Kinship and Descent And why they are important to anthropology Kinship is a Total Social Fact in Small-Scale Societies Kinship emerged as an important area of study in social anthropology because most anthropologists studied societies in which it was considered important. Most anthropologists studied relatively small-scale societies which did not have a centralized and separate apparatus of government. Kinship groups provided the most important institutional bedrock of such societies: Kinship groups had many functions: Regulated marriage choices. Regulated reproduction and socialization of children. Political functions: acted as corporate groups, mediated conflicts, acted as support groups for individuals. Economic functions: norms of reciprocity were embedded within kinship groups: •Generalized reciprocity: norms of mutual obligation for support, open-ended and having not fixed time for ‘repayment’: these norms often functioned at the level of the household of the lineage segment. •Balanced Reciprocity, e.g. the kula or the potlatch: ceremonial distribution and exchange of wealth often determined and regulated by kinship groups, e.g. in the potlatch, the giving of gifts was between clans and had to be returned at a specified date in an equal or greater amount. •Negative reciprocity: attempt to get the better of another person or group, happens sometimes between tribal segments. Descent Groups Descent groups can be of two types: unilineal and cognatic. Cognatic: descent is traced from both mo and fa. Unilineal descent groups trace descent from either the mother or the father. Patrilineal: descent is traced from the fa Matrilineal: descent is traced from the mo. Even in societies that are unilineal, there may be certain functions associated with cognatic descent: e.g. sacrifice to an ancestor among the Tallensi is made not only by the patrilineage, but by all people descended from that person through e.g. children of women of the descent group who married into other groups. Today, about 60% of kin-based societies are patrilineal, 35% are matrilineal, and the remainder are cognatic. Reasons for Corporate Descent Groups Unilineal descent groups became prominent in human society after the neolithic revolution, i.e. the emergence of food production, settled life, and agriculture. Defined relations of people to the land through time Difference between a descent category and a descent action group The first consists of those people who are eligible for membership in a particular corporate group. The latter defines those who actually come together and exist as an active part of a corporate group. This provides flexibility in inheritance between groups that have different population dynamics. Provided units of collective labour organization, e.g. lineage members could be called upon to clear forests or provide irrigation to crops. Descent and Marriage Unilineal descent groups must have rules about marriage. Generally, the unilineal descent groups is exogamous: this means that in a patrilineal descent group, the daughters marry outside their lineage or clan and are usually ‘absorbed’ into their husband’s clan. The reverse is true for matrilineal societies: men marry outside their mother’s clan and are sometimes ‘absorbed’ into their wife’s clan. Distinction between a descent group and a kindred: the kindred includes all relatives of ego, both male and female. It is ‘actualized’ only on special occasions relating to ego: birth, marriage, birth of children, death. The descent group is narrower and is defined by descent from a common ancestor.