These notes are the fourth in a series of twelve lectures for my class Dynamics of the Family.

  1. On the other hand...
    1. For reasons that bear investigation, the "culture" argument that was dominant for a long time in the 60s and 70s is being eclipsed in the popular press at least by the "nature" argument as sociobiology is entering the main stream
    2. For there is another way to read the comparative evidence about marriage and child rearing, across the primates, and particularly among homo sapiens sapiens.
      1. rather than dismissing rules, regulations, negative feelings about biological urges, cultural anthropologists focus on those as they tell us much about the experiences of human beings, and the organization of their lives together.
  2. Evidence and interpretation
    1. issues of naming kin that may also be issues of marriage regulation that may also be issues of social structure
    2. issues with explaining the naming issues
      1. social evolution: Morgan and Engels
      2. vs. determination by modes of production (economics, ecological, etc.): Marx/Engels, and many sociologists and demographers
      3. vs. symbolic imagination: Boas and cultural anthropologists (symbols who are good to think with).
  3. Lévi-Strauss and incest as a primary instance of rule-making and humanity.
    1. An older text but one that addresses issues addressed in passing at the end of Daly & Wilson: "[among human beings] we see little reason to imagine that the average reproductive benefits of killing stepchildren would ever have outweighed the average costs enough to select for specifically infanticidal inclinations" (1998: 38). In this paragraph they point at the weight of social conventions but do not develop the point
    2. For Lévi-Strauss, these social conventions are the core. His argument:
      1. the issue for people looking at human beings is not only the biology of reproduction, but rather the rules that have appeared to make the process more complex, varied across the species, with the result that our lives are further confused.
      2. marriage rules (which are much broader than who can have sex with whom) vary enormously and are best understood by examining all the mechanisms that tell us whom NOT to marry--thus Lévi-Strauss's interes in incest as the primordial rule
        1. This in fact points to earlier trends in Western social philosophy--in this case Rousseau on the Social Contract
      3. classifications (interpersonal, communal, political): is a "stepfather" a "father" and for what purposes (are sexual relations between a stepfather and his adolescent stepdaughter a case of incest? statutory rape? expectable--[think Woody Allen]?)? (thus the interest in modes of address both as reflective of condition and what might be dangerous in a relationship).
    3. Thus his conclusion about culture substituting for nature even as it cannot abolish it ().
  4. Epistemological and methodological choices.
    1. Ideal-types: how do are we to know that we talking about the same "thing"? Issues of operationalization.
      1. Parsons (1955): functions in complex societies (from a socio-psychological perspective)
    2. Classic definitions attempting to bring together comparative ethnographic evidence
      1. Murdock (1949): a functionalist definition
      2. Parsons (1955): functions in complex societies (from a socio-psychological perspective)
      3. Lévi-Strauss (1956): an "ideal model"
      4. Netting et al. (1984): redefining "the household."
    3. New definitions attempting to sort out difficulties with the classic definitions
      1. Netting et al. (1984): redefining "the household."
    4. Another entry into research: emphasize the dynamics of what people actually do. This can be done, for example, through indirect measures of personal care in the contemporary United States
      1. from the point of view of a person ("YOU")
      2. from the point of view of a household.
Some questions in the context of this lesson
  • Discuss another matter than incest where plausibly universal biological forces are regulated in very different ways (think in terms of internal variation rather than cross-cultural ones)
  • Given your interests in familial matters, what sort of research would you trust or want to conduct?
  • Who controlled the washing machine in the household where you spent most of your childhood. What were the issues revealed by the limits that were put on who could use the machine, when, etc.