Re: Prescriptive and Proscriptive in Anthropologese

karl h schwerin (schwerin@UNM.EDU)
Wed, 1 May 1996 15:25:03 -0600

On Fri, 26 Apr 1996, Anthony Good wrote:

> With reference to Phil Young's posting on the use of the terms prescriptive and
> proscriptive in anthropology, in which he said:
> >The prescriptive/proscriptive terminology that you recall does not refer to
> >types of families but to marriage systems. Proscriptive systems are those
> >which specify who you cannot marry, e.g., parallel cousins in some systems.
> >Prescriptive systems are those which tell you that you must marry someone from
> >one or more named social categories. These categories are usually labeled by
> >referential kin terms. For example, some systems prescribe that men must marry
> >women who belong to the category which contains the mother's brother's
> >daughter.
> He is of course right in saying that these refer to marriageability rather than
> family types. I would however make a slight but crucial difference to his
> definition of 'prescription' to make it clear that this is NOT a matter of rules
> but of definitions. Thus, the referential kin terms which he mentions connote
> 'marriageable man/woman'. There is no need therefore to have a rule
> saying, in effect, 'you must marry a marriageable person', since that
> would be pure tautology. (Rather like having a rule in British or US society
> saying 'the woman you married must be your wife'!)

Curiously enough, in Dravidian systems, this is 'almost' what happens.
You must marry an *affine*. In other words, the category of in-law
exists prior to your actual marriage.

> Tony Good

Karl Schwerin SnailMail: Dept. of Anthropology
Univ. of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131

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