What is Reciprocal Exogamy

What follows is a synthetic summary of reciprocal exogamy as far as it relates to my objective of characterizing the deep structure of human society. This summary is written from a primatological and evolutionarily informed perspective. Accordingly, I stress aspects that Levi-Strauss did not necessarily emphasize, and I use terms that he did not necessarily employ. In particular, I spell out the structural connections between what I consider to be the core features of reciprocal exogamy from a comparative - interspecific - perspective: intermarriage, supragroup kinship networks, alliances between in-laws, the atom of kinship, sister exchange, and marriage between cross-cousins.

Simply stated, reciprocal exogamy is a social arrangement in which groups are bound together through marital unions and kinship. Reciprocal exogamy is best illustrated with the simplest system described by Levi-Strauss, restricted exchange between two exogamous kin groups, A and B (Fig. 2.1). Intermarriage between groups A and B is exemplified here with a single family per group. The two groups are patrilocal and the two families trade their kinswomen to obtain wives in return, building alliances in the process. Upon marriage, wife Ego moves to her husband's group. Because Ego breeds and raises her children there, the A family will have grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins living in group B, with whom they will come into contact when the two families, or the two groups, visit each other. Given that this process is generalized to all marriages and works in both directions, the resulting kinship network encompasses the two intermarrying groups which become quite intricately connected.

Simultaneously, Ego's marriage reinforces bonds between the A and B families because Ego and her husband act as natural intermediaries between their respective families; that is to say, marriage connects and unites in-laws (or affines). Significantly, preferential bonds between in-laws often translate into marriages among them. Two widespread practices are the levirate and the sororate (Murdock 1949: 29). The levirate is the rule according to which a widow must marry the brother of

Kin Exogamy

Fig. 2.1 Reciprocal exogamy between two patrilocal kin groups, illustrated by marriage between female Ego and male B1, and marriage between Ego's brother and male B1's sister, the two unions exemplifying sister exchange (or daughter exchange depending on one's viewpoint). Triangles: males. Circles: females. Thin U-shaped lines indicate marriage. Thick inverted-U lines indicate siblingships. Arrows give the direction of between-group transfer (postmarital residence)

Fig. 2.1 Reciprocal exogamy between two patrilocal kin groups, illustrated by marriage between female Ego and male B1, and marriage between Ego's brother and male B1's sister, the two unions exemplifying sister exchange (or daughter exchange depending on one's viewpoint). Triangles: males. Circles: females. Thin U-shaped lines indicate marriage. Thick inverted-U lines indicate siblingships. Arrows give the direction of between-group transfer (postmarital residence)

her deceased husband (her brother-in-law). The sororate is the reciprocal rule, a widower marrying the sister of his deceased wife (his sister-in-law). To Levi-Strauss, the sororate and the levirate were facets of reciprocal obligations between exchanging units.

In sum, reciprocal exogamy binds social groups through two different processes. First, out-marriage distributes close kin across distinct groups, these relatives pursuing their relationship on the long run despite their physical separation, the outcome being further kinship-based bonds between groups. Second, marriage creates or reinforces bonds between more distantly related individuals, the spouses' respective families, generating affinity-based alliances between the groups.

To proceed further with the description of reciprocal exogamy, it is useful to consider how Levi-Strauss himself accounted for it. His explanation holds in the following assumptions and principles: (1) for some reason, men living in distinct groups needed to ally with each other, (2) reciprocity is a universal mental structure, (3) acts of reciprocity create social partnerships (Mauss 1923), (4) women are the most precious commodities of exchange, (5) men exert some level of control over their kinswomen, and (6) marriage is a means of exchange. From this, it follows that men seeking to form solid alliances with other men would best do so by exchanging their daughters and sisters as spouses for each other. But a major problem crops up at this point. Levi-Strauss also assumed (7) that men were sexually attracted to their kinswomen - that incest was natural. Therefore, to be in a position to exchange their daughters and sisters, men first had to renounce marrying them, and to achieve this they had to invent the incest prohibition. In that perspective, exogamy and alliance formation are men's ultimate goal, while the incest taboo is the fundamental prerequisite; exogamy and the incest taboo are, thus, two sides of the same coin, and they mark the birth of human society.

With this general picture in mind, we may now introduce what Levi-Strauss called the atom of kinship and which he described as "the most elementary form of kinship that can exist" (1963, p 46) and "the sole building block of more complex systems" (1963, p 48). One might argue that the smallest unit of human kinship is the mother-child bond, but Levi-Strauss was concerned with social structure, not with dyadic relationships. The atom of kinship rests upon four terms: a brother, his sister, the sister's husband, and their son (Fig. 2.2). A theoretical argument invoked by Levi-Strauss is that the atom of kinship includes the three types of relations always present in any human kinship structure: a relation of consanguinity (between siblings), a relation of affinity (between spouses), and a relation of descent (between parent and child). A more direct argument, still according to Levi-Strauss, is that the atom of kinship is the immediate outcome of the incest impediment between brothers and sisters. Owing to the incest taboo, a brother cannot have children with his sister. He, thus, elects to lend her to another male for breeding purposes; so, the sister's children are "the product, indirectly, of the brother's renunciation" as Fox put it (1993: 192). More bluntly, because the brothers cannot reproduce with their sisters, they do so via their sisters' husbands, hence the intimate interconnection between the three basic categories of bonds. It should also be noted that the atom of kinship embodies another chestnut of human kinship

Fig. 2.2 Levi-Strauss's "atom of kinship" (circled individuals). The individuals pictured here are the same as in Fig. 2.1. Definitions of symbols as in Fig. 2.1

Kin group A

Kin group B

Kin group A

Kin group B

Fig. 2.2 Levi-Strauss's "atom of kinship" (circled individuals). The individuals pictured here are the same as in Fig. 2.1. Definitions of symbols as in Fig. 2.1

Fig. 2.3 Structural relations between sister exchange (or bilateral marriage between affines) and marriage between cross-cousins. Cross-cousin marriage is the extension of sister exchange to their offspring. Definitions of symbols as in Fig. 2.1. See text for explanations

Kin group A

0 0

Post a comment