The term bilateral kinship is used by anthropologists to refer to the system of descent which recognizes both maternal and paternal relatives as equally important in a person’s life, creating complex webs of relationships that span multiple generations.
In this post, we’ll delve into the world of bilateral kinship, examining its history, cultural significance, and modern-day relevance. Join us as we take a closer look at this fascinating aspect of human society.
Table of Contents
- Three Ways of Tracing Descent
- Relevance of Bilateral Kinship
- Related Terms
- Anthropology Glossary Terms starting with B
Three Ways of Tracing Descent
Bilateral kinship is just one of many systems of organizing family ties that exist in the world today. Other systems include patrilineal descent, matrilineal descent, and cognatic descent (which recognizes both maternal and paternal relatives but may give more weight to one side or the other).
Unilineal descent – tracing descent through one line only, for example matrilineally or patrilineally. In a patrilineal society, for example, a woman’s children belong to her husband’s patrilineage, and so they have kinship ties to his relatives rather than to her own.
On the other hand, in a matrilineal society (such as the Na of China and the Mosuo of Tibet) the kinship group traces its descent through the mother’s line. In these societies, a man’s children belong to his wife’s matrilineage, and so they have kinship ties to her relatives rather than to his own.
2Ambilineal descent – tracing descent through either the mother’s or the father’s lines, depending on circumstances and what is in the best interest of the individual or clan.
Bilateral descent (also called Cognatic kinship) – tracing descent through both the mother’s and father’s lines, without needing to choose between the two.
Relevance of Bilateral Kinship
Bilateral kinship can provide a sense of belonging and identity that extends beyond one’s immediate family unit. Because it recognizes the importance of both sides of the family, it can create a larger network of support and connection.
Bilateral kinship makes it possible for a member of a tribe to be part of two different clans (or lineages), which gives them a sense of belonging to both groups. It is thus more flexible than unilineal descent, enabling people to maintain relations with both lineages, while still making it possible for them to focus on one side of the family (or clan) should they choose to do so.
However, bilateral kinship also has its challenges. For example, maintaining relationships with extended family members can be difficult in today’s fast-paced and mobile society. In addition, there may be ethical dilemmas involved in balancing obligations to different branches of the family.
Bilateral kinship systems are far more complex than unilineal ones, as they involve a larger number of kin relationships. In a unilineal system, everyone is related to one another in the same way (e.g. as cousins or second cousins), but in a bilateral system, people can be related to one another in many different ways (e.g. as mother’s brother’s daughter, father’s sister’s son, etc.).
In conclusion, bilateral kinship has a rich history and cultural significance that continues to shape family dynamics around the world today. Its emphasis on balancing maternal and paternal relatives provides a balanced distribution of resources and support.
Unilineal descent – tracing descent through one line only, e.g. matrilineally or patrilineally.
Ambilineal descent – tracing descent through either the mother’s or the father’s lines, depending on what is in the best interest of the individual or group of people.
Cognatic descent (aka bilateral descent) – tracing descent through both the mother’s and father’s lines, without needing to choose between the two.
Kin relationships – the relationships between people who are connected to one another by blood or marriage.
Family tree – a diagram that shows the kinship relationships between people in a family.
Patrilineal descent – tracing descent through the father’s line only.
Matrilineal descent – tracing descent through the mother’s line only.
Anthropology Glossary Terms starting with B
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. When you use one of my affiliate links, the company compensates me. At no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission, which helps me run this blog and keep my in-depth content free of charge for all my readers.