Conceptions of Kinship

Conceptions of Kinship

Conceptions of Kinship

Conceptions of Kinship

Excerpt

Perhaps the title of this monograph should be Conceptions of Collaterality. The term collaterality refers to aspects of kinship ties associated with genealogical distances among relatives. George Peter Murdock (1949, p. 103) has identified collaterality as a basic dimension in determining relationships among kin:

The criterion of collaterality rests on the biological fact that among consanguineal relatives of the sow generation and sex, some will be more closely akin to Ego than others. A direct ancestor, for example, will be more nearly related than his sibling or cousin, and a lineal descendant than the descendant of a sibling or cousin. Our own kinship system consistently recognizes the criterion of collaterality and, with the sole exceptions of 'cousin', never employs the same term for consanguineal kinsmen related to Ego in different degrees.

This book is based on the premises that (1) any major subsystem of a society (like kinship) can be examined as a means for gaining insight into the character of that society; (2) since, as far as we know, certain attributes of kinship-- like collaterality--are universal, kinship seems to provide an appropriate means for the study of modern society; (3) unlike other dimensions of kinship, collaterality lends itself to precise formulations that permit measurement of diversity in a population; and (4) inasmuch as collaterality appears to be a basis for mobilization of action by relatives and for significant rules regarding marriage and inheritance, it appears to provide an effective perspective from which to study the relationship between family and society.

In particular, collaterality seems to be related to the extent that pluralism is significant in structuring of society. A pluralistic ideology is one that values the principle that the collective welfare of a society is best served by promoting the special interests of its particular components defined by race, religion, economic role, status in the socioeconomic stratification system, and/or ethnicity. Kinship may be regarded as a vehicle for perpetuating group identities associated with these special interests--religious sectarianism, socioeconomic position, and ethnic distinctiveness. Presumably some relatives are more closely identified than other kin with these special interests. Collaterality serves to designate the shading among relatives of their relevance to these concerns. One would then anticipate that populations with a pluralistic ideology would develop family and kinship norms that reflect their needs.

By way of contrast, in populations that foster universalism and consider the . . .

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