Patterns of Exchange in Kinship Systems in Germany, Russia, and the People's Republic of China1

By Nauck, Bernhard | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Patterns of Exchange in Kinship Systems in Germany, Russia, and the People's Republic of China1


Nauck, Bernhard, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


PROBLEM

Two major traditions have influenced the analysis of kinship systems and intergenerational relationships in the social sciences. One tradition has its roots in cultural anthropology and ethnology and has set the path for the better understanding of institutional settings and the high cultural variability of kinship systems. The other tradition has its mots in family sociology and social gerontology and has provided a large body of empirical findings on interaction and exchange between generations and among family and kinship members in vdous life stages and under various societal conditions. However, for various reasons both traditions have widely coexisted without taking any notice of each other, resulting in diverging terminologies, research goals and methods to the disadvantage of both-at least with regard to cross-cultural research, which has to account for institutional settings and individual behavior simultaneously.

(1) The research tradition of cultural anthropology clearly had a macro-sociological perspective, when relating specific forms of the institutionalization of kinship systems to specific environmental conditions, and especially to societal modes of production and reproduction and their changes over time and space. Accordingly, the history of family research is full of examples of cross-cultural comparisons and of sequential models of social change and its consequences on family and kinship, relating economic conditions to the organization of family and kinship (Durkheim, 1892; 1893; 1921 ; Engels, 1884, Lévi-Strauss, 1943; Morgan, 1877; Parsons, 1943; 1953; Taennies, 1887). More specifically, this approach has provided a much differentiated body of concepts to describe different types of kinship systems. The resulting terminologies aimed at the description of power structures and control rights over property and descendants (patriarchal vs. matriarchal), modes of belongingness (lineages vs. kindre&), patterns of descent and heritage (matrilineal vs. patrilineal or bilineal), of household formation (patrilocal, matrilocal or neolocal) and household complexity (from nuclear family households to intergenerational or lateral extended households), to name the most important ones. However, these terminologies were predominantly used to describe the institutional settings and the underlying normative cultural patterns on the macro-level, thus characterizing entire societies or cultures as 'patriarchal," "lineage based," "bilineal," "neolocal" or "extended." Until recently in many cases, this macro-perspective was not a result of theoretical orientations, but of the structure of available data: The empirical base of the reasoning was typically a synthetization of field reports from ethnographic case studies, describing the characteristics of the respective culture. In its mostelaborate form, these field reports found their entry into the "ethnographic atlas," collecting such reports on cultures worldwide and making them comparable in the best possible way (Murdock, 1967; 1981). Thus, empirical analyses on this base concentrate on the interrelationship between dimensions on the macro-level, i.e., on ecological correlations showing for example that patrilineal societies almost entirely result in patrilocal residence, whereas bilineal descent is typically accompanied with neolocal residence. This method of using aggregate data was also predominant in most family studies related to classical modernization theories (i.e., Goode, 1963; 1993; Lerner, 1958).

This method was also prominent in historical analyses of the family, including the seminal work of Hajnal(1965; 1982), describing the special developmental pathway of the "European Marriage Pattern": This pattern is based on consensual marriage at comparably late ages, the principle of unity of household and marriage (which excludes extended family forms) and making the spousal relationship the primary unit of solidarity (instead of intergenerational relationships or the lineage, respectively). …

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