Some Concepts and Recaps Useful for the Second Exam


Social Statuses and Social Structure


A number of key concepts are included in the discussion of Social Statuses and Social Structure, including (in addition to those two terms), multiplex relationships, simplex relationships, social relations, role, membership understandings, behavioral understandings, and salience understandings.


Here is a recap of these ideas.

A social status is a specialized package of cultural understandings that can be thought of as the idea of a position that one occupies within the social network.  An arrangement of connected social statuses is a social structure.  A social status is therefore the "basic building block" of a social structure.  The building blocks of a social status are the three types of understandings that constitute it:

If social structure is an entire specialized domain of understandings within one's mind, then social relations are the actual behaviors that people have toward each other.  There are, in general, two different types of social relations, both of which are based on the fact that social statuses come in linked pairs--e.g., instructor-student, parent-child, employer-employee, friend-friend.  One type of social relation, a simplex relationship, is a relationship (with observable behaviors) between two people in which only one pair of social statuses is operating, such as, for example, customer-bank teller.  The other type of social relation is a multiplex relationship, which is a relationship (with observable behaviors) between two people in which salience decisions have to be made.  For example, my bank teller might also be my nephew, so a decision has to be made by both of us in terms of whether we will conduct our relationship as customer-teller or as uncle-nephew.


Finally, roles are the different "packages" of understandings that are relevant vis-à-vis different other social statuses.  For example, as an occupant of the social status "anthropology instructor," my expected behaviors toward someone in the status "student" will be different from my expected behaviors toward someone in the status "administrator."



“Giving With a Purpose”


Potlatch is described on the Kottak book and can be seen both in terms of a prestige-enhancing distribution of wealth (an idealist/mentalist perspective), and a Northwest Coast-wide “insurance” system that provides for those in areas with bad economic years (a materialist perspective).  Either way, implicit in a potlatch distribution is the assumption that receivers are under the obligation to reciprocate—either to create prestige for themselves and/or their group, or else to provide for those who once provided for them (the idealist and materialist perspectives, respectively).


Gomgom is the name given to a specific kind of feast sponsorship among the Sursurunga of New Ireland.  The gomgom case discussed in class involved a conflict between a woman (Tinwor) and her in-laws—specifically, her husband’s brother and mother.  Recall that the husband’s family sponsored the gomgom, inviting the entire village to the feast, placing Tinwor in a difficult situation: attend the feast, benefiting from the largesse of her in-laws (which means that maintaining the quarrel would be very boorish behavior on her part), or shun the feast, sending the message that she spurns this magnanimous effort to end the feud (which means that she still wishes to nurture the conflict—also boorish).


Moka, as represented in the film on the Kawelka of Highland New Guinea, is an exchange system in which groups vie with each other, under the auspices of a big-man, to out-give pigs, cash, shells, and other valuables.  The story of one Kawelka big-man, Ongka, shows how the giving of a moka is based on collecting on other debts in order to give what he wants to give.


In all three cases, givers “give with a purpose.”  Is it the same purpose?



Economics/Politics Overview:


Subsistence Strategy

Political Pattern

Fundamental Economic Asset

Prevalent Mode of Reciprocity

Structure of Leadership




















Village Head/Bigman






Agriculture + Market


Land; Capital



Industrial Market


Capital, Knowledge


Owners, Elite







Kinship Terminology

In this diagram, the kintype designations show the relationships to Ego.  In the four different kinterm systems that we look at, names for these kintypes are given in consistent patterns across societies and languages.


In the generational (Hawaiian) system of terminology, what is emphasized is the fact that MB, MZ, M, F, FB, and FZ are all the same in that they are one generation older than Ego.  Assuming the default distinction based on sex, in a generational system, MB, F, and FB are all called by the same kinterm, which is different from the single kinterm for MZ, M, and FZ.  This naming template is rare.


Lineal (Eskimo) terminology is similar the generational system, except that lineal kin—M and F—are assigned unique names that are not shared with the collateral kin, who are MB, MZ, FB, and FZ.  This naming template is typically found among foragers as well as industrial states.


Bifurcate merging (Iroquois) terminology splits (“bifurcates”) the kin on the side of M from those on the side of F, which means that nobody on one side will be called by the same kinterm as anybody on the other side.  What get “merged” are the terms for M and MZ on the one hand, and F and FB on the other.  This naming template is typically found among groups with unilineal descent (see below).


Bifurcate collateral (Sudanese) terminology could also be called bifurcate lineal terminology since, like lineal terminology, M and F are given labels that no other kintype is given.  But since this is a bifurcate system, it also means that no terms on M’s side will be the same as any on F’s side.  These two conditions work together to create the result that each of the six kintypes in the diagram will have its own kinterm.  This naming template is rare.


When it comes to kinship structures, unilineal descent is contrasted with a kindred.  A kindred is an Ego-based system, in which one’s kinship network is the people that Ego sees herself or himself related to.  Kindreds have “fuzzy boundaries”; in other words, any particular Ego is at the center of a group of kin that are of fading significance as genealogical distance grows.  For example, most native English-speakers in the United States don’t bother to reckon kin (that is, know the names of specific people) beyond two lineal generations or beyond second cousins.


On the other hand, a unilineal descent group—a corporate (permanent) kin-based group in which a child is a member of the group of only one parent—does not have “fuzzy boundaries,” but very specific ones.  A person’s descent-group membership is, in principle, ascribed at birth and non-negotiable.  If a person is in the same descent group as her or his mother, then the group is matrilineal; if a person is in the same group as her or his father, then the group is patrilineal.


Unilineal descent groups can be seen as being made up of lineages (in which group members can genealogically demonstrate how they are matri- or patrilineally related), which are made up of clans (in which group members assume, but cannot genealogically demonstrate, how they are matri- or patrilineally related).  Groups of clans are sometimes clustered into moieties.  The Sursurunga of New Ireland have exogamous matrilineal moieties or matrimoieties.





There are two different ways to look at marriage, generally known as the descent view and the alliance or affiliation view.  These two perspectives are not altogether mutually exclusive, but it is the case that most people tend to prefer one perspective over the other.  Both of these views are functionalist perspectives--that is, they see marriage as accomplishing certain things within the social order.


The Descent View takes is based on seeing the primary function of marriage as a means of establishing the next generation.  This approach sees marriage as a way of legitimating the offspring--and why the exchange of resources from groom's kin to bride's kin is sometimes called "progeny price"--and providing them with a basis for legitimate (i.e., unquestioned) access to resources.  In a unilineal system, the establishment of Ego's membership in the father's patrilineage or the mother's matrilineage is one very important means of accomplishing this.  Of course, mother's kin in a patrilineal system and father's kin in a matrilineal system are also very important and helpful.  This is why endogamy tends to be a bad idea in unilineal systems: why get the help of only one group when you can get the help of two?


The Alliance (or Affiliation) View is based on seeing the primary function of marriage as a means of creating (in-law) relationships between groups.  Viewing marriage in this way focuses on the fact that marriage turns non-kin into kin.  In a unilineal system, descent groups become allied through marriage.  This is another reason why endogamy tends to be a bad idea in unilineal systems: marriage provides an opportunity to "build bridges" with other groups; why pass it up?


Both perspectives have some merit to them, since it is easy to see that marriage accomplishes a number of things.  The exchange of resources (i.e., "bridewealth"/"brideprice"/"progeny price") for women serves to create marriage solidarity, protect women, form alliances, and legitimate offspring.  Indeed, the greater the amount of resources, all other things being equal, the more effectively these four functions are accomplished.




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