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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Place of Kinship in the Social System: A Formal-and-Functional Consideration With an Appendix on Descent and Alliance

  • Author(s): (F. K. Lehman), F. K. L. Chit Hlaing
  • et al.

This papers examines the recent controversy as to whether there is any universally defined domain of kinship in sociocultural systems from the point of view of the philosophy of science, in particular, the classical positivism (e.g., of Radcliffe-Brown and of Murdock) that I show to have motivated the question.  It also examines the American version of the controversy, as with Schneider, and shows that, again, the question arises because of essentially the radical empiricism of cultural particularism and its methodological focus.  It then proceeds to evaluate the question from a cognitive-cum-formalist perspective, and goes on the argue that Lounsbury’s approach is not only also positivist-behaviorist in its foundations but also unwilling or unable to consider kinship as a domain having regard to its function within the whole social system and therewith in fact inadequately formalist, having regard to genealogical organization.  I proceed to take especial not of the fact that, uniquely, kinship is a system of social relations that is what I cal pure-relational, that being the functional basis of its universal definition.  Finally, as an appendix, I generalize the idea of alliance to the structural organization of all kinship systems.

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