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Jonathan Lindsell Is anthropology indispensable to historians of the family?
Essentially the crossover between anthropological studies of kinship and the historians of the family's study of individual races' social structure renders both terms so close to one another that the answer is a foregone conclusion. It is perhaps arguable that so-called 'armchair (social) historians' could dream up models for the history of the family from quantitative data and detail general trends in the development of the family from prehistoric to modern times. However, for any degree of usefulness and accuracy, it is necessary for historians to draw on the work of anthropologists, many of whom can give examples of 'primitive cultures', which may give clues towards earlier 'stages' in the development of the family. Likewise, anthropologists studying little-known or alien people, or even well known but overlooked minorities, may well prove annoyingly useful in presenting systems of kinship which fall outside a family historian's model of progress, forcing the abandonment or revaluation of the theory. To adequately answer the question, first the issue must be addressed as to how this essay shall treat the terms "anthropology" and "history of the family"1. In keeping with the teachings of Mr. Nightingale, "anthropology" is defined as 'the study of man now' whilst the "history of the family" is labelled 'the study of human families in the past'. Historians of the family thus go into detail explaining, for example, the seismic worldwide prehistoric change from matrilineal and matriarchal societies to patrilineal and patriarchal ones, the changes in the size and structure of the family from joint "where the married sons live under the father's roof" to nuclear, and other changes in inheritance and how kinship is perceived. More microscopic studies would examine the family developments in a certain area and period, often in relation to a specific stimulus, such as the Industrial Revolution2, the mass building of housing estates in cities3, or the disruption of colonialism4. Clearly there is debate as to whether, for example, a study of a family in 2003 is anthropological, historical or both, but for the purposes of this essay such a grey area will be treated along the rigid lines of the explanation above. The first aspect of anthropology that must prove highly useful, if not instrumental, to historians of the family, is that the study of kinship throughout the world can only help to define what 'family' is. Not only are the anthropologist's observations on what constitutes a family in x culture valid, but also the views of the people themselves, and the words they have, use and do not use to describe family. Young & Willmott are together surprised, in their study of families in East London, that when the average working-class person talks of his/her family, he means "their Nannas and aunties and uncles and all sorts of people like that"5. Equally revealing are the words of the Nuer, whom Evans-Pritchard observes as "acknowledging any kind of kinship...'jimarida, my kinsman"6. To the Nuer, being tribal, "lineage is not merely a descent group...but a group with political functions"7 which is a high contrast to the relatively small political influence of most western families. When these isolated cases are viewed together with the vast range of different ideas of family in African Systems of Kinship 1
"An Introduction to Anthropology", Mr Nightingale, Oxford Exam Halls, 14/10/2008 The German Family- Family and Role Division Karin Hausen 3 Family and Kinship in East London, M Young & P Willmott 4 Kinship Studies in Late 20th Century Anthropology Michael G Peletz 5 Family and Kinship in East London, M Young & P Willmott p. xvi 6 Kinship and Marriage among the Nuer, E Evans-Pritchard p6 7 Kinship and Marriage among the Nuer, E Evans-Pritchard p177 2
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