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The Anthropology of Kinship.docx

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ANTH 2170
Anna Pratt

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The Anthropology of Kinship -The Cultural Basis of Kinship Kinship • Social relationships based upon systems of relatedness and notions of “shared substance” • Refers to family • Not all societies recognize the same genealogical relationships that we do • Shared genes • Taught to think of our culture as natural as a result of biological bond • Tend to naturalize kinship relations • Kin group: what’s perceived as a permanent social group that has definite membership and members belong to that group because of their common descent; they are important because they help us determine what are rights and obligations towards other members in the society Many 19 thcentury studies of kinship: • Kinship/family relations as NATURAL • Biological relationships lead to natural social relationships • Little concern with cross-cultural variability; ethnocentrism • Assumption that our biological ties with people ultimately results in natural social bonds • Example: father, mother, sister are just social relationships that automatically form • Tended to feel that their form of family and structure was superior to others Early Evolutionary approaches • How do families “evolve”? • Lewis Henry Morgan • 1877, “Ancient Society” • Gathered information about other cultures • Read about other societies that were written by missionaries, travel diaries • He compared these different social institution in societies • Felt that families evolved from polygyny (having multiple wives) and polyandry (women has multiple husbands) to MONOGAMY • Felt people that had more than one partner were unnatural, immoral, and uncivilized • Thought gradually societies would evolve to monogamy (having one partner) • Moreover, he constructs heterosexual family as norm • No fieldwork Late 20 thCentury Meaning and structure of family is determined by cultural values and beliefs and thus will vary across and within human societies. • Taking a culturally relative approach • Example: David Schneider’s article David Schneider: • BIOLOGY/NATURE does not determine family structures. • Looked at kinship cross culturally • Looked at normative American kinship patterns- what is considered to be the norm within any specific society? • Written in 1968 and it was based upon ethnographic field work in Chicago • Did interviews in the middle class, sub-urban backgrounds, Christian, and identified them in different racial categories • Tried to understand their families and why would you consider some as family and no others • He argues: Culture forms are family • Example: in north America pets are considered family and how we treat them depends on whether they’re family or not; pets are called fictive kin- don’t have biological relationship with them but still consider them family • Fictive kin example: family friends that are called auntie, uncle • Schneider argues that we live in society that we privilege biological models of family • Example: hospitals will allow immediate family member or people that are related to you blood and marriage • Another example for privileging biological models: baby M-1986- a case that occurred in United States, this lady carried someone else’s baby and at birth decided to keep the baby and the case went to court and court decided to give her visitation rights because there is a social bond between the mother and child Problem: Hierarchies of Families: • Nuclear family (male/female living together and preferably married) as norm • Ideal because the relationship between two people creates a genetic bond and social relationship • Derogatory labels for other types of families: Eg. “Broken family” – as if its dying “Orphan” – term assumes that close connections related to biological connection = emotional connection Example: • Those who claim that gay and lesbian marriages are not “natural” • Politicians and others pull out the “biology card” when “traditional family values” are perceived to be under threat The Cultural Construction of Kinship in N
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