Bilateral Kinship and Social Functions

Since, bilateral networks and groupings, such as kindreds, cannot be assigned corporate functions, they usually occur in contexts where groups structures per se are not very important. They are also frequently present in unilineal societies, where they form to organize social situations and activities that are not covered within the responsibilities of descent groups. Nevertheless, they have taken on interesting and varied forms and functions in different societies and have been essential in the development of European family institutions.

In contemporary North American society the kindred constitutes the basic form of kinship organization outside of the nuclear family household. The unit is usually called a "family", a term which used ambiguously for both the household and the wider kinship network. It often is restricted to the first cousin range (children of the same grandparents) and seldom extends beyond second cousins (from the same great-grandparents). Actual membership and participation is left to the decisions and preferences of individuals, some of who may reduce their effective kinship network to a minimal size of parents, siblings, and children. The main activities in which the members of the kindred cooperate are the validation and financing life cycle ceremonies, such as births, weddings, and funerals, in which kith (friends) as well as kin participate.

The importance of bilateral organization in contemporary situations are fairly modest. However other times and places provide evidence for more a substantial role of kindreds and similar groupings include the development of institutions related to:

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© Brian Schwimmer
University of Manitoba
Created: Sept. 1997
Last Updated: August 1998