General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: The writings of Harold Scheffler, both in conjunction with Floyd Lounsbury and as the sole author, were concerned with working out the logic of kinship systems expressed through kinship terminologies and, in his later writings, through the logic of descent systems. Like other anthropologists before him and at the time of his writing, Scheffler took it as given that procreation is central to kinship, but not in a biological sense. Scheffler made it explicit that procreation had to be viewed from the cultural perspective regarding how culture bearers perceive of procreation and how it relates to their ideas regarding kinship and kinship relations. For Scheffler, the relations determined through procreation can be expressed genealogically, and this led to the Extension Hypothesis that kin terms have a primary meaning based on genealogical relations determined through procreation and secondary meaning through the inclusion of more distant genealogical relations. With co-author Floyd Lounsbury, Extension Hypothesis was developed by them through the logic of what Lounsbury referred to as equivalence rules. From the perspective of showing the logicality of kinship terminologies, this was a major tour de force in kinship theory. Yet the Extensionist Hypothesis had an unresolved flaw: Whose logic was being expressed through the equivalence rules? This, with the shift in anthropology towards rejection of the supposed imposition of western ideas in our study of the kinship systems of “the other” spearheaded by David Schneider’s highly influential (but misguided) rejection of kinship as a domain of research, the carefully crafted research of Harold Scheffler and others was simply cast to the side as irrelevant. However, the relevance of the theoretical work of Harold Scheffler to kinship studies today has been made evident through the book, Focality, and Extension in Kinship, edited by Warren Shapiro and published by Australian National University. The papers in this session continue the theme of this book by presenting papers on current kinship research that relates to the theoretical ideas of Harold Scheffler. This panel will address Scheffler’s contributions by contributing new ethnography, new analysis, or new critique.