint social groups.  These limitations led to the radical introduction during the Upper Paleolithic, as suggested by the structural organization of the animal depictions in Chauvet Cave in France, of conceptually recognized and interconnected classes of kin.  This enabled the ethnographically documented, common procedure of culture-bearers computing kinship relations directly through kin terms, hence making kin term relations a foundational aspect of kinship relations.  We suggest, then, that “Why Marriage?” is answered through seeing how marriage made possible the kind of the kinship relational social systems that characterize human societies.

Beyond Fitness and Nurture: The Kinship Paradox

This paper builds on earlier analyses of primary data on kinship in Qatar. Its conceptualization centers kinship as a highly structured universal human phenomenon in the study of humankind.  As lived practices, kinship forms a bounded, identifiable domain that is distinguishable from other societal relations. Going beyond reducing kinship to fitness (biology) or nurture (culture study), analysis of primary ethnographic data gathered as part of a grant-funded field research project on kinship practices in Qatar, including suckling practices along with kinship by birth and by marriage, is presented to demonstrate how complex anomalies emerging at the level of kinship experience reveal in analysis properties of kinship as a transformational triadic structure, here proposed as a universal feature of kinship and a dynamic aspect of its structure.

Ethnological Problems and the Production of Archaeological Kinship Research

Ethnology traditionally guides most research on kinship practices. However, diachronic hypotheses are inadequately tested when using synchronic and normative information from limited periods of ethnological observations. Archaeological kinship analysis on residence, descent, and marriage, using middle-range factual correspondences between social practice and material remains, enable plausible inferences on variation and change in kinship practices over long periods of time. Therefore, archaeology is ideal for independently evaluating diachronic hypotheses. Taíno, Maya, and Hohokam case studies are presented and the results obtained from archaeological kinship analyses are summarized. These analyses show that variation and change are prevalent, thereby defying normative characterizations. Several long-standing functionalist hypotheses on the emergence of residence and descent practices are evaluated, and several of these find little support from long-term diachronic archaeological testing.  In addition, archaeological kinship analyses can provide new insights on kinship practices unavailable to ethnology, further demonstrating the archaeological subfield’s capacity to become a major contributor to the contemporary expansion of kinship research.

Ties That Bind:Marital Networks and Politics in Punjab, Pakistan

Pakistani politics are characterised by strong corporate social links through kinship and caste that impose reciprocal obligations and rights. Marital maps enable allow for accurate prediction of allegiances and decision making and contribute to a transparent assessment of political processes in the country. While much of the focus on reciprocal relations has understandably been on descent relations (dynasties), the complex network of marital alliances that cut across lineage and sectarian divides helps explain notable levels of stability despite the fragility of the state and other public institutions. Using the example of one of the most successful political dynasties in post independence Pakistan, we show the extent of cross lineage, region and even party alliances that shape this political kinship network.

KV(Ŋ)KV -Kinship Terms in the Australian Aboriginal Languages:First Part:Kaka 'Mother's Brother'

Here, I report the pervasive distribution in numerous Aboriginal language groups all over Australia, of kinship terms with similar phonetic shapes and meanings, such as kaka MB, FZH, EF. It is argued that this distribution is consistent with the antiquity of this term in the language families in which it is found. Further, its pervasive presence in non-Pama-Nyungan (non-PNy) as well as in Pama-Nyungan (PNy) languages, is consistent with inheritance from a higher taxonomic level, possibly Proto-Australian, and beyond, and even possibly from the proto-language spoken by the first modern men who colonized Sahul, while the grounded idea of a primordial Kariera-like at the start of higher nodes in the Australian language phylum is consistent with the claim that the Proto-Australian kinship system was Kariera-like.

New Simulation Techniques in Kinship Network Analysis

Thanks to new conceptual and computational tools, the analysis of kinship and marriage networks has advanced considerably over the past twenty-five years. While in the past, the discussion of empirical marriage practices was often restricted to a casual observation of salient network features, it is now easy to produce a complete census of matrimonial circuits, both between individuals and between groups. However, the abundance of structural features which have thus become accessible raises a new question: to what extent can they be taken as indicators of sociological phenomena (such as marriage preferences or avoidances), rather than as effects of chance or of observer bias?

This paper presents a series of recently developed simulation techniques that deal with this issue. Starting from a new approach to “classical” agent-based modeling of kinship and alliance (group) networks (Section 2), we then present an automatic model discovery technique which, instead of constructing alliance networks from given matrimonial rules, reconstructs plausible matrimonial rules underlying given alliance networks (Section 3). While these techniques apply to “objective” representations of kinship and alliance networks, we also present two methods that take into account the generally lacunar and biased character of empirical kinship datasets. The first method we propose to deal with this problem (Section 4) is a generalized version of White’s (1999) “reshuffling” approach, which consists in redistributing marriage or descent links between individuals or groups while keeping the numbers of links constant. (For alliance networks, the question can be dealt with analytically by straightforward calculation of expected marriage circuit frequencies.) The second method (Section 5) consists in simulating the processes of network exploration by a virtual fieldworker navigating through kinship or alliance networks according to given behavioral constraints.

The Study of Kinship Systems and Terminologies in Russia and the Soviet Union

The paper traces the origin of kinship studies as a subdiscipline of ethnography in Russia and the former Soviet Union. It identifies three long-term trends in the study of kinship (typological, ethnosociological and ethnocultural) in the region and highlights the importance of evolutionary thinking and the conceptual distinction between content and manifestation in the study of kin terminological systems. It presents several illustrative studies that demonstrate how Russian and Soviet scholars have tackled these trends and conceptual principles in practice.

Why Schneiderian Kinship Studies Have It All Wrong

Followers of David Schneider regularly claim that kinship in one or another community is not based upon native procreative notions. This claim has been shown to be wrong in several cases. But early childhood adoption might be thought to pose a special challenge to these correctives, because, unlike kinship notions established later in life, it draws upon the decided tendency of the very young to attach themselves to adult caretakers regardless of the presence or absence of a procreative connexion. Analysis of three well-known ethnographic cases suggests, however, that even here native ideas concerning procreation are semantically primary.

The Nexus Between Kinship and Ritual

Not only ritual, but also kinship, can be understood as self-generative and in fact mutually self-generative social phenomena. They are in this sense foils for each other’s production of social values, transformations, causes, and effects. Because this model of cultural agency is nonlinear rather than linear, it works on the transformation of social wholes rather than categorical divisions, and thus can be applied to medieval as well as contemporary socio-ritual contingencies.

Dualism and Pluralism in Pueblo Kinship and Ritual Systems

How do kinship and ritual systems articulate with patterns of social organization? Among the Pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona, social organization has been described as conforming to two opposing patterns. Among the Eastern Pueblos of the Rio Grande, especially the Tanoan-speaking towns north of Santa Fe, kinship is held to play a structurally insignificant role; social organization there, rather, pivots on ritual sodalities.” In the Western Pueblos (especially Hopi and Zuni), named matrilineal descent groups (“clans” and lineages), associated with Crow kinship terminology, are treated as the main articulating features of the social system. How is it that notwithstanding major cultural similarities in other respects, the Pueblos came to exhibit such different structuring principles for social life? This paper argues for greater similarities in the kinship and ritual systems of Eastern and Western Pueblos than has previously been ascribed to them, and suggests that dual exchange, of a type associated with kinship and marriage rules, underlies their differences.