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Kinship figured "downwards" from grandparents to parents to children to grandchildren etc. In many societies, descent is an important principle for distribution of inheritance and definition of group membership


Descent Group

Any kin-group whose members share a direct line of descent from a real (historical) or fictional common ancestor.



Descent traced exclusively through either the male or the female line of ancestry to establish group membership; sometimes called unilateral descent.



Descent traced exclusively through the female line of ancestry to establish group membership.



Descent traced exclusively through the male line of ancestry to establish group membership.



Descent traced equally through father and mother’s ancestors; associating each individual with blood relatives on both sides of the family.



descent provides a measure of flexibility in that an individual has the option of affiliating with either the mother’s or father’s descent group.



A grouping of blood relatives based on bilateral descent; includes all relatives with whom EGO shares at least one grandparent, great-grandparent, or even great-great-grandparent on his or her father’s and mother’s side.



A unilineal kin-group descended from a common ancestor or founder who lived four to six generations ago and in which relationships among members can be exactly stated in genealogical terms.



An extended unilineal kin-group, often consisting of several lineages, whose members claim common descent from a remote ancestor, usually legendary or mythological.



A unilineal descent group composed of at least two clans that supposedly share a common ancestry, whether or not they really do.



Kinship reckoning in which the nuclear family is emphasized by specifically identifying the mother, father, brother, and sister, while lumping together all other relatives into broad categories such as uncle, aunt, and cousin; also known as the lineal system.



Kinship reckoning in which a father and a father’s brother are referred to by a single term, as are a mother and a mother’s sister, but a father’s sister and a mother’s brother are given separate terms. Parallel cousins are classified with brothers and sisters, whereas cross cousins are classified separately but not equated with relatives of some other generation.



Kinship reckoning in which all relatives of the same sex and generation are referred to by the same term; also known as the generational system.


Fictive Kin

Kinship between the child’s parents and the sponsor who becomes a ritual coparent, or compadre. Historically common in South Europe and Latin America, such quasi-kinship is


Incest Taboo

The prohibition of sexual relations between closely related individuals.


Consanguineal Kin

Biologically related relatives, commonly referred to as blood relatives.


Affinal Kin

Biologically related relatives, commonly referred to as blood relatives.



Marriage within a particular group or category of individuals.



Marriage outside a particular group or category of individuals.



A culturally sanctioned union between two or more people that establishes certain rights and obligations between the people, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws. Such marriage rights and obligations most often include, but are not limited to, sex, labor, property, childrearing, exchange, and status.



A marriage form in which both partners have just one spouse.



A marriage form in which one individual has multiple spouses at the same time.



A marriage form in which a woman is married to two or more men at the same time; a form of polygamy.



A marriage form in which a man is married to two or more women at the same time; a form of polygamy.


Marriage by proxy (Fictive Marriage)

A marriage form in which a proxy is used as a symbol of someone not physically present to establish the social status of a spouse and heirs. One major reason for such a marriage is to control rights to property in the next generation.


Ghost Marriage

In several traditional African societies—most famously among Nuer cattle herders of South Sudan—a woman may marry a man who has died without heirs. In such situations the deceased man’s brother may become his stand-in, or proxy, and marry a woman on his behalf. As in the case of the marriage custom of the sororate discussed previously, the biological offspring will be considered as having been fathered by the dead man’s spirit. Recognized as his legitimate children, they are his rightful heirs. Because such spouses are absent in the flesh yet believed to exist in spirit form


Double Proxy Marriage

A double-proxy marriage is a marriage where neither party is present. When a couple is unable to be present for their own wedding, yet need the fact of their marriage documented, proxies may stand in on their behalf to sign the marriage license.


Arranged Marriage

a marriage planned and agreed to by the families or guardians of the bride and groom, who have little or no say in the matter themselves.


Cousin Marriage

Cousin marriage is prohibited in some societies, but particular types of cousins are the preferred marriage partners in others. Anthropologists distinguish between parallel and cross cousins. A parallel cousin is the child of a father’s brother or a mother’s sister (Figure 9.6). In some societies, the preferred spouse for a man is his father’s brother’s daughter (or, from the woman’s point of view, her father’s brother’s son). This is known as patrilateral parallel-cousin marriage.
Although not obligatory, such marriages have been favored historically among Arabs, the ancient Israelites, and the ancient Greeks. In all of these societies male dominance and descent are emphasized, but sons as well as daughters may inherit property of value. Thus, when a man marries his father’s brother’s daughter (or a woman marries her father’s brother’s son), property is retained within the single male line of descent. Generally, in these societies the greater the property, the more this form of parallel-cousin marriage is apt to occur.