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Concepts of Kinship and Biology

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Anthropology
Wordcount: 2249 words Published: 30th Apr 2018

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Does kinship ultimately refer to biology?

In this essay, I will explore the ways in which kinship ultimately refers to biology. I will first define what kinship is and how it is viewed from the western perspective. From there I will provide accounts of biology and genealogies and provide a basic definition. I will approach the argument how modern ideas and technology are changing kinship if defined through biological means. I will illustrate examples of genetics, new types of parents, how the family is a public discourse. I then will look at how kinship is viewed in reference to biology and genealogy. If it is defined as being consanguinity, it is flexible and can be expanded to accept new types of kinship. It is argued that kinship is not ultimately biological as the idea assists people to overcome infertility, to give everyone a chance to have a family and new types ultimately expand the concept of kinship. I will conclude by stating that the family a social system, it will adapt t how society changes as well as a cultural construct that represents the ritual and symbolic identity of bondage also the underlying of economic exchange that characterize reciprocity but to ultimately refer to biology I shall conclude kinship is held within the mind of an individual. From this, the opportunity in modern state to conceive is available to every individual.

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A key aspect of a family is kinship. Malinowski believed kinship to be consist of emotional attachments of individuals that exist to fulfill a purpose through customs that provide current meaning for members of that society. However, Freud saw that the key to understanding kinship would explain adaptive functions to the unconscious mind and how these adaptations derive from social problems (namely incest taboo) lead to the foundations of individual identities. The society was the family. The As with the principle hunting and fishing. Schneider believes western and American culture defines kinship as a system of relation, where it reflects real or assumed biological connections. From this, he also argues that what differentiates kinship from other systems is genealogy. It separates people from their friends, co-workers and neighbours (Stone 2001).The social notion of a family is based on the idea that our relationships with an obligation towards people we identify as part of the family will in some way be different from and often, by implication, closer than other relationships, such as friendships. Anthropologists look at relationships by blood or marriage as grounds for kinship as a social institution. In the Amazon, kinship is dually the origin for social organization (Levi-Strauss, 1982) and social relatedness (Carsten, 2000). This is seen as a ‘socio-cultural’ explanation. However, when collecting genealogies, biological explanations of kinship are not prescribed. Genealogies are a method in which to trace an individuals kin and family relationships for reference and address. Kinship relations are based on genealogies consistent with their folk culture theory and their idea of human production (1973 Cited in Stone 2001).

The limitations of kindred and descent-based groups are shifting constantly. According to rules of kinship relationships distinct to biological roots, practices are flexible and integrate systems. These have no relation to any biological relationships. There are two opposing arguments of kinship values and defines it. Kinship and family cannot be defined in one aspect, it is multifaceted; it can be both founded on nature or culture’ (Akesson 2001) especially evident in consanguinity, friendship, affinity and name-sharing.

The compadrazgo in Mexico form a trinity of kinship based on close ties between parents, godparents and child. Encountering a symbol of spiritual belonging providing a cultural idiom of behaviour which constitutes groups in society, indentifying a range of social relationships. As a form of address and reference metacommiunication by Gregory Bateson. A ritual of language between its fellow kinsmen.

An immediate feature of kinship in New Guinea informs us that kin and family relationships can form and expand if people acknowledge nonkin relationships as a formula to genealogy. If regards are towards defining social relationships by means of kin or not, then a close relation towards someone can be stipulated. Consequently, the unusual sight of brother sister and cousins informally are as sibling in the sense of fellow kinsmen, even if the Trobrianders have no consanguineal or affinal relationship. ‘It is not the physical bond of common blood; it is the social acknowledgment and interpretation of it’ (Malinowski 1913)

Like in Hawaii society, the general use of kin terminology compared to the western tradition, children call all members of their parental guardian’s father and mother because parenthood is unfeasible to ascertain. Personal names in referring to or addressing individuals shows this method of communication as being of genealogical relationships. A ritual in which continues a kinship relationship between the community in everyday interaction.

Unblood related attachments of persons bond together as cousins in Hawaiian society can establish a relationship by naming each other kin meaning cousin. However, in accepting the naming and bondage implications this means the behavior and expectations of cousin is also implied. The treatment of such should be of equal status and respect regardless of any age.

Such use of kin terms illustrates Schneider’s argument that the recording and listing of kinship terms does not mean that their designation will follow accordingly (1968).
As such, a modeled family in Chinese historical sources was seen as hierarchical clan members and lineage of social strata. Government based kinship ethics and kinship forms of power, it is appropriate that Confucius always looked back to the ancient past of the Three Dynasties. (Lewis 1990: 28-36). Members of each clan were said to be descendents of a mutual mythological ancestor. And shared a common emblem (totem), which signified their common character. Arguable, relating kinship to hierarchal status, orders the strengthening of state which results in kinship partnership in a political social life.

Using the idiom of kinship implies that all exchanges even political are based on trust, are uncompetitive, and lack selfishness sand that relationship have long-term stability. Theses are fictive affinal and even blood kin these ideological assumptions do not always hold up. Exchanges create alliances. Families are being regulated by state governance, thus the family social life and government are institutional based on kinship forms of power. Rights and obligations to Jamaican mother and father through blood relations in providing financial support and caretaking services (Sobo 1993:79)

As we can see kinships represent symbolic ideals of meaning which explain an integral and wider set of transitional symbols to convey implicit meanings for which are used regularly and ‘consciously to construct the idea of community’. No matter what they project to the world they choose what will define them. No matter what their biology is, people can socially define themselves; the self is socially constructed (Shanley 2001 and Strathern 1992)). The understanding of kinship and family is a complex set of networks and patterns of relationships intertwined with intricate meanings.

Kinship provides a framework where it’s cultural context can mobilize human behaviors. Freud’s Totem and Taboo highlights the importance of religion and ritual in kinship and social organizations.

However, to understand kinship one must understand the importance and relevance of and for term referred to as kinship other than accepting the restrictions of genealogy and its implications. Realizing its flexibility it constitutes boundaries is not without obligation. Paternity is established by (one of) the mothers sexual partners by giving numerous gifts to the midwife (Galvin 2001)

As a social system, kinship embodies intervention, and new boundaries emerge. There is a new type of kinship because in present day, we live in a highly individuals society (Franklin 1999). An individual is defined by what they absorb from their environment. They choose what they project to the world and they choose what will define them. Practical reasons may trigger these activities whereby a male may not have any male siblings (brothers) and not able to interact or relate to his sister and look to depend on a close nit relationship with males outside of his kin group for belonging or social activities such as fishing and hunting. In exploration, parentages suffer consequences from internal fragmented kin relations extra need and related sentiments beyond ones boundaries can elevate into new cultures and subcultures. They provide men with models which are imperative to man’s relationship to society and nature. The social construction enables friends to help and assist one another and because of the development of integration with different relationships are classified as kinship and provide a sense of unity and identity. So, if human activity changes, the cultural context e.g kinship, should change as well. Thus it is the institutional aspect of people’s interactions that create a family (Strathern 1999).

Weimatel observed Zumbagua in Ecuador, kinship is based on social conditions. That sharing food and time is what forms a family. Through nurturing, children and adults create binding kin relationships (1995). Individuals remain kin under the sharing of game and fish and also in physical absense if they choose this path. The ideals of the body idioms are also embodied in Amazonian societies. For example, ‘raw and the cooked’ (Levi-Strauss) shows an understanding of identity in a universal symbolic natural habitats of commensality. Through social exchange, social values and commodity exchange a semiotic use of the body creates personal identities and kinship ties.

However, I f people so wish not to share or participate in obligations with to maintain an extended kinship these boundaries are optional.

Therefore, there are no constraints on consanguineal kin as a system. Communities are not solely the product of biologically inherited drives releases from cultural constraints. Rather it is a product of peculiarity cultural meaning and social affairs bound in a manner that permits freedom of choice. The significance is individuality, kinship as and symbol and society an expression. It shapes and modes these peoples life’s and the ways in which they relate to each other, it’s a crucial concept in defining their social being.

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Furthermore, Schneider remarks that in American kinship, sexual intercourse is the natural act of procreation (Cited in Strathern). Sex is a way in which unifies male and female to share their biological substance. But, with aligning to modern procedures, new technologies of procreation allow lesbian and gay couples to have a family using assisted conception. This challenges the notion of kinship in a way that it does not involve a heterosexual couple and that the child is not biologically related to both parents. Stable family boundaries are now placed under threat (Stanley 2001). Artificial processes seem to replace natural ones (Strathern 1992). ‘Bonds between family members that people had once thought of as unchangeable to given were now viewed as established by human intention and will )Shanley 2001:88). Moreover, Kath Weston explores the topic of gay and lesbian couples having families through new reproductive systems, and she points that from this, it challenges Schneider’s account that in American kinship, families are based on procreation. For example An adopted son. The use of such language suggests that the relationship between parents and son is regarded as real as if the child were the parents’ biological offspring. Kinship is rhetoric of social relatedness, as Guemple argues (1972b), but whether based on biology or affinity, it is real as long as people see it as such.


Freud, Sigmund. 1958 [1913]. Totem and taboo: Some points of Agreement between the Mental Lines of Savages and Neurotics. In SE. Vol. 13, PP. IX-162.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London.

Lewis, I. M. 1971. Ecstatic Religion; An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism. Harmondsworth.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1969 [1964]. The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology. Vol. 1. London.

Schneider, Daniel. 1980. [1968]. American Kinship. Account. 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press Ltd.

Shanley, Mary Lyndon (2001) Making Babies, Making Families: What Matters Most in an Age of Reproductive Technologies, Surrogacy, Adoption, and Same-Sex and Unwed Parents. Boston: Beacon Press.

Stone, Linda. 2001. ‘Chapter One: Introduction’ In New Directions in Anthropological Kinship Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publisher. Ltd pp. 1-20.

Strathern, Marilyn (1992) After Nature: English Kinship in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge University Press.



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