New Simulation Techniques in Kinship Network Analysis
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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.

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