Lecture Week 9 - Family Marriage and Kinship The family in...

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Family, Marriage and Kinship The family, in one form or another, is the primary unit of human culture and society. There is no known case of a society lacking families. Family fulfills four main functions: (1) sexual, (2) reproductive, (3) economic, and (4) educational. Nowadays, the last two functions have become much weaker in industrial societies. Anthropologists have described many different types of families. However, the most common are nuclear and extended families. Nuclear family consists of two generations: parents and their small children. Its small size is well adapted to the need for labor mobility in industrial societies, and it has emerged as the dominant family form of the modern world. However, the nuclear family is impermanent; it lasts only as long as parents and children remain together. Extended family usually includes three generations: parents, married children, and unmarried grandchildren. The extended family in non-industrial, mainly agrarian societies provides some benefits thorough sharing of expenses and labor, defense, social security, and companionship. Illness or death in those families do not leave individuals stranded. But there are disadvantages, too, for example, friction between parents and adult children and among adult siblings, domination by elders, who achieve positions of leadership on the basis of age rather than ability; and lack of privacy.
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But any kind of family is based on marriage . Until recently, in every human society marriage was a socially recognized bond between men and women. This is why marriage is widely regarded as a natural state, or even as one ordained by God or deities. Actually, it is not. Sex is a very natural act, but marriage is not, because its very core is not just union but public sanction and recognition of the union. It is a legal and contractual affair, even in societies where there are no written laws and contracts. In all societies, the parties go from the social status of single to the social status of married. In every society, this transformation of status is accompanied by adoption of new roles, but the rights and obligations associated with these roles vary enormously. Anthropologists have discovered and described various forms of marriage, quite different from each other. Still, it has some common features. In the first place, almost all marriages grant the partners rights of sexual access to each other. Marriage is about sex, but it is more than sex; it transcends it. Marriage transforms sex into something more than the mere physical act. Sex in marriage is considered good and proper and within the interests of society because it produces children and continuity. Marriage is also the acceptable means for conferring the legitimacy on children and the recognition of legal parenthood. Marriage is also characterized by exchange of goods and services between the spouses.
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This note was uploaded on 04/29/2008 for the course ANTHRO 104 taught by Professor Bowie during the Fall '08 term at University of Wisconsin.

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Lecture Week 9 - Family Marriage and Kinship The family in...

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