Kinship is a cultural construct built upon, but not necessarily identical with, the human experience of mating, reproduction, and family formation. That experience is universal, and anthropologists have considered its widely divergent forms to be expressions of a few basic structural principles. Descent and alliance theories summarized those principles and dominated thinking on this subject for much of the twentieth century. Fifty years ago, kinship was a central concept in comparing the world's societies, closely linked to the understanding of comparative legal systems. That centrality was eroded by a sharpened awareness of the errors created by assuming that kinship is easily understood as a part of nature. Today there is a cautious uncertainty about its meaning or meanings and its useful application as a comparative ...

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