There are few studies of Turkey from the social sciences in which the focus is specifically on family and/or household structure, and even fewer which give consideration to family and household as part of a wider system of kinship. 1 For the past two decades these topics have been to a large degree subsumed in studies of the position of women, a dominant issue of the 1980s and 1990s, and the family has not been of great concern, apart from its undeniably pivotal role in shaping issues of gender. Most studies have focused on changes perceived to have taken place in the last 50 years in response to the major social, economic, political, and demographic changes experienced in Turkey with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the republican era. Generally these studies assume that the only remarkable change in kinship has been a transition from the traditional extended household to a small nuclear family-based household based on a single conjugal pair and their children. Whether explicitly so or not, many such studies have taken as a starting point an assumption (from what is generally called “modernization theory”) which holds that this transition is an inevitable outcome of modernization and/or Westernization. Within this framework, the structure of the “Turkish family” has been much debated, in particular with regard to the question of whether the normative pattern is nuclear or extended and residence patrilocal or neolocal. Questions of descent are rarely considered, but when they are, the rural areas have generally been represented as patrilineal. It is also generally accepted that in the cities, or at least among their urbanized elite, descent is not patrilineal. However, the question of what the descent system might then be in urban Turkey is simply not addressed.
A review of the scholarly accounts of both rural and urban areas demonstrates that there is great variation within Turkey in terms of both descent patterns and normative postmarital residence patterns that generate the domestic cycle and, thus, household composition at any particular time. There is also well documented variation within specific regions and villages and evidence of change in response to changing economic conditions in specific regions and villages. Viewed from the scholarly literature, this highly variegated and rapidly changing character appears as a kaleidoscope of changing images from which no overall understanding of Turkish kinship and family is possible, no continuities from the
1 Duben, Kandiyoti, Ilcan, Delaney, and Rasuly-Paleczek have given considerable attention to patrilocal residence, especially in relation to its consequences for women. Even in the works of these scholars, however, descent is for the most part ignored. With the exception of Delaney, the term “patrilineal” goes virtually without mention. In the much earlier work of Stirling (1965), the descent system was of central concern and his account of it in Anatolian villages remains unparalleled.