Filiation and Affiliation

Filiation and Affiliation

Filiation and Affiliation

Filiation and Affiliation

Synopsis

The study of the transmission of status has tended to concentrate on the descent of patrilineal and matrilineal status. This text examines how the status of group affiliation affects the rules.

Excerpt

One of the special tasks of social anthropology has been to detect the order that is inherent in the universal and often-extensive use of relationship by birth (kinship) in the constitution of human social orders. Notwithstanding the claims of a few contemporary skeptics (Needham 1971; Kuper 1982,Schneider 1972, 1984), progress in this area has been substantial, especially since clarification, around the turn of the century, "of the old confusion between kinship and descent" (Goodenough 1970:45; C. Harris 1990:22) or, in other words, between the genealogical relations of persons one to another and the allocation of persons to social groups or categories on the basis of their parentage or ancestry. Our understanding of this latter domain, of "descent," is still, however, more than a little untidy, and it continues to be a subject of much, often more heated than illuminating, discussion and controversy.

Since the late 1950s that discussion has focused from time to time on the questions of how best to define the categories "descent" and "descent groups," but there has been little progress toward a consensus. Indeed, some writers (e.g., Kuper 1982) have suggested that this whole area of inquiry, debate, and discussion is deeply flawed and should be abandoned altogether. That course of action is, however, no more necessary than it is possible -- if, that is, we intend to continue to practice social anthropology. We cannot in good conscience turn our backs on the practices of our subjects who persist in organizing themselves into groups that are either wholly or in part genealogically constituted and that vary greatly in other aspects of structure and function. Nor can we in good conscience turn our backs on or routinely belittle the very substantial ethnographic and conceptual contributions of our predecessors. However much we may find fault with their general theoretical orientations, many of the projects they began can be brought to greater fruition.

The predominant tendency on the part of the critics (e.g., Schneider 1965, Dumont 1971, Holy 1976, 1996, Kuper 1982) has been to identify the root of the problem as the theoretical orientation known as structural-

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