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The New Rural Sociology of the 1980s shows a measure of ambivalence

toward certain traditional analytical categories such as kinship and
community. New approaches simply ignored or abandoned these con-
cepts as part of the empiricist and positivist legacy of traditional rural
sociology. But just as the critical stance adopted towards community
studies was later to be supplanted by the discovery of locality (Bradley
& Lowe 1984), debates about the family farm in advanced capitalism have
reached the point where calls for a sociology of the family (Friedmann
1982, p. 16), tend inexorably toward the construction of a theoretical
category of kinship.
In this introductory paper we shall argue that the facility with which
family is invoked in the new rural sociology is matched by awkwardness
or even suppression of the category kinship. This is based on a review of
some recent allusions to the domain of kinship in rural sociology. We go
on to identify some characteristic features of the family farm which we
consider susceptible to rethinking in terms of a theory of kinship. The
third part of the paper attempts to build a bridge between this preliminary
identification of kinship and its elaboration as a field of study by social
anthropologists. From a plurality of approaches we select three examples
through which to arrive at alternative ways of exploring the family farm,
and indeed beyond it.
This brings us to the fundamental comparative purpose of this collect-
ion of papers. In our experience, those who study family farming,
peasant agriculture, or tribal subsistence, could well be living on
different planets, so limited is their interchange. Our intention is to try to
delineate an area where this diversity of empirical work can form the basis
for dialogue between those mainly concerned with advanced rural
societies, and anthropologists, historians and others working on different
types of social system.
T h e four contributions to this Special Issue deal with aspects of kinship
in societies which fall outside, or on the margins of, the areas of advanced

* Mary Bouquet: ISCTE, Lisbon, Portugal; Henk de Haan: Department of Sociology,

Agricultural University Wageningen, The Netherlands. The authors are the editors of this
special issue.

Sociologia Ruralis 1987. Vol XXVII - 4

agriculture, as defined by rural sociologists: peasants in north-eastern
Portugal, the Spanish Pyrenees and historical Savoy; and Bedouins settled
in Israel.
Problematisation of the family farm as a unit of analysis through the
category kinship is a first step in a comparative project which, by
emphasising cultural as well as structural (or social organisational) levels
of analysis, should permit us to discuss difference without geographical
segregation and disciplinary fetishism. This is the underlying axis of
articulation with the four contributions to this Special Issue. ONeills
paper explicitly draws upon Leachs classic critique of structural funct-
ionalist approaches to kinship in an analysis of practices and ideals relating
to two sets of resources: irrigated garden plots and farm land. Jones
account of the problems facing historians attempting to utilise
anthropological concepts to interpret their total reconstructions shows
that, however rich the sources, the problem of what kinship means,
beyond what it does or does not do, cannot be evaded. Comas
dArgemirs study of celibacy (non-marriage) illustrates changes in the
meaning of a structural phenomenon for the actors involved: from some-
thing close to destiny for non-inheriting siblings, it has become a
symptom of crisis as the heirs themselves encounter difficulties in finding
a wife. In a similar vein, Alafenish demonstrates that Bedouin ideas about
noble descent cannot be dismissed in settlement planning.


It is possible to identify three broad approaches to family farming within

contemporary rural sociology, which can be traced to classical sociologic-
al traditions. The first is a structural approach to the development of
agriculture within the economy as a whole. Here, external factors such as
the role of the state, the expansion of capitalism and uneven regional
development are given most weight. The main theoretical problem is how
to explain the persistence and transformation of forms of production from
a macro-political-economic perspective. The principal sources of critical
inspiration are works of M a n , Lenin, Kautsky and the neo-Marxists.
Factors relating to the internal structure of the farm and the cultural
aspirations of farmers are dismissed in this approach as irrelevant to the
explanation of structural developments, or as ideological mystifications of
the real class position of independent commodity producers. Winter, for
instance, indicates the necessity to analyse the family farm in a wider
context, but dismisses the relevance of kinship: . . .we must look
beyond kinship and family characteristics in order to find the key ex-
planatory features of a particular mode or form of production (Winter
1984, p. 117).
There is, by contrast, a continuing current of micro-sociological
analysis which starts at the level of the farm, accentuating its specific social
and cultural aspects. Here the main sources of inspiration derive from the
work of Weber and Chayanov, although this certainly does not imply
theoretical homogeneity. This approach can be best identified in the
chosen level of analysis and a shared interest in behavioural and cultural
aspects of family farming. The scope of research problems covered range
from the relation between domestic cycle and farm enterprise, to studies
of farmers attitudes and motivations.
In some studies the fundamental prerequisite for the persistence of
family farming is located in the attachment to property and the way of life
associated with independent production. Almost all the contributors to a
recent anthology on family farming attribute specific goals and values to
farmers, in some cases even exhorting them to maintain their independent
position (cfGaleski & Wilkening 1987). Gasson (1973) concluded from a
survey among farmers in Great Britain that social, expressive and intrinsic
values are more important than instrumental ones, which is another way
of saying that the behaviour of family farmers is not predominantly
motivated by profit making but is part of a wider universe of values.
Newby echoes the view of many rural sociologists in his observation that
the rationality of family farmers.. . may only tangentially be
understood in purely utilitarian terms - their behaviour is moulded not so
much by economic incentives as by family, social and even religious
values (1980, p. 107). Empirical research seems to be less conclusive,
however, about the centrality of these cultural and familialistic features
in the process of modernisation. While Gasson (1987) and Barthez (1984)
scrutinise their diminishing importance, Marsden found the most success-
ful capitalist farmers in North Humberside to be the ones claiming more
kin and with the most highly developed affinitive ties (Marsden 1984, p.
216). The problem with such divergent empirical results is that they
revolve around the theoretical debate concerning the nature of the family
A third line of attack has traversed the classical discrepancy between
macro- and micro-approaches attempting to combine different theoretical
perspectives in a unified approximation, Such an endeavour is Fried-
manns theory of the family farm as a form of simple commodity product-
ion. Friedmann developed her ideas in a series of articles between 1978
and 1987, throughout which her principal argument has remained essent-
ially the same, although the focus has moved somewhat from the relations
between the household and the wider economy to non-commodity rela-
tions in the household. She manages in her theory to unite the otherwise
inconsistent Marxist concepts of the development of capitalism with the
Chayanovian legacy of applying non-capitalist concepts to the analysis of
peasant households.
One of Friedmanns most important analytical notions is the distinct-
ion between the form of production and the mode of production.
Family farms are conceptualised as forms of production based on the
unity of property and labour and involved in commercial, competitive
production. Since these specialised household producers depend on
markets for obtaining an important part of their means of production and
subsistence, simple commodity production presupposes the capitalist
mode of production. Fundamental attributes of internal organisation are
that the household provides its own labour power, owns the means of
production and disposes of the product of labour. Household production
thus comprises only one class, combining property and labour, and
merging the spheres of production, consumption and distribution in the
same unit. In contrast to the capitalist firm, where organisation is based on
a class division between owners and workers, the relations of production
on the family farm are based on kinship and patriarchy. Although
household production for the market is subject to the law of value,
constantly compelling adjustment to limits set by competition, the law
of value stops at the boundaries of simple commodity production, whose
internal relations are governed by otberprznciples, generally variations of
the gender division of labor, kinship obligations and patriarchy (Fried-
mann 1982, p. 12, italics added).
Friedmann does not dismiss these other principles as irrelevant or
contrary to a political economic approach; she concedes that a complete
theory of simple commodity production, requires a sociology of the
family as a productive organization ( d i d , p. 16). In later articles Fried-
mann has devoted more attention to the significance of the family in
simple commodity production. She has, for instance, recently discussed
the ideological significance of familialistic principles and the role of
patriarchy. She acknowledges that the family farm is an ideological image,
but argues that a recognition of this point entails neither embracing the
ideological claims nor denying the reality of familialism. Here Friedmann
criticises Goodman and Redclift who argued that farmers claims to non-
capitalist and familial characteristics belie their actual status as small
capitalists. Ideology .. . has a material basis.. . people at work with
their fellows produce ideas about their social relations along with their
products, they manufacture consent (Friedmann 1986a, p. 191).
Friedmanns interpretation of familialism comes close to the represent-
ations recorded in attitude-surveys among farmers. She asserts that the
ideology of family contrasts with the anonymity, insecurity, and exploita-
tion of wage relations and is based upon the property aspect of the family
farm. Farmers seek to maintain their independent status, rather than fall
into the ranks of propertyless labourers. Dread of proletarianisation and
commitment to a way of life .. .lead to survival strategies nonsensical
from a capitalist point of view (Friedmann 1986b, p. 188). Friedmann
24 7
thus acknowledges that family ideology and behaviour are not merely
mystifications of real class position derived from the constraints of
capitalism. But she does not say what they are, nor how to interpret them.
Another fruitful attempt to bring about a synthesis between structural
Marxism and the legacy of Weber and Chayanov has been advanced by
Mooney (1987). In his class analysis of midwestern agriculture in the
United States he posited .. . the intersection of objective conditions
(market situation) with subjective conditions (type of rationality) in the
creation of four ideal types of farmers as a basis for comparative analysis
(Mooney 1987, p. 287). As such he implicitly criticised the absence of
people as agents in accounts of capitalist development in agriculture.

This outline of some recent approaches to the family farm permits us to

draw two important conclusions. The first is that the family farm cannot
be isolated from its politico-economic environment. Its dependence on
markets, scientific research, information and state policy renders futile
any analysis of the family farm as a unitary entity. The second conclusion
is that when it comes to explaining family behaviour and ideologies, these
are either reduced to imperatives stemming from the economic context, or
analysed as ifthe family were a natural unit, isolated within the confines of
the household.
From the perspective of political economy the unit of production is
recognised as being in some respects only a locus for the concrete
crystallisation of wider processes. The wider economy sets limits to the
range of structural possibilities, constraining both internal organisation at
a given point in time, as well as continuity through time. This is how the
predominance of relatively small household-based enterprises is ex-
plained in advanced capitalist societies.
But as far as analysing precisely how the internal organisation funct-
ions, the way in which it is reproduced over time and the support these
non-commodity relations find in indigenous concepts of work, value and
property, we are left with an astonishing silence. If these questions are
ever raised at all the family is conceptualised as an isolated, unproblematic
and restricted unit. And while there may be room in some approaches for
an interpretation of the subjective motivation of farmers conduct, there is
no systematic treatment of the rather piecemeal insights.
Such a systematic treatment should, in our view, begin with the charac-
teristic features of family farming identified in the literature which might
be subjected, with advantage, to exploration in terms of kinship. We shall
thus argue that property, labour and distribution are culturally as well as
structurally specific manifestations, an adequate explanation of which
requires us to draw upon a number of anthropological approaches to the
study of kinship.

This section will identify in a preliminary way those characteristic features

of the family farm which we consider susceptible to rethinking in terms of
a theory of kinship.
The family farm can be described as a kin-based group involved in
commercial domestic production. The specific combination of its internal
constitution with the external relations in which it is involved structure
the parameters of its reproduction. The processes which ensure continuity
through time essentially hinge upon specific forms of access to the
productive resources, the organisation of work and recruitment of labour,
and the distribution of income.
It is important to qualify the internality attributed to kin relations
from the outset. For if members are linked to one another on the basis of
kinship, this is already complicated by the distinction between blood
and marriage ties. In what sense is the recruitment and integration of a
wife or husband an internal affair? Already a concrete internal distinction
is set up in the simple fact of establishing affinal ties with the kin of an in-
marrying partner. This potential faultline may or may not condition the
direct access of members to productive resources, which is based on
legally and socially sanctioned rights in family property. It may also
surface in the division of labour, and in the patterns of expenditure.
Property is an essential condition for the existence of this kin-based
domestic group. The reproduction of this group depends on a long-term
strategy such that land and other means of production are neither
transformed into external capital, nor require full or almost full returns in
terms of market values during the course of production. The maintenance
of this relation between the domestic group and its means of production is
partly achieved through the internal mechanism of monitoring access to
resources. This seems to be the bedrock for subjective criteria of evalua-
tion on the returns on resources2.
Essential to this long-term management is the mechanism of inter-
generational devolution. The transfer of property from one generation to
the next touches upon processes of exclusion and inclusion among mem-
bers of the domestic group, as rights in property are constantly negotiated
and distributed according to culturally accepted rules of authority,
equality, solidarity and residence. These processes of devolution and
selection cannot be understood without reference to a wider notion of
kinship. Some would argue that inheritance rules constitute the very heart
of kinship, crucial as they are to understanding the status of women and
children as well as the household head in the domestic group structure
(Goody 1976). Inheritance practices are not only moulded by cultural
ideas but also by the need to preserve an agricultural holding which is
adapted to the economic environment and the legal system (cf ONeill,
this volume). In the interplay of economic adaptation, legal constraints
and cultural aspirations the role of inheritance ideology is however pri-
mordial ($Rogers & Salamon 1983).
Although property may be imbued with notions of belonging, as a
symbol of identity for family members, the unequal distribution of rights
in property within the family and sometimes beyond can result in dif-
ferential attachment to the farm, or even conflicts. This differential in-
tegration with respect to property makes any notion of a homogenous
farm family precarious indeed (cf Jones, this volume). It also impinges
upon the question of whether kinship sentiments and relations are in fact
mere representations of property interests and relations. This was the
theoretical line proposed by Leach in his study of Pul Eliya. He argued
that property constitutes the basic stuff of social life and that kinship is an
expression of this permanent reality. According to Leach the constraints
of economics are prior to the constraints of morality: Kin groups do not
exist as things in themselves without regard to the rights and interests
which centre in them. . . (Leach 1961,p. 65). This position was criticised
by Fortes, for whom the morality of kinship is expressed in the way
property and economic activity are organised. The basic question is why it
is kinship rather than some other principle of incorporation which pro-
vides the sanction of legitimacy (Fortes 1969, p. 222-223). Leach and
Fortes represent two extreme positions as to the structural autonomy sui
generis of kinship relations and sentiments. The issues at stake in this
discussion are by no means limited to the study of exotic societies. The
attribution or withholding of property, its timing, substance and destina-
tion among family members is a hard statistical fact but also meuns
something to the actors involved.
Property can in this respect be seen as a vehicle for kinship ideologies.
Parental authority, lineage continuity, the management of status, all can
be expressed through property. Structural decisions about the timing of
farm transmission, designating a successor and compensating the others,
or even the kind of technological investments to be made, can have as
much to do with sibling or conjugal relations as with legal stipulations or
scientific and economic considerations. And when farmers invoke such
intrinsic values of their occupation as independence and autonomy, they
actually seem to be making a symbolic claim about the sovereignty of
kinship. Precisely when this sovereignty is externally threatened or com-
promised these are the symbols most fiercely defended in the public
sphere. There is an analogy here with Cohens portrayal of how symbolic
boundaries are generated precisely when metropolitan supremacy over
peripheries already appears to be a foregone conclusion (Cohen 1987).
The second characteristic of the family farm is its internal recruitment
of labour, and the consequent organisation of work on the basis of
kinship. Since the household can dispose of its own means of production,
the members do not completely depend on the labour market for work
and income. The mechanisms of recruitment thus explain the unity of the
household as a unit of consumption and production. It follows from this
that the domestic cycle influences the available labour force and the
consumption needs. The main tendency of Chayanovian reasoning con-
cerns the way in which a balance is achieved between these fluctuating
parameters and labour requirements and production needs. A labour
process lacking such characteristics as individual remuneration and fixed
hours can, when combined with the first feature, be considered as a form
of commodity producing domestic or household labour. As labour is
provided for via non-commodity relations such categories as wages and
surplus value have no generic meaning within this context.
This aspect of kinship has often been dismissed as an unavoidable
consequence of the constraints exerted by the wider economy within
which agriculture is embedded. This is a culturally myopic view of labour
in which the mobilisation of kinship principles is reduced to economic
imperatives. It is true that in terms of the labour market rewards for work
may be low and that this makes family farms highly competitive in
relation to farms organised on capitalist principles. But it abandons the
fundamental question of why such an anomalous species of the law of
value should only be acceptable in the context of family relations. As
Long has remarked, respecting different forms of non-wage labour,
household labour must also be seen in relation to existing cultural
norms and values concerning the sexual division of labour, the obligations
of marriage, and the expectations of family and kin (Long 1984, p. 12).
The social value of work can only be understood with reference to the
morality upon which it is based and the context in which it is performed.
Only in that perspective we can begin to understand it in terms of the
benefits perceived by the actors themselves. Cooperation among kin
must, in Blochs view, be seen in terms of long-term reciprocity, and
distinguished from short-term contractual relations (Bloch 1973).
Rewards can for instance be accumulated in a dowry, a share in the
inheritance or, by contrast, on retirement when a child assumes responsi-
bility for his or her parents in their old age (cf Comas dArgemir, this
volume). Fortes posited the morality of kinship as an axiom of amity.
Hence, kinship concepts, institutions, and relations classify, identify,
and categorise persons and groups ...this is associated with rules of
conduct whose efficacy comes, in the last resort, from a general principle
of kinship morality that is rooted in the familial domain and is assumed
everywhere to be axiomatically binding. This is the rule of prescriptive
altruism which I have referred to as the principle of kinship amity
(Fortes 1969, p. 231-232). What this rule suggests is the claim of kinsfolk
on one anothers support and consideration: reciprocal giving is sup-
posedly done out of free will rather than under the pressure of coercive
25 1
sanctions or in response to contractual obligations.
It is particularly interesting to scrutinise a recent transformation in the
relation between father and son on family farms, where it has been
translated into contractual terms. A most intriguing question is whether
this is purely an adaptation to financial and fiscal constraints, or reflects
the diminished importance of kinship morality. The elevation of a father-
son tie to contractual status might actually imply an attempt to contain or
harness the moral force of kinship (see on contractual relations Barthez
1984). Comas dArgemirs contribution to this volume shows, that con-
tractual bonds between kin have always been important and are not a
result of modernisation. The written formalisation of rights and duties
was here just a reflection of domestic ideals and probably only
strengthened existing morality by giving it a jural sanction.
So far we have dealt with two important aspects of identifying kinship
on the family farm: in the question of access to the means of production;
and recruitment of labour. We have seen a few ways in which kinship
implies the structural ramification of so-called internal relations beyond
the household. The mobilisation of both land and labour via these other
principles may indeed be necessary and functional in an encompassing
capitalist environment. It does not, however, constitute a sufficient ex-
planation for farmers behaviour.
The last example of the manner in which kinship materialises on the
family farm relates to the distribution of income between farm expenses,
domestic consumption, and external costs which must be met. Again, we
must refer back to the partitioning of status among members of the family
brought about structurally through the dynamic of marriage and affinity
(4Lhi-Strauss 1973). This partitioning of status can have repercussions
in the relations of production insofar as members may specialise in certain
domains of work. The classification or evaluation of different moments of
the labour process is unlikely to be homogeneous. Similarly,the flexibility
of income distribution among competing possibilities can, under certain
circumstances, give rise to conflict. The symbolic delineation of a male
domain, equated with the farm, and a female domain equated with the
house, need not however produce a struggle along gender lines, and
indeed may not be in the perceived interests of those involved. The
alternative seems to lie in processes of reclassification of resources and
income: women, sons and daughters may, for instance, take responsibility
for particular sub-enterprises the returns on which can be earmarked as
An example of this is found in the accommodation of tourists on farms
in certain areas of Europe, and elsewhere (cfMoon Kim 1984).Where this
is the concern of women, as in some areas of Britain, the use to which such
income is put ranges from alterations to the farmhouse to purchasing
items of clothing. It would, perhaps, be a mistake to overdraw the
elaboration of a female domain as a recent manifestation of feminist
raised consciousness Segalen 1980). The main point is that expenditure
patterns can both reflect the structural position of an in-marrying wife,
and feed back into the model of female consumption which is culturally
geared to such indices as home decoration and personal adornment. At the
same time, the creation and legitimation of such domestic spheres or
enclaves depends on the existence of significant others (and kin and affines
are the model) involved in the same practices. This example illustrates
how structurally defined statuses in a kin group can be modified, with the
rider that this very process of modification presupposes that there is
indeed something worth changing.


Until this point we have discussed some of the characteristic features of

the family farm where kinship can be identified. We must now consider
some of the ways in which anthropologists have already delimited kinship
as a field of study. Kinship theory is by no means a homogeneous field and
to give an idea of its complexity we can do little more than point to the
different levels of analysis involved and how these are incorporated in
different approaches. These, in turn, are bound up with the historical
development of social anthropology as a discipline. Since we cannot hope
to do justice to the diversity and complexity of these arguments and their
historical orchestration, we have artificially delimited three ideal type
approaches which we consider potentially useful for the project in hand:
exploring the family farm from the perspective of kinship.

Levels of analysis
Kinship analysis rests on the observation that there are relations between
persons and groups based upon something which is identified as con-
sanguinity and affinity. We can see that married people, for example, are
involved in conjugal relations. The relations between a spouse and the
parents of his or her partner are affinal, or those of in-laws. Parents and
children are linked by ties of filiation; descendants trace links with their
ancestors through ties of descent. Brothers and sisters are linked by
siblingship, and so on. Recognition of the scientific significance of these
apparently obvious facts is one of the fundamental bases of kinship
theory. Various ways of referring to and interpreting the facts of kinship
exist and have existed in diverse human societies. Alafenishs example of
Ibn Khaldun (this volume), can be matched by genealogical representa-
tions from China, Sumatra, India and Samoa (Barnes 1967). In social
anthropological thought that recognition is usually attributed to the
American scholar L.H. Morgan whose discovery of systems of con-
sanguinity and affinity in the nineteenth century is often seen as a starting
point for much that followed in modern social anthropological studies of
kinship. Having acknowledged that people are universally related by ties
of blood and marriage, there are at least two main levels at which these
relationships may be analysed.
Firstly, there is the level of what people say and think about kinship.
What they say is clearly in part behaviour - what linguists would call
speech acts; what people say is not simply a matter of what they think in
an absolute way. It is also conditioned by context, which is both immedi-
ate or situational, and cultural. The very words or categoriespeople use to
express what they think are part of a cultural heritage: as such a person
using them gives voice to ideas which are related to other sets of ideas
which structure their knowledge of the world. Kinship terms are not,
from this perspective, simple referents serving to unite or divide lineal or
collateral kin - which was Morgans basic distinction between classifica-
tory and descriptive terminologies - they are rather multivocal symbols
which relate the field of kinship to other semantic domains within the
culture. At this level of analysis kinship is a cultural construct, encap-
sulating ideas about procreation, gender, parenthood, descent and so on.
These ideas also include moral imperatives about inter-personal relations
in terms of authority, status, or what is often referred to as norms, values
and expectations or ideology. The contagion of ideas present in a certain
culture illuminates one of the ways in which kinship can unlock a chain of
associations, bringing into relation with one another things which look
quite disparate from another perspective. Seen in this way, kinship is not
only a model of, but also a model for the world, containing, as such, a
moral imperative about the way things ought to be.
The fact that this moral imperative can be mobilised to structure
personal relations and the social organisation of certain groups brings us
to the second level of analysis. Along with other situational and environ-
mental factors kinship ideology gives substance and content to behaviour
and structure. Here we are clearly on the more concrete level of social
practice, which from an analyticalviewpoint should be separated from the
ideological level. The content of kinship relations, kinship behaviour and
kinship groups are the outcome of a dialectical process. It urges the
question of what kinship does, how it serves different ends or can be seen
to do so, at the level of social organisation. This moral imperative seems to
be taken almost as given by certain writers although others, most notably
Fortes, have devoted considerable attention to it.
Genealogicallinks of consanguinity or affinity can serve as the base for
political, economic and other functions in certain societies or social
contexts. This led certain authors to see kinship as being important in
societies where it is identical with social structure and political organisa-
tion. A classic example is the work on African political systems under-
taken by British social anthropologists in the 1940s. They identified
unilineal descent groups (or lineages) as kinship groupings which simul-
taneously furnished the basis of political order in stateless or acephalous
societies. However, as Evans-Pritchards work on the Nuer showed,
descent turned out to be much less a matter of concrete descent groups
than a principle for structuring residence according to the seasons, and for
classifying people in a dynamic, segmentary way. There is clearly an
overlap here with the first analytical level distinguished here since it is
difficult to see why kinship should function in this way without explain-
ing its content in terms of authority, affection, solidarity, avoidance,
respect, conflict, and so on. What kinship does, as reflected in patterns of
behaviour, the formation of groups (through criteria of recruitment
emphasising one line of descent) and their activities, does not explain why
it should do it unless we accept some kind of moral force behind it. This
force, moral or otherwise, cannot be explained as a function of what
kinship does without tautology.
Those who have studied kinship mainly within the analytical frame-
work of social organisation thus see it as serving certain functions:
biological reproduction, political organisation, relations of production.
Those who have analysed kinship mainly in terms of culture have seen it
(especially in the form of the elementary family) as a model for wider
social relations, as ideology (masking real power relations, inequalities,
the extraction of surplus.. .), or as a set of cultural constructs related
systematically to other semantic domains within particular cultures.
Decisions about where and how to pitch the analysis of kinship clearly
rest in part on the assumptions the anthropologist brings to his or her
study: these derive not only from training in terms of school or tradition
of anthropological thought, but also from cultural and social background,
personal trajectory and experience. Selected formal properties of the
genealogical method, for example, can themselves be analysed in terms of
the place of kinship in British social anthropology, and the meaning of
kinship in British culture (Bouquet 1987).

Kinship: savage and civilised

The plurality of approaches to kinship which has already been mentioned
is thus defined by analytical pitch but this, in its turn, is conditioned by
the trialectics of personal trajectory, cultural and academic background,
together with historically specific theoretically defined positons. If the
importance of kinship has been played down in the literature of rural
sociology in the advanced societies, it must also be said that anthropolo-
gists have mainly concerned themselves with the study of kinship in
other societies. Although there are significant variations between dif-
ferent traditions of anthropological thought as to what constitutes a
proper object for study, certain areas are inevitably blocked out in the
process which determines what that object shall be at any particular time.
If we accept that this very process of blocking out is as significant as the
other side of agestalt image, then it is quite legitimate to ask why kinship
should have been construed as unimportant, or at least less important,
amongst ourselves, on whatever basis we identify ourselves.
We begin, then, by examining what we see as the underlying difficulty
with conceding analytical status to a concept of kinship in advanced
societies. In our view this problem stems from the way in which kinship
was initially conceived in the nineteenth century which has coloured
subsequent thinking on the subject.
The classificatory systems discovered by Morgan entailed a wide recog-
nition of kindred, especially collaterals, who were grouped or classed
together with lineal kin. The inclusion of these numerous kin in great
classes was one of the conditions for securing the bonds necessary for
mutual protection in primitive social life. Conversely, the descriptive
systems characteristic of civilised societies distinguished Egos lineal rela-
tives from his collaterals, reducing them in number and significance, with
the earlier functions accomplished by kin now taken over by the State and
the law. Schneider suggests that Morgan believed the elementary family,
as he knew it from Upper New York State and elsewhere in the civilised
world, to be the most advanced form in the evolution of familial and social
institutions, this being the essential counterpoint for his ideas about the
other stages of societal evolution (Schneider 1968b, p. 8). Engels view of
monogamous marriage and the modern, industrial family, however
critical, still surmises that it is an isolated, privatised, patriarchal
molecule (Engels 1972 [1884], p. 18). Whether the epitome of civilisa-
tion or symptom of capitalist decadence, there was no doubt as to the
centrality of the family in contemporary advanced society, with a
corresponding relegation of more complex kinship arrangements to
earlier forms of society. Morgans scheme distinguished several stages
(from savagery to civilisation), identified in their turn with the various
systems of consanguinity and affinity. The basic premise was that it is
possible to reconstruct historic social forms, especially several types of
marriage, using the evidence of kinship terminologies which are the
survivals of those previous forms since there is always a time lag in their
rate of change.
Long after attempts to discover the origins of previous forms of social
organisation through such vestiges as kinship terminologies had been
discarded as conjectural history, the legacy of the underlying scheme
shows a surprising degree of vitality passing imperceptibly into the
presuppositions in which studies of the family in western. societies are
grounded. The wave of empirical research into extant primitive societies,
heralded by the publication of Argonatrts of the Western Pun.fic by
Malinowski in 1922, served in some respects to reaffirm the underlying
belief that the only legitimate or indeed possible field for studying kinship
was in exotic other societies.
Rivers, in proposing the genealogical method as one of the means of
putting what was then called ethnology on a par with other sciences, was
careful to make a distinction between the systems of relationship of
savage and civilised people (Rivers 1968 [1910], p. 97). The centrality
kinship was to assume in the study of other societies for several genera-
tions of British trained social anthropologists seems to have curtailed if
not eclipsed their curiosity about kinship at home. They might award to
the family the epithet of universality, but they never reached the comple-
mentary conclusion that kinship might be important in contemporary,
industrial western societies, in spite of the State and the law, and in other
ways than they had supposed for primitive and/or historical societies.
Modern anthropological textbooks continue to peter out on this point:
.. .the kinship system is less central to [urban, industrial] society as a
whole than in isolated or small-scale communities, because other kinds of
institutions regulate - for example - economic and political affairs. Kin-
ship tends.. . to be much less evident in the public domain: kinship
relationships become above all domestic relationships (Barnard & Good
1984, p. 34). Because they are domestic relationships, it is argued that they
are more difficult to study since this involves an invasion of privacy. This
of course presupposes that the elementary or nuclear family is a self-
contained unit, or a series of interlocking nuclear families (idem, p. 33). In
our view this is an assumption which rests upon a particular perspective.
We could in any case argue that both views presuppose something to
make sense of domestic arrangements so fragmented. We propose kinship
as a shorthand way, for the moment, of referring to that something.
The family as a sociological given seems to have practically obliterated
any alternative way of analysing kinship among ourselves. This funda-
mental problem provides the context for three broad approaches to
kinship (cfWolf 1982, p. 90) briefly discussed in the next paragraph: as a
matter of genealogical relationship, that is to say biological relationships
socially interpreted; as a distinctive cultural domain, where descent and
affinity are symbolic constructs; and finally as an idiom for expressing
other, more important relations, such as those of property or production.
We repeat that our intention is not an exhaustive review of approaches,
but rather a selection through which to arrive at alternative ways of
exploring the family farm.

Theoretical approaches to the study of kinship

Firstly there is the line of approach which assumes that the facts of kinship
are an outgrowth of human biology. This, in general, was Malinowskis
view, although he insisted that the biological foundations of kinship
become invariably a cultural and not merely a natural fact (Malinowski
1962 [19291). Similarly Firth, in his initial work on Tikopia, saw kinship as
a reinterpretation in social terms of the facts of procreation and
regularised sex union (Firth 1983 [1936], p. 483). This meant, more
explicitly, a system of social relationships between individuals in a
society which is integrally connected with the recognition of biological
connection by birth and procreation on the one hand, and a legalised
social union involving sex relations between two individuals on the other
(idem, p. 104). As one of the few anthropologists to study English kinship
(Firth 1956), it is particularly interesting to contextualise his views on its
restricted, privatised nature both in terms of his Tikopian research, his
experience of England as a New Zealander between the wars, and his
academic apprenticeship with Malinowski and later under the influence of
Malinowskis insistence on the flesh and blood of sexual passion,
maternal affection and paternal responsibility, identified in the initial
situation of kinship, and Firths emphasis (to the contrary) on kinship
behaviour and not kinship sentiment, both belong as much to a particular
phase of theorisation as to a distinctive approach. While Malinowski
insisted that kinship began with individuals and was gradually extended in
the course of the life cycle to embrace non-domestic groupings of kin,
Firth struggled towards a concept of kinship as a system of relationships
preceding and superceding any single individual that might be born into
It was Radcliffe-Brown, however, who was to systematise a jural
concept of descent as the means of assigning people born into a social
system to positions with rights and obligations (statuses) to both resources
and support which are thus shared among biologically produced actors (4
Radcliffe-Brown 1935; 1952). Here kinship is a matter of tracing
genealogical relations, structured by the system of statuses and their
attendant roles. When it appears in the literature relating to the family
farm, kinship seems to refer mostly to genealogical positions which are
limited to the elementary family, or other such families with which there
are kin links. There does seem to be a notion of kinship roles and statuses,
but of course since these did not seem to be remotely connected with
those analysed in primitive societies - except on such margins of the
known world as Ireland or southern Europe - the parallel remained

Taking issue with this initial conceptualisation is a second approach where

kinship is viewed as a distinctive cultural domain. This was in part an issue
of abstraction; whilst Radcliffe-Brown saw kinship structure as an em-
pirical set of real social relations amongst individuals, Bateson was to
problematise the abstract nature of social structure and the inherence of
kinship relations therein. H e went beyond this indeed in his articulation
of the difference between cultural structure, as a collective term for the
coherent logical scheme which may be constructed by the scientist,
fitting together the various premises of the culture, and social structure
which (in the Radcliffe-Brownian sense) took human individuals as the
units and saw them linked together in groups (Bateson 1958 [1936], pp.
25-26). In order to explain naven ceremonial behaviour among the Iatmul
of the Middle Sepik (New Guinea), in which men dress as women and
women as men, he examined not only the kinship relations between those
involved, that is to say the wau (mothers brother)/laua (sisters son or
daughter) tie in its structural context, but also the emotional tone(s) or
ethoses of the culture. Batesons discovery was that the same empirical
facts can be approached in a number of different ways and that these are
by no means mutually exclusive. There is perhaps an analogy to be drawn
between exotic naven in the 1930s and the aberrant family farm in the
1980s, as regards the question of abstraction. There are, of course, several
ways in which we can approach kinship and the family farm; these are not
mutually exclusive, but there are likely to be some areas of overlap and
others of distinctive emphasis between them.
The third approach to kinship that we consider relevant to the present
discussion views kinship as an idiom or way bf talking about other, more
fundamental relations: political relations (as in the Nuer example), rela-
tions of production and property (as in the case of Pul Eliya, analysed by
Leach). Hence, although the language used may refer to kinsfolk, the real
content of that discourse lies elsewhere. It is the hard facts of economic life
(Leachs crude nursery facts) that underlie what anthropologists choose
to call kinship and marriage. That people choose to talk and think about
certain kinds of political, jural, economic and other relations in terms of
kinship should, according to Beattie, not mislead us into concluding that
it might be a further category of social relations (Beattie 1964, p. 102) or,
worse still, into edifying kinship not simply into u thing, but rather the
structural basis of social continuity (Leach 1961); The principle of
locality, manifest in the physical layout of the village and its ancestral
lands, was for Leach of far more consequence for his analysis of Pul Eliya
than the notion of descent. Despite denying the existence of unilineal
descent groups in Pul Eliya, Leach did devote considerable attention to
another kind of corporate group, the gedara, which comes perilously
close to structuring the rights and obligations for the ideal pavulu
(family), even though in practical terms the actors involved will
strategise and manipulate those very relationships. The problem of why
actors should bother to dress up their activities in the guise of kinship,
even recruiting political factions through kinship fictions, brings us back
to the fundamental problem of moral imperative. What is it that infuses
the idiom of kinship with sufficient force to make people do things, to
legitimate inequalities, to accept being the underdog? Why should people
respect the ancestors, even if their awe does no more than allow others to
appropriate surplus value through a systematic misrepresentation of pro-
duction (as the result of property), property (as the accumulated labour of
ancestors), and the devolution of property from its original creators to the
present owners, via genealogical interpretation to suit the circumstances
(cf Moore 198l)?


Given the nature of the debates about the family farm from the perspect-
ive of political economy, kinship might readily be seen as a means of
unlocking social labour, to borrow Wolfs phrase. But the same prob-
lem of why kinship, particularly when in modern society there are
numerous contractual alternatives, remains unsolved. Furthermore, if we
.find successful capitalist farmers explaining why they choose to invest
their capital in agriculture through some affinitive ethic (cf Marsden
1984) then it makes only limited sense to see this as a misrepresentation. It
seems to us important to try to unscramble some of the ideas involved
where appeals are made in the name of th.e family. It is our contention that
to this end we need kinship as an abstract relational category through
which we can not only make sense of domestic, apparently self contained
units (the family in its restricted sense, the household, the domestic
group. . .) but also and more importantly relate the ideas involved at this
level to other sets of cultural ideas. There is an analogy with Stratherns
analysis of the village as a set of ideas about belonging and identity
stemming from birth and marriage, but also relating to notions of class
and status in English culture (Strathern 1981). This seems to us to be one
way out of an impasse in which kinship is relegated to a nonentical
position: the family along with its supposed moral force is given, either
as a natural entity, or as the logical outcome of economic and other
external constraints. In our view we have to go beyond these naturalistic
and materialistic assumptions. As an abstract category we do not expect to
find kinship as a thing, but in a set of ideas which will have concrete
consequences at the level of action. As a relational category it is a
theoretical means of relating what appear to be separate items. We need
kinship to explain structural relations and behaviour. It is essential to
investigate the variable cultural contexts of family-based agriculture, and
exploration through kinship is one of the ways of doing this.

1. We will not consider the differentiation of family farms, as is done for instance by
Whatmore et al. (1987) in terms of internal and external subsumption. It will be clear that
our aim is to establish the theoretical significance of kinship independent of empirical
variation by farm type.
2. Subjective, like internal requires of course some qualification in the light of our
earlier remarks about marriage. Inter-subjective might be a more accurate representa-
tion, when this is understood in the context of the structuring of the group. The essential
point is that the productive resources of the farm are in the long term managed in such a
way as to prevent external claims from banks or objective criteria of profit from coming
to dominate the farmers own evaluation of his property.
3. By ideology we mean a cluster of ideas, or the association of ideas pertaining to kinship,
which make actions readily comprehensible (whether they are the subject of agreement
or contestation) beyond the confines of any particular family. We are not using the term
ideology to refer to dominant ideology.
4. Schneider illustrates this point by discussing the English term uncle. Genealogically,
this term refers to fathers brother or mothers brother (Schneider 1968b, p. 13). But
people also refer to their fathers sisters husband as uncle, even though he is not a
blood relative. They may even use the term to refer to unrelated but beloved older men:
the character Uncle Walter in the English radio soap opera, The Archers, is a case in
point. Unrelated to the majority of Ambridge-dwellers Mr. Gabriel is still Uncle
Walter to the majority of those beneath his generational level. The term thus refers not
only to a genealogicalposition but is also name for an affectionately respected social role,
by no means restricted to kinsmen. A famous negative instance reinforces this point:
when the Fool addresses the demented King Lear as nuncle, he mocks that amicable
respect although with a pathos which admirably sums up the state of dishevelled
relations between the sovereign and his court buffoon, as well as the wider network of
kin and other ties in which Lear is embroiled. The contagion of ideas here shows how a
kinship term can be used (and abused) to infect an entire field of meaning.


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