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Compare and contrast social and biological approaches to the study of kinship

Hausarbeit 2002 9 Seiten



Compare and contrast social and biological approaches to the study of kinship.

Kinship is the study of cultural interpretations of social relationships and social groups that are formed among people who stand in biological or quasi-biological relationships to each other. There are two main approaches to the study of kinship: the biological approach and the social approach. Both approaches can be further divided into different approaches. In the biological approach for example there are socio-ecological, socio-biological and evolutionary theories whereas in the social ones there are theories which try to explain overall patterns of kinship and others which state that one cannot make any generalisations about kinship patterns in different societies. Both approaches try to explain the different types of kinship structures and descent patterns but they do so in different ways. Biological theories often compare nonhuman primate kinship systems with those of humans and they also try to find evidence for the evolution of kinship structures. They tend to emphasise biological features within kinship and usually regard kinship systems as well adapted to environmental conditions. Social approaches on the other hand are more concerned about cultural differences between societies which cause the different kinds of kinship and descent structures and they emphasise non-biological relationships within kinship.

The biological approach to the study of kinship can be split into many different approaches such as socio-ecological, socio-biological as well as evolutionary approaches. Socio-ecology and socio-biology try to show that human institutions, like the structures of animal societies, are adaptive, that is to say they result from the actions of individuals attempting to maximise their inclusive fitness. This means that in the biological approaches compare human kinship patterns to those found in other animals, in particular in primates. Although they do stress the importance of biological relationships between kin they also accept that people who are not biologically related can be kin too. Hamilton tried to account for altruistic behaviours in animals and he came up with the concept of inclusive fitness whereby an individual can promote the transmission of his or her genes to the next generation not just through the children of that individual but also through altruistic acts that favour the survival (and eventual reproduction) of others who share at least some of the same genes namely, close relatives such as brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces. Thus Hamilton argued that the concept of fitness should be inclusive of the capacity for altruistic behaviours that favour kin. Later researchers have used the term kin selection to refer to the process by which natural selection acts on inclusive fitness. In essence, kin selection theory proposes a biological base for kin-favouring behaviour. Altruistic behaviours in animals usually occur between relatives, but they can also occur between members of groups. These kinds of behaviours have also been observed in humans. Socio-biologists also try to account for marriage patterns such as monogamy and polygamy and from their point of view it is not likely that they require special genes or genotypes for their transmission. What is important is whether one or the other were better adapted to prevailing environmental circumstances during historical time, where ‘by being better adapted’ means that the individuals whose actions result in the prevailing patterns are able to rear their offspring more successfully to maturity and transmit their ideas to them. This means that socio-biologists believe that kinship patterns are adapted to environmental circumstances.



ISBN (eBook)
386 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Oxford University – New College
2.1 (B)



Titel: Compare and contrast social and biological approaches to the study of kinship