Lecture 5: Marriage and Kinship
How are members of a culture connected to each other? Social relations can take many
Friendship: personal and unofficial relations of relative equality. Friendship
potentially opens up ties across social boundaries (class, ethnicity, gender, etc.)
Age Sets: many cultures make use of generational categories based on relative age
and time of initiation into adulthood. These are more formal than friendships, but
also establish crosscutting social ties.
Ritual (Secret) Societies: some cultures encourage members to join one or more
ritual societies. Ritual societies are often responsible for initiation, and guard secret
forms of knowledge such as songs, dances, and magical chants.
Kinship: relations based upon marriage and descent (egalitarian; parents order
What is Kinship?
By kinship, anthropologists mean the social relationships derived from the universal
human experiences of mating, birth, and nurturance.
This can include relationships based on marriage (mating), descent (birth), and
Biological product of two people; gestate inside mother, spend a long time being
vulnerable infants that are nurtured by other people; shapes how we think about
New reproductive technologies have changed how we are being born and how
anthropologists think about kinship (e.g. surrogate mothers, IVF, sex selection,
embryonic genetic screening, etc.).
Kinship provides a way of talking about human relationships based on metaphors of
shared substance: blood, milk, genes, or soul.
o If one were to discover that you weren’t biologically related to someone, your
relationship might change or even be severed completely.
o In the Trobriand Islands, Malinowski (1922) was taught that children are the
reincarnated souls of the mother’s ancestors that have returned to earth.
o In northern Sudan, anthropologist Janice Boddy (1989) discovered that some
adults could not marry because they had shared a woman’s breast as infants.
Genealogical relationships based on metaphors of shared substance are central to
the ways in which people create enduring ties to one another and understand their