A perspective on kinship from DARWIN-L

Gessler, Nicholas (gessler@ANTHRO.SSCNET.UCLA.EDU)
Sat, 7 May 1994 17:33:00 PDT

I'm forwarding the quotes below to open a new strand in the thread
which has developed on kinship. My own work is deeply concerned with the
paradigm of "emergence," and the extent to which it may apply to human
cultural systems. "Emergence" in this sense is a non-random pattern
seen at a high level of a system (i.e. an aggregate cultural pattern), which
comes into being solely through the interaction of components operating under
only local rules of behavior (i.e. individuals who don't have that
pattern in mind) at a lower level of that system (i.e. a population of
individuals). The operational mantra is, "from local rules to global
patterning." Using "emergence" in this sense gives primacy to processes that
are not under the conscious control of the individual, even though the
overall "pattern" may be sensed and recognized by that individual. Although
this recognition may be "after the fact" and may reflexively reinforce
itself, that "pattern" is primarily determined from the bottom-up. Since the
kinship thread is still alive, I wonder to what extent readers believe that
"emergence" might be responsible for symbolic kinship systems, and
behaviors such as marraige patterns in which they find expression?

Nick Gessler
"Get A-Life!" ;)

From: Patricia Princehouse <princeh@husc.harvard.edu>
To: Multiple recipients of list <darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu>
Subject: Re: cladistics & human evolution

(lead-in discussion deleted...)

Thelma Rowell's article "Reification of Social Systems" in the current
issue of _Evolutionary Anthropology_ only reinforces my feeling that
(social system) definition is a very slippery thing in behavior/ecology.

To quote:

"It seems to me that the assumption that there is indeed a mating system
has, for a long time, distracted observers from a range of enterprising
social maneuvers among primates. If there is an emergent property of
mating patterns, it is, perhaps, merely a range of variation in
individual lifetime reproductive success."


"I suggest that the reification of social systems leads us to improbable
evolutionary scenarios ... I thought I had spent a lifetime studying
social systems. Now...I rather doubt they exist at all."

Perhaps the "enterprising social maneuvers" are what should be used. But
they are still characteristics of social interaction, not of discrete

Patricia Princehouse