Decent and Inheritance

Bilineal or non-unilineal descent systems

Introductory Terms | References

11.8 MB     00:07:24     shot in 1986

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Introductory Terms

Network: "Whereas unilineal systems give rise to groups with fixed membership, bilateral systems do not…" (Barnes). They give rise to networks or categories of persons.
Classification: How people recognize or "classify" kin, produced categories (e.g. cousin)
Recruitment: The principles upon which people form into active groups (e.g. lineage)
Ego-Focus: The central point is the individual; this leads to a shifting network, as in the "personal kindred" situation of the United Kingdom
Ancestor-focus: "Members trace their relationship lineally through either or both sexes to a common known or unknown ancestor", thus a non-unilineal descent group may be formed
Personal Kindred: "Based upon the network of ties that radiate out from any individual, through kin of both sexed, and then descent form these ascendants to collateral kin" (Goody)
Descending Kindred: "Membership is raced from an ancestor, ancestress, or an ancestral pair. Since ties are reckoned through both males and females, resultant groupings are overlapping in terms of membership; but the members all see themselves as belonging to the same unit" ("descendants of x")
Inheritance: "The transmission of property" (Rivers)
Devolution: "Inheritance, as usually understood, refers to transmission after death (post mortem); the total process of transmission between holder and heirs (which includes e.g. marriage transfers)" may be termed devolution" (Goody)
Partible Inheritance: Where property is normally shared between heirs (e.g. brothers), as opposed to impartible (e.g. eldest son), with only one heir
Usufruct: The rights in the use of property, but no power to alienate or destroy (as opposed to ownership)
Life-cycle: The series of stages through which an individual moves (birth, childhood, puberty, adolescence, marriage etc.), thus creating "social time" which is different from "real" or "historical" time
Lateral: "Literally "sideways"", lateral inheritance is more common in Africa than
Vertical: Eurasia and is a system whereby property passes through siblings and collaterals rather than "vertical" through sons and daughters
Primogeniture: Literally, fist born; a system of inheritance through male primogeniture is quite common in Europe, whereby the eldest son inherits, but in certain areas ultimogeniture (inheritance by the last born) exits


Fortes, M. (1953) "The structure of Unilineal Descent Groups", American Anthropologist, 55 (reprinted in Fortes, Time and Social Structure and Other Essays, and partially in Goody, J., Ch.17, (eds) Kinship, Penguin)
Fox, R., Chs. 3-6, in Kinship & Marriage, Penguin
Goody, J. (1968) "Descent Groups" in Int. Enc. Soc. Sci
Keesing, R., Chs. 2-4, in Kin Groups and Social Structure
Malinowski, B. "The Principle of Legitimacy", reprinted in Goody J., Ch.2, (eds) Kinship, Penguin
Richards, A.I., "Some Types of Family Structure amongst the Central Bantu" in Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. & Forde, D. (eds) African Systems of Kinship and Marriage, partially reprinted in Goody, J., Ch.18, (eds) Kinship, Penguin
Fox, R., Chs. 6 & 9, in Kinship & Marriage, Penguin
Freeman, J.D. (1961) "On the Concept of the Kindred", Jnl. Roy. Anth. Inst., 91, partially reprinted in Bohannon, P. & Middleton, J., Ch. 17, (eds) Kinship & Social Organizations
Friedl, Vasilika
Goody, J. (1969) "Inheritance, Property and Marriage in Africa and Eurasia", Sociology, 3(1)
Homans, G.C., Chs. 8 & 9, English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century
Keesing, R., Chs. 6 & 7 in Kin Groups and Social Structure
Pherson, R.N., "Bilateral Kin Groupings" reprinted in Goody J., Ch. 19, (eds) Kinship, Penguin