Postgraduate Course: Kinship: Structure and Process (PGSP11184)
|School||School of Social and Political Science
||College||College of Humanities and Social Science
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||This course examines some of the ways in which people in different societies conceptualise and live out relatedness. It shows how notions about relatedness are linked to notions about gender, theories of procreation (which are themselves changing under the impact of New Reproductive Technologies), and ideas about bodily substance, as well as having emotional, economic, and political salience. Kinship has long been regarded as the core of the anthropological discipline, although the extent to which this is still the case is questionable. The course will consider some of the history of kinship studies, looking at some central debates in the subject and assessing their implications for anthropological theory more generally; it also examines the relevance of kinship studies to understanding ourselves, our families, and our contemporary world.
What is Kinship?
Anthropologists have always disagreed over what kinship is. We look at the main different anthropological approaches to kinship and their analytic implications.
Descent Groups and Descent Categories:
'Descent' refers to the structuring of society around relationships between ancestors and descendants. But is it better seen as an empirical property displayed by real social groups, or as an ideology used to make sense of complex social situations?
(Elementary) Structures and Sentiments:
By contrast, LÚvi-Strauss argued that certain societies have 'elementary structures' of kinship, whereby particular forms of marriage exchange are repeated generation after generation. What is the relative structural importance of descent and marriage?
How do houses shape, enact, and materialise family relations over time? What roles do houses play in producing, sustaining, and containing kinship?
Procreation and Relatedness:
Where do babies come from? Can we take procreation for granted as a universal fact of life? Does relatedness have to be based upon biology, and what are implications of our answer to our understanding of 'what kinship is'?
Reproductive Technologies and Gay Kinship:
Assisted reproduction now makes it possible for infertile people, single and gay parents to have children 'of their own'. Social and legal attitudes towards sexuality and sexual identity have also been transformed. How do these changes impact on kinship in the 21st century?
The Domestic and the Political:
How do kinship and politics relate? How do national histories intertwine with family histories? How do states harness notions of kinship and family to promote political ends? To what extent might contemporary politics in 'modern' states be understood as fundamentally familial?
How Children make Families:
How do children actively shape kinship? What role do they play in adapting kinship to socio-political change? What contradictions arise between children's agency in kinship, and humanitarian discourses around their vulnerability and need for protection?
Kinship, Economics and Law:
How do relatives divide up, share, and pass on their communal or individual property? How and why do the state and its agents intervene legally in the intimate spaces of marriage, family, and sexual identity?
What Kinship Is:
A review of the different ways in which anthropologists and those they study have understood the nature of kinship, and its social, political and emotional power.
Student Learning Experience:
The course involves one two-hour session a week for the whole class, as well as small group tutorial teaching in separate one-hour sessions held weekly. In the main session, most weeks involve a mixture of a lecture and a discussion. In the latter, students discuss particular issues or recommended readings and then report back their conclusions to the class as a whole. The small group tutorial teaching is normally concerned with one or more key readings that illustrate or extend issues raised in the main sessions.
By the end of the course, students should have a grasp of the ways in which anthropologists have approached kinship in both classic non-Western cases and, more recently, in Western cultures too. They will have examined in depth the economic, political and legal salience of kinship, the history of kinship studies within anthropology, and the theoretical significance of key debates about what kinship is, and how it might be studied. They will be in a position to assess anthropologically the implications of the revolutions in reproductive technology and in attitudes towards marriage, sexuality, and sexual identity that are currently under way.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
Information for Visiting Students
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||Assessment is done through the writing of a 4,000 word essay on a set topic, or a topic proposed by the student and agreed with the course organiser.
Essays need to engage in a sustained manner with a range of readings from the course as well as other relevant literature. They need to show an understanding of the key themes, analyses and methods involved the anthropological study of kinship, and to present a clear and creative analysis in a scholarly and anthropological manner.
||A formative piece of assessment (which does not count towards the final grade for the course) is submitted midway through the semester. This takes the form of a short essay plan on a set topic, and a sample bibliography.
Comments on this, assessing the approach taken towards the topic and the format used for citing sources, will be returned speedily and discussed either individually or collectively in tutorials. The aim is to ensure that students (especially those with little prior experience of anthropology) fully understand, prior to writing their assessed work, what is expected of a good anthropological essay.
|No Exam Information
| By the end of the course, students should have an advanced knowledge of the ways in which anthropologists have approached kinship in both some classic non-Western cases, and more recently, in Western cultures. They will have examined in depth the economic and political salience of kinship, the history of kinship within anthropology, and the theoretical significance of key debates about what kinship is, how it might be studied, and the sources of its emotional power.
|General texts on kinship|
These will help in defining terms and summarising theoretical issues in the study of kinship:
Dumont, Louis 2006. An Introduction to Two Theories of Social Anthropology
Schneider, David M. 1984. A Critique of the Study of Kinship
Barnard, Alan & Anthony Good, 1984. Research Practices in the Study of Kinship
Holy, Ladislav 1996. Anthropological Perspectives on Kinship
Parkin, Robert J. 1997. Kinship: an Introduction to the Basic Concepts
Carsten, Janet 2004. After Kinship
Readers on kinship
The following recent collections provide overviews of anthropological approaches to kinship. Several of the weekly group readings are taken from these collection, and if you plan to buy any books for this course these are likely to be the most useful.
Carsten, Janet (ed), 2000. Cultures of Relatedness: New Approaches to the Study of Kinship. Cambridge: University Press.
Parkin, Robert & Linda Stone (eds), 2004. Kinship and Family: an Anthropological Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.
In addition to the weekly readings, students are strongly advised to read from the following ethnographies (listed in alphabetical order, not order of priority!) which focus on kinship:
Astuti, Rita 1995. People of the Sea: Identity and Descent Among the Vezo of Madagascar
Busby, Cecilia 2000. The Performance of Gender: an Anthropology of Everyday Life in a South Indian Fishing Community
Campbell, J.K. 1964. Honour, Family and Patronage; a Study of Institutions and Moral Values in a Greek Mountain Community
Carsten, Janet 1997. The Heat of the Hearth: the Process of Kinship in a Malay Fishing Community
Daniel, E Valentine 1984. Fluid Signs: Being a Person the Tamil Way
Edwards, Jeanette 2000. Born and Bred: Idioms of Kinship and New Reproductive Technologies in England
Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1951. Kinship and Marriage Among the Nuer
Good, Anthony 1991. The Female Bridegroom: a Comparative Study of Life-Crisis Rituals in South India and Sri Lanka
Gow, Peter 1991. Of Mixed Blood: Kinship and History in Peruvian Amazonia
Kapadia, Karin 1995. Siva & her Sisters: Gender, Caste, and Class in Rural South India
Mayblin, Maya 2010. Gender, Catholicism, and Morality in Brazil: Virtuous Husbands, Powerful Wives
Parry, Jonathan 1979. Caste and Kinship in Kangra
Schneider, David M. 1980 (2nd edition). American Kinship: a Cultural Account
Stasch, Rupert 2009. Society of Others: Kinship and Mourning in a West Papuan Place
Strathern, Marilyn 1992. After Nature: English Kinship in the Late Twentieth Century
Yan, Yunxiang 2003. Private Life under Socialism: Love, Intimacy and Family Change in a Chinese Village 1949-1999
Yanagisako, Sylvia Junko 2002. Producing Culture and Capital: Family Firms in Italy
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
|Course organiser||Dr Magnus Course
Tel: (0131 6)51 3893
|Course secretary||Mr Jack Smith
Tel: (0131 6)51 1485