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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Kinship Studies

Filiation and Affiliation by Harold W. Scheffler (Westview) Following mainly W. H. R. Rivers, we have tended to distinguish between only two modes of transmission or descent of status, the patrilineal and the matrilineal. This is unsatisfactory because simplistic. What is needed is Meyer Fortes's distinction between filiations and descent, and between whether a particular kind of relation of filiation is necessary and sufficient, merely necessary, or merely sufficient for acquisition of some specified status. Where the status is one of group affiliation or of category inclusion, these different rules of filiations and affiliation have readily specifiable structural implications, and those implications are readily verifiable by recourse to much already published ethnographic data, much of it already the bone of much analytical and theoretical contention.

Announcements in the 1970s and 1980s of the death of kinship and descent as subjects of anthropological study were highly premature. These subjects continue routinely to be encountered in the course of empirical ethnographic research and to be reported upon in ethnographies - or they are ignored at the peril of ethnographers pathetically unprepared to deal with them. Moreover, considerable evidence has accumulated that systems of social relations built on relations of genealogical connection exhibit a remarkable degree of orderliness about which it is possible already to make a number of substantial empirical generalizations, especially about the qualities of social relations within and between groups. As the masters of the subject always stressed, kinship and political and jural organization are closely interdependent structures. In this wide-ranging theoretical and comparative-ethnographic study, Harold Scheffler demonstrates that there is a simple reason why detection of this order has been too long delayed and has given rise to more destructive than to constructive debate in social anthropology.

New Directions in Anthropological Kinship by Linda Stone (Rowman & Littlefield) explores what has happened to studies in kinship. They used to be the backbone of social anthropology but with the demise of colonialism and the emergence of critical theory studies in kinship have become unfashionable. However editor Stone is careful to point out that the field still has much theoretical life left, especially when interdisciplinary approaches are developed.

"The essays collected in this volume offer rich testimony to the several and diverse directions kinship studies have taken in anthropology, especially under the influence of feminist thought. One of its special features is its coverage of anthropology quite generally. Its publication will surely stimulate more lively discussion of a wide range of issues." -Harold W. Scheffler, Yale University

"Bravo for this treasure trove of a collection, in which kinship is not only alive and well but teeming with new possibilities. From Mayan glyphs in early Mexico to genetic counseling sessions in contemporary Sweden, from activist women's associations in Mali to part-time parenting families in Massachusetts, the anthropological investigation of the shape, origins and meanings of kinship has never been more vigorous:" -Alma Gottlieb, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

"Linda Stone, in New Directions in Anthropological Kinship, has extended contemporary kinship-based debates by demonstrating the importance and timeliness of kinship studies. New Directions is an important addition to the literature for anyone interested in following the inherently interesting trajectory of the recently resuscitated kinship studies:" -Helena Ragone, author of Surrogate Motherhood: Conception in the Heart and Reproducing Reproduction: Kinship, Power,  and Technological Innovation

"New Directions in Anthropological Kinship is an important, expansive, and provocative collection of essays that simultaneously demonstrates both the vitality and promise of the reconstituted field of kinship studies as well as the intellectual value of a broadly defined anthropology. This fine book will be of interest to seasoned anthropologists and to students at all levels:' -Michael G. Peletz, Colgate University

Contributors: Lynn Akesson - Lisa M. Anderson-Levy • Caroline B. Brettell • Rosa De Jorio Allen S. Ehrlich Kathey-Lee Galvin -Ilana Gershon • Barry S. Hewlett David Jacobson • William Jankowiak - Louise Lamphere • Joan H. Liem Susanne Lundin • Richard E. Maddy - Judith S. Modell - Cynthia Robin • Joan B. Silk Karen Sinclair • Linda Stone • Robert S. Weiss

About the Editor: Linda Stone is professor of anthropology at Washington State University.


Together, these chapters reflect some distinctive new themes and approaches in kinship studies, with the history of the emergence of these new directions provided in the chapters by Brettell and Lamphere and in this introduction. Perhaps most prominent is that in current research, kinship is no longer a separate topic unto itself. It is focused outward on a diversity of other issues, with relationships of gender and power leading the list.

A second theme is the situating of kinship in historical context. No longer do we hear about "Navajo kinship," for example, in terms of a timeless structure of matrilineal clans and matrilocal residence, but instead, through Lamphere's chapter, we are acutely aware of process and change in Navajo meanings of matrilineal descent. In many of the chapters, and especially those by Lamphere, Sinclair, Anderson-Levy, Gershon, and De Jorio, colonialism and its aftermath are a crucial dimension of the broader historical framework within which kinship is approached.

A third theme is an emphasis on kinship with respect to the sociopolitical position of diverse actors. Within any culture, anthropologists no longer see one kinship "system" into which human actors fit and play out their allotted roles, but rather different kinship vantage points that depend on actors' particular positions. Thus, De Jorio shows how different segments of Malian society articulate "motherhood" to their own political ends. Jankowiak contrasts the different views of the Mormon polygnous family held by fathers, children, and co-wives, whose separate strategies support a cultural emphasis on "father adoration." Ehrlich's chapter shows the various vantage points and strategies of husbands and wives in the tangled "mother-in-law problem" of American middle­class couples. The chapter by Jacobson, Liem, and Weiss shows the different viewpoints of mothers, fathers, and children in American post-divorce parenting from separate households.

A fourth theme evident in these chapters, reflecting the legacy of Schneider and others, is that kinship studies are now more culturally contextual zed; the focus is clearly on how local persons construct kinship and the meaning they attribute to these constructions. No one any longer takes for granted that kinship is constructed on the basis of biological procreation, and several of the chapters draw attention to culturally specific kinship constructions on other bases. A review of recent research along these lines is provided in Galvin's chapter and a discussion of the issue in relation to archaeological data on ancient Maya is provided by Robin.

The chapters by Lundin and Akesson discuss "biologized" perceptions of kinship as specific to Western society and the ways that this perception in fact deviates from a Euro-American past. Equally important, as seen in both of these chapters, is that Western biologized kinship is itself now changing under the impact of new reproductive technologies. And from another angle, we see in Modell's chapter how "open" adoption in the United States fosters new constructions of parent-child ties. Indeed, process, change, and diversity in Euro-American kinship itself constitutes a separate theme in new kinship research as seen here in the chapters by Akesson, Lundin, Ehrlich, Jacobson et al., Maddy, Jankowiak, and Modell.

One issue that was a fundamental part of past kinship debates and continues into the present is the relation between biology and culture in the study of kinship. As already discussed here, last arguments over so-called "social" and "biological" kinship focused on whether or not human kinship constructions

grew out of "real" biological ties, or over what we should mean by "kinship" if they did not do so. These debates continue. Research in primate studies and neo-evolutionary approaches to human kinship, as seen in the chapters by Silk and Hewlett, are shifting the debate, however. Today there is a much larger question being raised in the whole of anthropology: To what extent do biological and evolutionary forces guide human behavior? And to the extent that they are considered to do so, what are the implications for our understanding

of human culture? If evolutionary forces shape human mating preferences, marriage strategies, and reproductive behavior, what are the implications for our understanding of human kinship? These questions are significant quite apart from local, culturally specific, emic bases of "kinship" construction, the focus of earlier debates. A kinship theory that integrates evolutionary ap­proaches with other cultural ones is a challenge for the future.

There are other challenges ahead. Anthropologists still have not answered (or at least not answered with any unanimity) Gellner's question: On what basis should we consider a blip-relationship to be one of kinship? Meanwhile, and per­haps paralleling the anthropologists' concept of "culture," research and writing on "kinship" continues in spite of lack of agreement on what "kinship" really is.

With all of the chapters in this volume, we see not only the new arenas into which kinship is spreading and new approaches to the study of kinship, but also what in kinship studies has been retained from the past. While kinship study has been reformulated and historicized, and is less ethnocentric and better grounded in cultural context, we still see the use of some basic concepts of descent, marriage, reproduction, parenthood, adoption, polygyny, polyandry, fictive kinship, and families. We still see an interest in figuring out what "kinship" is to others and to ourselves as anthropologists. To this, we owe a continuing debt to all of our anthropological ancestors from Morgan through Schneider in the study of kinship.

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