Kinship Systems

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kinship Systems


historically determined systems of terminology for blood relation and affinity (relation by marriage).

As part of the lexical makeup of language, these terms vary in conformity with the laws of development of language. However, they are grouped according to principles that are determined by the distinctive features of the social organization and transformed as it changes. Consequently, kinship systems serve as a source for the study of the social structure of a society.

L. H. Morgan laid the foundation for the scientific study of kinship systems, dividing them into classificatory systems, in which entire groups of relatives were designated by a single term, and descriptive systems, in which the kinship relations of each individual were expressed by specific terms. Classificatory systems were, in turn, subdivided by Morgan into the Malay type, in which relatives are divided only according to their generation, and the Turanian-Ganowanian, which limits lateral relations according to father and mother. (For example, the father’s brother is designated by the same term as the father, but a different term refers to the mother’s brother. There are different terms for the brother’s son and the sister’s son.) Morgan hypothesized that Malay kinship systems were generated from the consanguine family; Turanian-Ganowanian systems, from the punaluan family; and descriptive systems, from the monogamous family.

In the 1920’s R. Lowie (USA), W. Rivers (Great Britain), and P. Kirchhoff elaborated a new, four-term typology of kinship systems, distinguishing a bifurcated-collateral type that delimits direct and lateral relatives, as well as lateral relatives from the father’s and mother’s lines. (Special terms are used for the father, the father’s brother, and the mother’s brother, for example.) The latest research has led to a reconsideration of the question of the historical relationship of various types of kinship systems. W. Rivers and later, the Soviet scholars A. M. Zolotarev and D. A. Ol’derogge demonstrated that the Malay kinship system is not the most ancient but emerges as a result of the simplification of the Turanian-Ganowanian system. However, studies of the evolution of Chinese kinship systems provide evidence that the Turanian-Ganowanian system can also adopt a bifurcated-collateral nomenclature. The development of the Latin and Russian kinship systems shows that bifurcated-collateral systems change directly into descriptive ones.

The generalization of extensive factual material according to the kinship systems of various peoples of the world has made it possible to show that the basic features of kinship systems are determined not simply by the forms of marriage relations, as Morgan proposed, but primarily by the structure of the nucleus of society in various stages of its development. Thus, dual organization generates the Australian variant of the Turanian-Ganowanian kinship system. A large family (often a group of related families, or patronymic group) is usually associated with the bifurcated-collateral kinship system, but under anomalous conditions necessitated by endogamy, for example, it may give rise to the Malayan kinship system. Descriptive kinship systems take shape with the appearance of the small, individual family.


Morgan, L. H. Drevnee obshchestvo, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1935. (Translated from English.)
Shternberg, L. Ia. Sem’ia i rod u narodov Severo-Vostochnoi Azii. Leningrad, 1933.
Ol’derogge, D. A. “Malaiskaia sistema rodstva.” In Rodovoe obshchestvo. Moscow, 1951. (Trudy In-ta etnografii A N SSSR: Novaia seriia, vol. 14.)
Ol’derogge, D. A. “Osnovnye cherty razvitiia sistem rodstva.” Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1960, no. 6.
Lavrovskii, P. A. Korennoe znachenie v nazvaniiakh rodstva u slavian. St. Petersburg, 1867.
Kriukov, M. V. Sistema rodstva kitaitsev. (Evoliulsiia i zakonomernosti.) Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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