Constraints and (implicitly) possibilities

1 - Hoes vs. Plows: Patterns of inheritance

This is the sixth in a series of notes to fifteen lectures for my class TF5005: Interdisciplinary Study of the Family.
Men begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistance...
The form of the intercourse of individuals with one another is again determined by production

Karl Marx The German Ideology Chapter One, First Premises of materialist Method)

  1. The evolution of the means of production and its consequences: 
    We have no choice but to explore the man-made (artificial, arbitrary) limits of individual autonomy.
  2. Formally, all social sciences have found it all but inescapable to operate with the classical function equation "y = f(x)" where 'y' is a particular set of observations that appear patterned and 'x' is a set of conditions that appear independent of 'y' and where 'f()' is hopefully specifiable. In our case
    1. family patterns =ARE= function of (social conditions);
    2. This can be modified further as follows:

      household structure (i.e. size, membership, authority patterns, etc.) divorce rates, age and conditions of marriage, etc.



      function of



      i.e. sexuality, infant maturation


      i.e. physical environment


      i.e. tools

      social organization,

      i.e. SEE BELOW


  3. A typical example is the work of ??? on the !Kung of the Kalahari desert, or of Jack Goody () on the difference that types of soil, best adapted agricultural tool (plow/hoe) makes in the development of kinds of kinship system (particularly in relation to parental controls over their children marriage and rates of divorce between sub-Saharan cultures and Euro-Asian ones. 

  4. Much of this is implicit in Segalen's work though she also talks (by implication at least) of "ideology" as a constraint since there is no clear evidence for an ecological/technological determination of most unilineal descent systems apart from their own history

    1. see the fight between Kroeber (and eventually D. Schneider) and Rivers et al. 

  5. Things get more complex when (ecology/technology) lead to

    1. large increases in population;

    2. differentation in access to resources;

    3. specialization and bureaucratization;

    4. increase in relations between populations;

      1. most of what is written about "rural" families (dowries, controls of children and their marriage, extended/stem households, etc.) implies a land-holding unit of some sort (a) what about the landless?

      2. an urban anchor: what happens there

      3. various specialized craft and merchant communities

  7. Every evidence points to the fact that all such divided populations will offer different conditions with different opportunities for and constraints on the organization of household, families, descent groups, etc. 

    1. Note that this has major implications for descriptive purposes: what are we to count together when doing statistical studies (e.g. of the comparative size of households) 

    2. Notes also that all this says little about the place of ideology (religion, myth, custom, etc.) as a possible constraint/possibility in urban societies. Think of the difference between: 

      1. confucianism in China 

      2. slavery in Rome 

      3. caste in India

      4. feudalism in Europe

  8. Such principles of analyses make it more difficult to make any easy generalization about the impact of

    1. industrialization?

    2. capitalism?

    3. the evolution of Euro-American (judeo-christian/liberal democratic) ideology

  9. Goody, "diverging devolution" and the plow.

  10. causality


    co-occurence (i.e. determination vs. historicism)


    feedback loops (i.e. determination vs. systematicity--Bateson, etc.)

    negative (homeostasis)

    positive (contradiction, "change" and/or move towards higher levels of integration)
    from "mechanical" to "organic" with increase in mutual dependence, specialization diversification



    possibilities/constraints (and thereby ideological differentiation-- India/Europe)

  11. "social reproduction" as a major issue in contemporary sociology/anthropology of education

October 12, 1999