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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Human Complex Systems




Since what seems to be the first treatment in the 1882 [M] as an “algebra”, the topic now known as “kinship algebra” has focused on the correct composition of strings of symbols used to form empirical systems of kinship terms, as used in naturally occurring languages. The papers and Comments here, especially [B, R2, WD] have summarized much of the history since that initial treatment. While their principal focus is on a particular set of kinship terminologies which have come to be known as Dravidian, the papers and discussion raise a number of issues on the basic form of, and purpose of, the use of mathematics in developing cultural theory. [B], following the extensive discussions in [T], recognizes the nonassociative context of natural languages and of kinship generally, but refers to associative algebras for kinship, while [R2] seems to simply assume the necessary forms are associative. [B] applies group theory, as have many others summarized in the citations of these papers; [WD] evaluates that use. Finally, the Comments also focus on “careful ethnographic description” [WD].

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