What Does Kinship Mean? What are its Types, and Degrees?

Kinship refers to the most basic principle of organizing individual human beings into social groups, roles, and categories. It is one of the basic social institutions. Kinship is determined by birth or blood, by marriage, by adoption, and by rituals.

Thus, kinship is an emotional and abstract bond that binds people together and establishes a relationship between or among them. It refers to a relatively permanent relationship between people. It is universal and in most of the societies plays a very crucial role in the socialization of individuals and maintenance of group solidarity.

Since every person is knitted with some relations with other people, society is a wave of social relationships. Kinship which is a relation, not just official but biological as well, is one of the organizing principles of human society.

Kinship system establishes relationships between individuals and groups on the model of the biological relationship between parents and children, siblings and between marital partners. This system varies across cultures and at different times. More societies recognize marriage in some forms as a durable relationship between men and women although not necessarily one that lasts an entire lifetime.

Kinship is an important social system because it has developed with traditional networking of norms, values, morality, customs, and others into a unit. People who are genetically or biologically related to one another are known as kinsmen. People have sires and dams (parents) and mates. The biological network stretches far beyond the awareness of any human individual and presumably includes all human beings.

Definitions of Kinship 

Different scholars define kinship in different ways, though the meaning is almost always the same. Some important definitions are listed below:

  1. Anderson and Taylor – A kinship system is the pattern of relationship that defines people’s family relationships to one another.
  2. MacIver and Page – The bond of blood or marriage which brings people together in group is called kinship.
  3. Penguin Dictionary of Sociology – The social relationship deriving from blood ties and marriage are collectively referred to as kinship.
  4. Rivers – Kinship is the social recognition of biological ties.

On the basis of above-mentioned definitions, we may come to the conclusion that kinship refers to a system of relations that binds people emotionally together. Kinship is an abstract ideology rather than an object.

Types of Kinship 

Sociologists and anthropologists alike generally refer to the following main types of kinship.

Blood Relation or Consanguineous Kinship

Consanguineous kinship refers to the bond which is created by birth i.e. blood. This includes the bond between parents and children and the bond between siblings. Therefore, kins such as father, son, brother, sister, mother, nephew, and cousin are consanguineous.

In consanguineous kinship, the bond of blood maybe actual as in father and son or it may be between with grandfather or an adopted child. Similarly in some societies like polyandrous, biological fatherhood is difficult to identify. So, there is a system of assigning social father through some rituals or celebration. The relationship between social or supposed father and son or daughter is also called consanguineous kinship.

Marriage Relation or Affinal Kinship

The bond that establishes a stable relationship between men and women through marriage is called affinal kinship. When two people get married, they establish a relationship not only between themselves but a large number of people are bound by the marriage.

A large set of relationship between the family members of husband and wife is therefore established. Thus, relationships such as son-in-law, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and several other relationships are known as affinal kins.

Fictive Kinship

In many societies, there is a system of establishing stable and enduring ties or bonds by following a certain ritual or ceremony. Such an established kinship is called fictive kinship. Fictive kinship is made normally by exchanging some personal belongings of whatever value.

Degree / Level of Kinship

On the basis of closeness or distance, kinship is classified into certain categories such as:

Primary Kinship

The closest bond of people i.e. the relationship between two people which is close and direct is known as primary kinship. For example, a relationship between parents and their children is the closest one because there is no one else between them to relate them to each other.

Indian anthropologist Shyam Charan Duvey has identified eight primary kinships and they are; husband-wife, father-son, father-daughter, mother-son, mother-daughter, brother-sister, brother-brother, and sister-sister.

Secondary Kinship

The relationship which is more distant than the primary kinship is called secondary kinship. In fact, it is just one step away from the primary kinship. In other words, primary kin of our primary kin is called secondary kinship.

Our secondary kins are related to us through our primary kins but they are not our primary kins. For example, our parents’ siblings and parents are our secondary kins. Shyam Charan Duvey has identified about thirty-three secondary kins.

Tertiary Kinship

The distant relationship which is further than the secondary kinship is known as tertiary kinship. In other words, they are the secondary kins of our primary kins and the primary kins of our secondary kins. For example, your spouse’s brother’s children, sibling’s spouse’s siblings, etc. In fact, Duvey has found nearly 251 types of tertiary kinship.

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