AAA Symposium (1995)

Tue, 7 Mar 1995 14:55:00 PST

Proposed Symposium: 1995 Annual Meetings of the American
Anthropological Society

Organizer: Prof. Dwight W. Read
Dept. of Anthropology
LA, CA 9024
FAX: 310-556-0703
Telephone: 310-825-3988

Symposium Title:

Kinship and Kinship Theory: A Vibrant Future or Just a
Healthy Past?

Description of the Symposium:

Kinship and kinship systems have been central to
anthropological theorizing by virtue of kinship being the idiom
in which non-state societies express what they are about,
culturally and socially. Even the most rudimentary social act--
two persons interacting--depends, for many societies, upon their
first being a kinship relationship. Kinship has provided
societies the basis upon which to construct systemized
interactions that transcend the immediacy of kin relations:
political systems, exchange systems, economic systems and the
like find their definition and implementation through the
framework of kinship via structures that arise out of kinship
relations, both in their static (the pattern of kin relations)
and dynamic (marriage rules, procreation) aspects. It is hardly
an exaggeration to assert that if we do not understand kinship we
do not understand the nature of human societies.

Lewis Henry Morgan, with his Systems of Consanguinity, set
the stage for theorizing about both the structure of
relationships engendered by terms of reference and the groupings
that are defined and how these groupings are affected by rules of
marriage. Through rules of marriage the biological necessity of
reproduction also becomes a means to creatively affect the
relationships of one person to another and thereby to transform
biological reproduction into a system of social reproduction and
the kinship system defines for individuals their social, jural
and moral obligations. Rules of marriage affect who stands in
what kinship relation through the reproductive process, both
retroactively through linking already existing sets of relatives
via the act of one person marrying another, and into the future
through progeny produced from the male and female united through
that marriage act.

Despite the extensive theorizing that has taken place since
Morgan, we do not yet have a satisfactory theory of kinship. We
have partial theories--theories that address one part of the
totality without taking the totality into account. We have
disputes over even what constitutes kinship and the idiom in
which kinship is expressed, the kinship terminology. Is a
kinship terminology a set of semantic labels for already existing
social groups? A set of semantic labels for sets of kin types? A
conceptual system in its own right?. Marriage rules have
similarly had different claims as to what they constitute: A
means for constructing alliances? The basis for creating a unit
for cultural transmission?, and so on.

Analytically, we have had a variety of approaches that
reflect different positions taken with regard to what constitutes
kinship: rewrite rules, componential analysis, formalized
notation systems, algebraic structures, and so on, without
resolution of the conflicting assumptions these analytic
approaches make. Yet despite the unanswered questions, despite
the centrality of kinship to the societies we study, despite the
fact that the very foundation of kinship--procreation--is today
undergoing radical change through our finding ways to medically
and biologically intervene in the reproductive process, kinship
theory has become a topic seen almost as an anachronism and left
to the side as we take up new challenges arising out of
redefining what we are about as a discipline.

The purpose of this symposium is to assess the current state
of theorizing on the nature of kinship and its constituent parts.
The symposium will be structured around a model for how we
perceive the parts, which jointly constitute what we call a
kinship system, are interrelated. Fundamental to the approach
used here is (1) the view that what we call "the kinship system"
is formed of distinct and analytically separable, but
interrelated "parts" and (2) that several analytical levels,
ranging from abstract cultural constructs to empirical
implementation, are involved. The papers in the symposium will
each generally address a part of the whole, but will be
integrated through bringing out the connections of one part to

If you are interested in participating in this symposium, please
contact me immediately. April 1 is the deadline for all
materials to be submitted to the AAA.

D. Read