General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
A long-standing issue in kinship theory has been the occurrence of kin terms extended to genealogical referents crosscutting the genealogical pattern of a distinction between linear and collateral genealogical relations. Much of the writing of Harold Scheffler, both alone and in conjunction with Floyd Lounsbury, was directed towards a possible resolution of this ‘extension problem.’ They proposed that a kin term has a primary meaning expressed through the genealogical referent(s) closest to speaker and a secondary meaning accounted for by what they referred to as equivalence rules. Their equivalence rule solution for the secondary meaning of kin terms, though, quickly became mired in debates over the cultural saliency of these rules. In my contribution to the Scheffler festschrift, I begin where their work left off by showing how the internal logic of kinship terminologies resolves the extension problem. This requires rethinking the commonly accepted ontology for kin terms that starts with genealogical relations formed through procreation and ends with kin terms viewed as linguistic labels for categories of genealogical relations. I replace this ontology by tracing out the implications of the cultural knowledge that culture bearers bring to bear when they compute kinship relations directly from kin terms without reference to the genealogical relations that supposedly are the underpinnings of those terms. Considering kinship terminologies from this perspective has been surprisingly fruitful and leads to resolution of the extension problem by showing that the extensions are the consequence of the generative logic giving structure to a kinship terminology.