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Keywords:

  • kinship;
  • the nuclear family;
  • ‘ignorance of physiological paternity’;
  • semantic analysis

Abstract

In a recent two-part article on the nature of kinship, Marshall Sahlins maintains that performative criteria for kin-reckoning are at least as salient as procreative ones, and that, at conception, an individual is endowed with a wide circle of kin, including the ancestral dead. For both reasons, he argues, there is no warrant for granting privileged status to what anthropologists have called ‘primary’ kinship. The contentions here are that performative criteria are modeled upon procreative ones; that ties to ancestral figures are seen as antithetical to procreative ties; and that, therefore, all kinship constructs are derived from nuclear family relationships. Evidence in support of these contentions is provided from the Mae Enga, Fiji, the Trobriands, and Aboriginal Australia.