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The major features of descent and alliance approach to study kinship in India

 The major features of descent and alliance approach to study kinship in India

Alliance Theory

Features of descent and alliance approach to study kinship in India His work was motivated by the question of how arbitrary social categories (such as those within kinship, race, or class) had originated. He was also concerned with explaining their apparent compulsory quality, or presence within the “natural order,” in societies. In The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949), Lévi-Strauss turned to kinship to try to answer these questions. His model became known as the alliance theory of kinship. Most anthropologists viewed incest taboos as negative prohibitions that had a biological basis (to prevent the inheritance of negative genetic traits) or reflected a particular nexus of cultural rules about marriage. In contrast, Lévi-Strauss saw incest taboos as positive injunctions to marry outside the group. These “positive marriage rules,” which state that a spouse must be from a certain social category, were the titular “elementary structures” in The Elementary Structures of Kinship.


i) Kinship Groups: Kin relationships provide both a method of passing on status and property from one generation to the next effective social groups for purposes of cooperation and conflict. So we need to identify the form of descent or of tracing one’s relationships. In other words, we speak of the social groups within which relatives cooperate and conflict. That is why, we need to describe kinship groups. 

ii) Kinship Terminology: The list of terms used by the people to refer to their kin relationships expresses the nature of kinship system. This is why by describing kinship terminology, we are able to throw light on the kinship system. Most features of the kinship system of any society are usually reflected in the way kinship terms are used in that society. Generally a person would apply the same term to those relatives who belong to the same category of kin relationships. In this case, these relatives would also occupy similar kinship roles. In describing a kinship terminology, it is usual to denote the speaker by the name of ego. The word ego means I in Latin and refers to the first person singular pronoun. The speaker or ego can be either the male or the female. Secondly kinship terms can be divided into two types. One covers the terms of address. This means that certain kinship terms are used when people address each other. Then there are those terms, which are used for referring to particular relationship. These are known as terms of reference. Sometimes, the two types may be expressed by one term only. Thirdly, you would also like to learn how to write long kinship terms in short. For example, if we wish to write mother’s brother’s daughter, we may do so by writing mbd. Take another example, father’s sister’s daughter’s son can be described as fzds. Here, ‘z’ stands for sister and ‘s’ for son. In the same way you can write in short ffbd for father’s father’s brother’s daughter. This method of writing kinship terms is useful when one is describing various sets of kinship terms. 

iii) Marriage Rules: Just as kinship groups describe the form of kinship system found in a society, so also rules for marriage, categories of people who may/ may not marry each other, relationships between bride-takers and bridegivers provide the context within which kin relationships operate. Talking about these issues gives us an understanding of the content of kin relationships. It is therefore necessary to speak of marriage rules for understanding any kinship system. 

iv) Exchange of Gifts: Sociologists like to describe social relationships between various categories of relatives. As there are always two terms to any relationship, kinship behaviour is described in terms of pairs. For example, the parent-child relationship would describe kinship behaviour between two generations. In the two units on kinship system in North and South India, we are not dealing with any particular social group. We cannot therefore describe kinship behaviour. Instead we consider the chain of gift giving and taking among the relatives for understanding the behavioural aspects of kinship system. This discussion gives us an idea of how kinship groups interact and kinship roles are played by particular kin persons.

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