Re: Prescriptive and Proscriptive in Anthropologese

Anthony Good (agood@BLUENOTE.DEMON.CO.UK)
Thu, 2 May 1996 09:13:11 +0000

Following my comment that

>>I would however make a slight but crucial difference to his [i.e., Phil
>> 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
>>'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'!)

Karl Schwerin responded that:

>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.

Although I am aware that this flies in the face of much previous writing,
the term Dravidian is not one I would use personally in relation to kinship;
it is a linguistic and in recent decades a political category applicable only
to southern India (give or take a few alleged pockets in Pakistan). It makes no
sense to use the term for, say, Amazonian marriage practices since although
there are certainly similarities there are also crucial differences which the
use of a common label tempts people to elide.

That said, it was in fact the situation in Tamil Nadu that I had in mind. The
view that one marries a pre-existing 'affine' is of course central to Dumont's
classic account of the Tamil case, but his usage turns out on analysis to be
misleading, since he is really discussing the formal properties of a system
of classification (the relationship terminology) rather than cultural notions
of consanguinity and affinity (see my book *The Female Bridegroom* for a
full version of the argument). Rather than saying that Tamils marry affines
it is more generally valid to say that they marry particular categories of
cross relatives. It may often be the case, given the incidence of close inter-
marriage, that they marry someone who is already their affine in the normal,
straightforward sense (their sibling's spouse's sibling, for instance), but
although that may have all kinds of consequences for the prestations exchanged,
the personal relationships which result, etc., etc., it does not affect the
prescriptive character of the marriage one way or the other.

Tony Good,
Department of Social Anthropology,
University of Edinburgh