The Family among the Australian Aborigines: A Sociological Study

By B. Malinowski | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
DISCUSSION OF KINSHIP

I
THEORETICAL ANALYSIS OF THIS CONCEPT

IT is undoubtedly one of the most valuable discoveries arrived at by modern sociological science that each institution varies in accordance with the social environment in which it is found. A given institution or social form (like the family, the state, the nation, the church) appears under various forms in different societies, and among peoples with a very low culture only rudiments thereof may be expected. This point of view, applied to marriage and the family, has led some writers to the assumption of forms as much opposed to those usual in our societies, as promiscuity and group marriage is opposed to individual marriage and the family. Nevertheless, although the variability and multiplicity of forms of marriage and family were acknowledged, the concepts applied to them were still the old ones, directly borrowed from our own society and formed upon the facts found amongst ourselves. In particular the sociologically untrained ethnographers comprehended the phenomena of kinship only under our own social concepts, judged them according to our own moral standard, and described them with words the meaning of which ought to have been defined when applied to a new case; nevertheless these terms have been nearly always used by ethnographers in the same sense in which we use them amongst ourselves, i.e. as expressing ideas of community of blood through

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