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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Human Complex Systems




Read’s work on the generative logic of kinship terminologies constitutes one of the most distinctive and stimulating series of publications in the contemporary anthropology of kinship.  His intention to produce a universally valid explanatory (i.e. causal) theory of kinship terminology is highly ambitious – but also appropriate and intellectually refreshing. An important feature of his theoretical framework is that it allows for an interaction between universal cognitive processes and local cultural ideas. Another distinctive feature is that Read usually models whole terminologies – and specific features, such as crossness and generational skewing, are understood in the light of the terminological system as a whole. Read has been continually testing and refining his conceptual apparatus, and in this paper he brings it to bear for the first time on Crow-Omaha systems – offering us an exploratory case study that is intended both to show the insight that the generative logic approach can bring, and to investigate the specific logical features that may give rise to the phenomenon of skewing. In this comment I will look at Read’s approach in quite a general way, embedding my specific comments  on his analysis of Thonga kinship within this more general review.

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