Re: Culture & symbols

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Thu, 1 Aug 1996 09:20:44 -0500

On Wed, 31 Jul 1996, Robert Snower wrote:

> At 04:22 PM 7/31/96 +0000, thomas w kavanagh wrote:
> >It is a long way from the universality of kinship systems to "ethnic
> >collectivism."
> To me they are synonyms.

They are synonyms only insofar as both are cultural fictions useful in
organizing disparate populations. Both are subject to political
manipulation -- defining who is and who is not -- and neither is deeply
grounded in any non-cultural (i.e. 'biological') reality.

> >> This bond is expressed in the tribal kinship system which transcends
> >> the biological.
> >
> >There is no such thingie as "the tribal kinship system."
> >
> I don't know what you mean. "a kinship system?" Is that better?

Marginally. Now work on "transcends." It does not mean "extends." A
kinship system is not an extension of biology (can you say 'affine').

<snip>[re Cadwallader Colden's comment re sachems giving away all the
proceeds of raids...]

> Is it invalid? In priniciple, or just in detail?

As I said, it is, perhaps, invalid in detail.

>>Even so, redistributional systems are political, and they are economic,
>>but there is no "collectivism" involved. They are the actualizations of
>>the individual social relations between the center (big men/"chief") and
>>the periphery, and there is no necessity that the periphery has any other
>>social existence. Indeed, it is the often involvement in a
>>redistributional network which gives identity, not vice versa. Moreover,
>>people change identities, become involved in other networks, etc., and
>>pragmatic politics sometimes does involve "the gang on the other side of
>>the plains."

> In my book, "redistributional systems" equals "collectivist systems."

Once again, redistributional systems are not in and of themselves
"collectivist." There is no common identity amongst the participants in
a big man's network, and the network collapses at his death or retirement.

> But are you giving kinship its due? You make
> it all sound so loose. Is it? Or, much much more important, was it?

Kinship is extremely important. But kinship is an indeterminate cultural
fiction. Some kinship systems are extremely loose, others are extremely
tight (Mary Douglas would call that "grid and group" [thanks for reminding
me JM]).