North American Kinship Terms:

  • Ego = who's kinship where analyzing
  • Circles = females
  • Triangles = males
  • Huge part of social organization is how we organize and make sense of our world through kinship, marriage, sex/gender, race, ethnicity, etc
  • David Schneider: defined kinship in North American context

o Calling it “familial love” -> “enduring diffuse solidarity”

Kinship Systems:

  • Systems for determining relatives and relationships
  • Organize relationships and categorize people
  • Kin terms: words that we have for different kinds of relationship in different cultures
  • Biological kin types:

o Ego = point of reference of who you're analyzing

o F = father

o M = mother

o S = son

o D = daughter

o B = brother

o Z = sister

o C = child

o H = husband

o W = wife

  • Types of kin:

o Consanguines - people that you are related to by blood

o Affines - people that you are related to by law

o Fictive kin - people who you consider apart of your family, but who are not

  • Rules of descent:

o Bilateral descent - trace lineage through both mother and father

  • Kindred - huge kin group
  • Common in modern industrial and in small foraging societies o Unilateral descent
  • Matrilineal - trace lineage through mother (father not apart of your kin group)
  • Patrilineal - trace lineage through father (mother not apart of your kin group)
  • Common in horticultural, partoralist and agrarian societies

Matrilineal and Patrilineal Systems:

  • Matrilineal descent much less prevalent than patrilineal

o Concentrated in horticultural societies

o Only about 15% of kin groups that have been studied have been matrilineal decent

  • Subsistence plays role in shaping kinship patters, but does not determine them

Patrilineal Descent:

  • Most common kinship pattern
  • Kinship traced from male ancestor in a descent line through subsequent male descendants
  • Variation in women's roles and status within patrilineal societies
  • Patriarchy: most, but not all, patrilineal societies are also strongly patriarchal (males rule)
  • Patrilineal kin = agnatic

o Ego (female) - females children are not part of her lineage, males children are

o Ego (male) - males children are part of his lineage, females children are not

Matrilineal Descent:

  • Kinship traced from female ancestor in a descent line through subsequent female descendants
  • Males often still have greater access to wealth, power and status
  • Matrilineal kin = uterine

o Ego (female) - females children are part of her lineage, males children are not

o Ego (male) - males children are not part of his lineage, females children are

Unilineal Descent Groups:

  • Lineages:

o Smallest kinship group formed through unilineal descent

o Martilineages or patrilineages

o Lineage can only traced back to a common ancestor

o Spouses are not part of each others lineages

o Clan = a lineage that cannot be traced

  • Believe they descend from a common ancestor

o Ascendants = anyone above the ego in question

o Descendants = anyone bellow the ego in question

  • Exogamy and Endogamy:

o Parallel cousins and cross-cousins

  • Parallel cousins: children of parents same-sex sibling (fathers brothers children and mothers sisters children)
  • Cross-cousins: children of parents opposite sex siblings (mothers brothers children and fathers sisters children)

n Further away, but still in same lineage

o Gamy = marriage

o Exogamy = marry outside your lineage

  • Why would you want to do this?

n Expand lineage/family

n Creates bonds and builds alliances

o Endogamy = marry inside your lineage

  • Why would you want to do this?

n Keep relations intact

n Maintain status, hierarchy

n Ex: Hutterites, Indian cast system

Complex Forms of Descent:

  • Double descent

o Both matrilineal and patrilineal descent

o Different kinds of property inherited along each line

  • Ambilineal descent

o Either matrilineal or patrilineal descent

o Individuals may choose to affiliate with either group (at a certain age)

Patterns of Change:

  • Kinship systems may change in response to internal and external forces

David Schneider:

  • Wrote a book called “American Kinship”
  • Part of the Kinship Project (kinship in the UK and North American)
  • Worked in inner city Chicago
  • Enduring diffuse solidarity

o Nothing about blood or law

o Fictive kin - people you consider in your family, but are not

o Social/cultural considerations are much more important than blood or law

Kath Weston:

  • 20 years after Schneider (1991)
  • Wrote book called “Family We Choose”
  • Worked in San Francisco at time of AIDS crisis
  • Made de facto families - went against the traditional family


  • Happens during the conception process
  • Class, race, feminism
  • Surrogate pregnancy exposes motherhood not as a fact of nature, but as a social fact
  • There is also usually an assumption of heterosexual marriage or coupling
  • Threatens the natural process of birth - shared process (motherhood as well)

o Shared motherhood

  • Belonging of the child - tradition dictates that the mother raises the child that she births
  • Sometimes seen as unnatural or abnormal


  • Genitor = sperm donor
  • Pater = father (socially defined)
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