Posts Tagged ‘kinship studies’

Kinship and Conklin at the 111th American Anthropological Association Meetings

Monday, November 19th, 2012

I just came back from the 111th AAA Meetings in San Francisco (November 14-18, 2012). At the end of my stay I was lucky to have a conversation with one of the early practitioners of kinship studies and ethnoscience, Harold Conklin (see on the left). A student of Alfred L. Kroeber, Conklin, despite his advanced age, attended the Stanford Anthropology reception, was full of energy and charm, and stole the show from some of the younger professors. It was fascinating to learn that Harold was brought to anthropology and into kinship studies by his precocious interest in American Indians (he was adopted by the Mohawks at the age of 13). We had a good laugh about how both of us took the same path into the discipline and how the whole discipline was founded by a man, Lewis Henry Morgan, with the same passion for American Indian cultures and human kinship.

At the meetings, I presented a paper entitled “Kinship Across Cultures and Disciplines:  Leanings from the Global Interdisciplinary Bibliography of Kinship Studies.” Dwight Read and Fadwa El-Guindi organized a session “Boundaries of Discipline, Boundaries of Kinship” that brought together an international group of scholars with widely-ranging interests in human kinship. Another session with a strong focus on kinship studies within a broader theme of the evolution of culture and cognition (“Evolutionary Understandings of Cultural Practices,” organized by Douglas Jones), happened simultaneously with the Boundaries one, and people were wondering why AAA did not assign them into completely different time slots to enable participants and listeners to attend both panels. A day earlier, Kathryn Goldfarb and Caroline Schuster ran another kinship session entitled “(De)Materializing Kinship: Relational Borders and Troubled Crossings.”

With kinship not a central concern of anthropology anymore, I did not have high expectations for my panel’s attendance. I was pleasantly surprised to observe that this year kinship commanded quite a bit of public interest, with the audience numbers reaching 50-70 people during some of the talks. People had to stand along the wall of the conference room or sit on the floor, as all the seats were taken. Marshall Sahlins‘s paper (“What Kinship Is Not – Biology”) read by Michael Silverstein naturally attracted a few extra people, but, even without it, attendance was very impressive. My paper is below.

German V. Dziebel (111th AAA Meetings, San Francisco, November 15, 2012)

Kinship Across Cultures and Disciplines:  Leanings from the Global Interdisciplinary Bibliography of Kinship Studies

Since the mid-1990s, I have been compiling comprehensive bibliographies of kinship studies (including the study of family, adoption, marriage/mating, and divorce) across the social sciences. One part of the project involves works published in Russian and the languages of the former Soviet Union. The other part covers works published in Western languages. The Russian bibliography containing 2000+ entries is now complete and submitted for publication. The bibliography in Western languages is available as PDF files here and is being updated regularly. It now contains upwards of 20,000 entries.

As an anthropologist with a strong interest in linguistics, I originally began tracking publications on human kinship authored within the anthropological tradition of studying systems of kinship and kinship terminologies and the linguistic tradition of analyzing kinship terms as a lexico-semantic field. My main research focus was the compilation of a worldwide database of kinship terms and semantic patterns with the goal of constructing plausible pathways of kin terminological change as reflection of changes in marriage rules, residence, descent rules, etc. in the tradition of Lewis H. Morgan, W.H.R. Rivers, Robert Lowie, George P. Murdock, Gertrude Dole, Mikhail Kryukov, Nick Allen and others. This involved an audit of all publications in which kin terminological systems were described either as part of the ethnographic description of a culture, as a formal system of classification or just a lexical set in a classified or thematic dictionary. I have been tracking kinship vocabularies (with or without a corresponding linguistic or anthropological analysis) across a wide range of sources, including books, papers, Ph.D. dissertations, Master’s theses, fieldwork notebooks, and magazine articles. This has resulted in a database of kin terminological patterns and terms from some 2500 languages (almost half of the 6000+ languages currently spoken in the world). The focus is primarily on such terminological phenomena as sibling classification and cross-generational equations. Some of the conclusions derived from the study of the database of kinship terminologies were published in my book The Genius of Kinship: The Phenomenon of Kinship and the Global Diversity of Kinship Terminologies (2007).

The bibliographic references on which the database drew are organized according to the Ethnologue language classification and cover 150 language families and isolates. The Ethnologue classification for such areas as Papua New Guinea and South America is still work-in-progress and is periodically updated to reflect new developments in the field. I re-organize my bibliographic references accordingly.

In addition to the empirical research devoted to or containing meaningful information about a culture’s kinship system, the bibliography contains theoretical and methodological works divided by anthropological school (evolutionism, functionalism, structuralism, constructivism) and thematic divisions representing intersections between the study of kinship and the study of other anthropological subjects or cultural domains and phenomena, including myth, ritual, gender, age, ethnicity, race, religion, literature, popular culture, music, globalization, gay and lesbian studies and others.

Early on I began noticing that, in both Russia and the West, kinship is not a pre-occupation of anthropology alone. A whole variety of other disciplines and subdisciplines – including linguistics, logic, sociology, history, psychology, evolutionary biology, primatology, demography, epidemiology, theology – study kinship or use the metaphor of kinship to analyze their subject matter. In many cases, these non-anthropological traditions in the study of kinship have a long history going back to the 18th century and earlier. For example, in Russia there was an influential school of historical thought initiated by a German historian, Gustav Ewers, in 1829, and further developed by the foremost Moscow historian, Sergei Soloviev (1820-1979), that sought the roots of the Russian state in ancient Russian kinship structures. This school preceded the launch of kinship studies in the U.S. by Lewis Henry Morgan by several decades but fundamentally it was grounded in the same principle of reifying consanguineal kinship as the cornerstone of pre-modern social and political organization as Morgan’s work. Although this Russian historical school died out by the end of the 19th century, there are some similarities between its focus on kinship structures in the Slavic world with the relatively recent interest of European historians in the structure of pre-modern and early modern European family as exemplified by the periodical Journal of Family History, collected volumes such as Family Forms in Historic Europe and one-author monographs such as Plakans’s Kinship in the Past: An Anthropology of European Family Life, 1500-1900 (1984).

In both Russia and the West, kinship and marriage constituted a prominent concern of legal historians, law practitioners as well as Christian ministers who deemed it necessary to explain to their parishioners the church rules of marriage. This tradition of thinking about kinship goes back to at least 1400s in the West when Italian expert on canon law Johannes Andreae, or Giovanni d’Andrea published his influential Super arboribus consanguinitatis, affinitatis et cognationis spiritualis et legalis and to the book by a provincial Russian minister, Mikhail Zadorin, entitled “On the Marital Union. A Practical Guide to the Rules of Kinship” (1866). It is within this tradition that kinship and connections were visualized as either “trees” or “networks” for the first time. The founder of kinship studies in anthropology, Lewis H. Morgan, was himself a lawyer, and the 19th century German legal scholar, Josef Kohler, was a prolific writer on group marriage and mother right across cultures and the founder of Zeitschrift fur Vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft.

Logicians picked up on the peculiar logical structure of kinship terms, namely their relationality, back in the 1850s independently of anthropologists and linguists. In 1859, the British logician Augustus de Morgan (whose name ironically is identical to that of Lewis Henry Morgan who at that time was working on his Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family) published a treatise on the logic of relations. This treatise so profoundly influenced the American philosopher Charles Peirce that he used kinship terms as a prototype for the kind of sign he called an icon and for the kind of logic he called abduction. Kinship terms were different from the other kinds of nouns in being both subjects and predicates. Peirce wrote,

 “A relative is just that, an icon, or image, without attachments to experience, without ‘a local habitation and a name,’ but with indication of the need of such attachments.”

 Anthropology’s interest in the matters of kinship, marriage and the family in the mid-19th century developed side by side with Victorian fascination with heredity. The now-largely forgotten founder of eugenics Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911), the cousin of Charles Darwin, was a child prodigy himself and the author of Hereditary Genius (1865) the book that purported to explain the hereditary basis for talents and pronounced physical and psychological abilities.

Galton is considered to be one of the early contributors to network analysis (see Freeman, 2004) and an admirer of logical analysis of kinship terms in the style of Augustus De Morgan. Galton was interested in calculating the probability of the extinction of noble families. In 19th-century Europe, noble lineages were associated with death and extinction, hence it comes as no surprise that Freud considered fantasies about being an offspring of a noble parent to be neurotic. Nobility was thought of as a reactionary force, standing in the way of economic progress and biological evolution. It was opposed to active selection, and Galton was eager to help his cousin Darwin with bringing about the triumph of this natural force in the intelligent human world clouded with degenerate “nobility.”

Most interestingly, studying “family likeness” (comp. Peircean “icon”) in size, stature, eye-color and mental abilities, Galton invented two statistical operations that are still widely used, namely regression and correlation. In one study, Galton compared fathers’ heights to their sons’ heights. The heights of sons both of unusually tall fathers and of unusually short fathers was typically closer to the mean height than their fathers’ heights. It means they were more like their ancestors than like their parents. Regression toward the mean blends the qualities of time progression with spatial distribution. Since the fathers of exceptionally tall people also tend to be closer to the mean than their sons, the overall variability of height among fathers and sons is the same. What later became known in statistical theory as “independent” and “dependent” variables was in Galton’s original kinship terminology simply “father” and “son.” In Galton’s mind, all reciprocal kinship positions were mutually correlated: father was correlated with son, grandfather with grandson, uncle with nephew, and so forth. The correlation eventually became associated with the name of Galton’s student and protégé, Karl Pearson (1857–1936), who founded the first statistics department at a university (University College, London) and is universally credited as a founder of modern statistics.

The Peircean typology of signs as well as Pearson’s correlation coefficient are widely known but their indebtedness to the logical structure of kinship terms came up only as a result of the bibliographic and historiographic inquiry into kinship studies as an interdisciplinary subject matter.

The peculiar logical structure of kinship terms may explain why kinship terms have always occupied a liminal place between anthropology and linguistics. Linguists developed their own interest in kinship terms back in the mid-19th century when in 1848, first, Jacob Grimm (Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache) used Indo-European kinship terms as proof of the relatedness of Indo-European languages, and then in 1848 and 1867 Russian philologists, Fyodor Buslaev and Pavel Lavrovsky, published two comprehensive analyses of Slavic and Sanskrit kinship terms as a distinct semantic domain. In 1889, Berthold Delbrück’s monumental Die Indogermanischen Verwandtschaftsnamen inaugurated a long string of philological and linguistic articles, dissertations and books exclusively devoted to the phonology, morphology, semantics and etymology of Indo-European kinship terms. Descriptive linguists working on other language families followed suit. Historical linguists even adopted the term “kinship” to describe the phenomenon whereby regular sound correspondences unite various independent languages into such genealogical units as families and megaphyla. If anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan introduced a semantic analysis of kinship terms within a single language and compared these systems across languages (and Alfred Kroeber and other Boasians considered kinship terms as facts of language, rather than social organization), historical linguists interpreted regular similarities between all and any element of language as signs of kinship between underlying speech communities. There seems to be an intriguing complementarity between the linguistic notion of kinship between languages and the historical typology of kinship terminologies.

Reading the 19th century literature on kinship across anthropology, biology, statistics, logic and linguistics leads to a surprising discovery that  such seemingly disparate notions as “statistical correlation” and “kinship between languages” are concepts that are literally related, a finding that may have implications for the statistical approaches to the determination of kinship between second-order language families, or megaphyla such as Nostratic, Eurasiatic, Dene-Caucasian and others.

The confluence of anthropology, language, mathematics and logic came about again in the 1950s-1960s with the development of formal approaches to the study of kinship terminologies (componential analysis, equivalence rules analysis, generative analysis and others). The latest addition to this slew of studies counting at upwards of 500 in my bibliography are the applications of Optimality Theory to kinship nomenclatures.

Psychology and social psychology hold a strong focus on the theme of kinship, family, marriage and divorce, too, in conjunction with social deviance and psychological disorders. Voluminous literature has been published within the schools of thought known as Family Therapy, Object-Relations, Jungian Psychology and Psychoanalysis, and in the past anthropologists (especially Bronislaw Malinowski and Gregory Bateson) engaged with it bringing perspectives from non-Western cultures.

Evolutionary biology, population genetics, demography and epidemiology frequently tackle the problems of human kinship. A long string of articles documents the presumed effects of the cultural practices of close consanguineal marriages and post-marital residence on genetic diversity in a population, fertility and effective population size, economic development, mental abilities and frequency of congenital diseases. A study of surnames, or family names and genealogies in search of molecular patterns indicative of migrations provides an interesting nexus of onomastics, genetics, demography and anthropology. An example of an interesting bibliographic reference is

“Population Genetics and Social Anthropology.” Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology (1950) 15: 401-408.

 In this rare instance of collaboration, anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn and geneticist Charles Griffith partnered to identify the ways in which marital rules and post-marital residence affect patterns of molecular genetic variation. More recently, Per Hage and Jeff Marck (without referencing Kluckhohn and Griffith) proposed that the excess of Papuan Y chromosomes in Austronesian-speaking populations in Oceania can plausibly be explained as product of matrilocality, a practice which was reconstructed for proto-Oceanic using ethnological and linguistic information. But overall the current studies of modern human origins conducted by population geneticists suffer from unfortunate neglect for the impact of the social institutions of kinship and marriage on the patterns of genetic variation.

By way of a quick summary, what one can learn from the 20,000-entry strong interdisciplinary bibliography of kinship studies is that kinship studies have a strong potential to be developed into a fully interdisciplinary, cross-functional science. The peculiarity of the phenomenon of kinship lies precisely in its strong and consistent appeal to different disciplines and the existence of strong overlap in the approaches to kinship coming out of seemingly different fields. In a sense, kinship, marriage and the family may constitute the nexus of the social and biological sciences, the place where different disciplines can come to celebrate their underlying unity. The decline of kinship studies in anthropology from the late 1960s on can be explained not only as an outcome of cultural and epistemological shifts within anthropology, but also as the necessary product of a trans-anthropological nature of the kinship phenomenon itself. Was it anthropology that shed kinship, or was it kinship that outgrew anthropology? At the same time, scholars working in such fields as economics, sociology and philosophy have noted that, regrettably, relatively little attention is given to kinship in these disciplines. There seems to be an opportunity to export the learnings from the more kinship-focused sciences such as anthropology, linguistics, psychology and law into these other fields. Observations on the comprehensive interdisciplinary bibliography of kinship studies seems to bolster the recent controversial proposal by Marshall Sahlins (and in my Russian book The Phenomenon of Kinship (2001), I developed a similar thought drawing on Martin Heidegger’s philosophical anthropology) that kinship is an ontological, rather than a biological, social or symbolic reality.

Reviving Kinship Studies or Re-Inventing the Wheel? A Comment on Stephen Levinson

Friday, September 14th, 2012

On the heels of Kemp & Regier’s article “Kinship Categories Across Languages Reflect General Communicative Principles” published in Science, Stephen Levinson calls for a revival of kinship studies. Dan Sperber echoes with a post entitled “Is Kinship Back?” Levinson’s specialty is language and cognition, his piece was published in the Psychology section of Science. It fascinates me how versatile “kinship” is. People with different academic backgrounds end up talking with each other about the same thing – kinship. That’s why it has been possible to build a comprehensive bibliography of kinship studies across a wide range of scientific disciplines – anthropology, linguistics, psychology, economics, history, biology, etc. All these studies turn out to be interrelated either in the kinds of underlying questions being tackled or, more directly, in the overlapping references.

Levinson’s plea is of course very welcome. One thing to be mindful of is the danger of re-inventing the wheel under the pretext of reviving something. Kinship terminologies have always been the mice of the social sciences in a sense that a myriad of types of formal approaches were either designed for or tested on kinship terms. I’m talking about componential analysis, scalogram method, equivalence-rule analysis, graph theory, set theory, optimality theory, etc. Kemp & Regier (2012) add another layer to this plethora of formalizations. But it remains unclear what problems all of these approaches are trying to solve and whether the questions have already been answered or should not be asked in the first place. One of the problems with “traditional” kinship studies was their insularity. The formal approaches tend to reaffirm it because it is impossible to concisely model something that has empirical connections to naming, pronoun use, reported speech and a host of other phenomena. But it is precisely the multi-faceted nature of kinship terms (not their boundedness as a lexico-semantic class) that needs to be accounted for.

On another note, Levinson suggests the application to kinship studies of “computational techniques of biological phylogenetics to extract the historical development of patterning in cultural categories.” “Traditional” kinship studies out of anthropology has been doing this for the past 150 years since Lewis H. Morgan’s “invention of kinship” and my book “The Genius of Kinship” is the 2007 state-of-the-art in this subfield. Biological phylogenetics may be a more distant cousin to these approaches, while the comparative methodology in historical linguistics is a close sibling. And it’s precisely in the extent to which students of kinship can cross-pollinate with historical linguists that the visible progress in the dynamics of language-bound categories can be made. The application of Bayesian method derived from biological phylogenetics to kinship terminological evolution, as exemplified by Fiona Jordan’s 2011 paper “A Phylogenetic Analysis of the Evolution of Austronesian Sibling Terminologies” referenced by Levinson as showing “patterns of irreversible evolution,” can be misguided because the essential units of analysis, which require knowledge of both anthropology and linguistics, are not coded properly. (I communicated the problem to Fiona but apparently it was too late to fix it, hence the paper came out in its original form.) This will correspondingly result in the revival of “conjectural history” decried by Radcliffe-Brown, not of kinship studies.

Levinson is trying to enter kinship studies but, from the very onset, he does it with a wrong set of assumptions about kinship studies. These questionable assumptions can be dispelled by a thorough historiographic dive or they can be solidified by a narrow focus on the some of the most recent works that just scratch the surface of the field.

Indo-European and North Caucasian: Linguistic Typology, Kinship Terms and Autosomal Genetics

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Ranko Matasovic presented rich typological evidence (consonant-to-vowel ratio, tonal accent, number suppletion in personal pronouns, the presence of gender and the morphological optative and, possibly, the presence of glottalized consonants and ergativity) in favor of areal contacts between Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and North Caucasian (NC) in the eastern part of the Pontic steppe. He writes (pp. 306-307):

“The adduced typological parallels between PIE and Caucasian languages make it likely that PIE was, indeed, in contact with languages of the northern Caucasus. However, these contacts could also have been of indirect nature, since there are no demonstrable loanwords from North Caucasian languages in PIE, or vice versa. If such loanwords exist, their number is certainly not high. If direct contacts did exist, we cannot determine their nature: both long-term bilingualism due to exogamy and trade networks, as well as rather rapid language shift appear equally possible.”

Matasovic (p. 288-289) mentions one of such loanwords, namely the PIE kinship term *snuso– (Gr. nuos, Arm. nu, OCS snuxa, etc. ‘daughter-in-law’), apparently borrowed into many North Caucasian languages (Chechen nus, Avar nus, Akhvakh nusa, Kabardian nesa) as well as into Megrelian (nosa). But he fails to mention the cases of 1) PIE *swesor ‘sister’ and Chechen sesag ‘wife’, Lak sus, Lezgin swas, Ubykh sasa ‘bride’ and 2) PIE *geme– ‘son-in-law’  (Skrt jamatar, Avest zamatar, Gk gambros, etc.) and Chechen zam-o, Ingush sam-e ‘best man’, Lezgin c:am, Agul zam (Nikolayev S. L., and S. A. Starostin. ? North Caucasian Etymological Dictionary. Moscow, 1994). The combination of the these three apparent loanwords, all referring to marriage and affinity, favor the long-term exogamy hypothesis between PIE speakers and the natives of the Caucasus.

Naturally, if long-term marriage exchange was indeed practiced between PIE speakers and the natives of the Caucasus, we may expect to find its genetic traces in mitochondrial, Y-DNA and/or autosomal DNA. The amateur genome blogger Dienekes Pontikos recently reported the elevated frequencies of a “Caucasus” autosomal component among modern Indo-Europeans and its absence among Basques and low frequencies among Finns. While he labeled it “West Asian” and misconstrued it as suggesting a Near Eastern origin for Indo-Europeans (in contrast to the mainstream Kurgan hypothesis), it seems to be the best available evidence for genetic exchange between Indo-European speakers and the speakers of North Caucasian languages in the Pontic steppe and North Caucasus areas. The Chechens whose language contains all three kinterm loans from PIE, show this component at 54.6%. Matasovic focuses on the Maykop culture (3700-2500 BC) as providing the best archaeological correlate to the contact zone between PIE and North Caucasian languages. The Maykop culture is centered in Adygeia, which shows 52.5% of that “Caucasus” autosomal component. We have, therefore, a very strong fit between linguistics, kinship studies, population genetics and archaeology in this case.

It remains to be seen if this fit is real or spurious. It’s noteworthy that all NC societies are strictly patrilocal and patrilineal. PIE society is also reconstructed as patrilineal and patrilocal (see The Encyclopedia of Indo-European Cultures, with the original proposal in Friedrich, Paul, “Proto-Indo-European Kinship,” Ethnology 5 (1966), pp. 1-36). This commonality would facilitate marriage exchange between the two populations in both directions, as PIE women marrying NC men would go live with their husbands without violating the rules of either society. The same works for NC women. At the same time, PIE men and NC men would rarely end up as son-in-laws in foreign households, unless they had been first taken as prisoners. We don’t know yet if PIE speakers contributed any genes to the NC speech community. Neither do we know if genetic admixture between PIE and NC speakers manifested in mtDNA and Y-DNA. If it did, then we may be able to infer from the pattern of this admixture whether this gene exchange was sex-biased and whether it took place under peaceful or violent circumstances.