Kinship Systems

When examining structure in a family, cultural anthropologists focus long and hard on a concept called kinship. A kinship is created when people are brought together due to marriage, descent, and cultural determination. This provides kinship groups with a sense of security and establishment. Within a kinship, you are able to benefit from your peers by exchanging new ideas and goods. You can compare this concept to a farmer who practices subsistence farming. A farmer will grow enough food in order to keep his family fulfilled and happy. These kinship groups create a sense of self sufficient communities that are able to rely on each other for different beneficial factors. Together as a unit they are content not having to rely on too many outside sources. I want to focus on how different kinship systems operate and how individuals in the group benefit off this system.

Some kinship systems are able to be sufficient within their group, meaning outside help and or influence isn’t necessary at times. Focusing on a culture’s kinship system can tell you a lot about the roles of individuals within the family. Questions such as “who plays a more important role”, or “do they all contribute equally” are focused on by cultural anthropologist. These answers of course differ all around the world. In return, we are able to evaluate different kinship systems around the world and understand why they operate the way they do. For example: A polygamy lifestyle may be the norm in many countries such as Northern Africa, but can be strictly be viewed as taboo here in America. Although it’s presumably forbidden here in America, we cannot judge that the polygamous lifestyle does not contribute or work for others and their way of living. Having 3 wives can also mean having more children, which in return means having more family members to contribute.

For the most part, we can all agree that families can be important as far as having mental, financial, and or physical support. Not everyone is born into this luxury of having a contributing family, but the ones that do have it make use of their support system in many different ways. When focusing on kinship in American families, structure dramatically differs from that of a family from another country such as India, Japan, Mongolia, etc. In the book Busier than Ever, American families are made out to be busy bees. Now days, our main motive is to devote ourselves to society in some way or another (jobs, school, volunteer work, etc.). Each member in the family has their own role while some may play more important roles than others. A mother and father may work all day long, and their kids are in the comfort of their home being taken care of by others (babysitters, grandparents, etc.).

The motive here is for parents to work hard in order to survive and support their family as a unit. When compared to other cultures such as the Amish, the children only go to school until a certain grade or age. Schools may not be seen as that important in their lifestyle, but making sure their children have good labor ethics is. The kids are put hard to work at a young age in order to contribute to their family and community. This also gives families a reason to spend a lot of time together. This is an example of a self-sufficient community. Everyone plays an important factor in their household. Unfortunately in America, we can view some members of the family as “dead weight”. Many times we find ourselves caring for our elderly loved ones and or kids because they are unable to do so on their own. In essence, we are working long and hard to simply keep our family afloat. Other families may view our structural way of living as insufficient or taboo because not everyone in the family is being equally benefited because some contribute more than others.

Kinship in most American families has a structure that can either hurt you or benefit you. You either have help from your peers, or you are left to do it on your own. Most parents work long hard hours in hopes to maintain a comfortable lifestyle for them and their children. The issue here is that the children are not getting enough family time with their parents. Everyone has their own task which in return reduces valuable family time. Although the parents are working hard for their kids, they are not realizing that they are also taking away from them. The Carlsburg family is a perfect example for this. They worked 9 days with an 80-hour schedule. They struggled with keeping their family balanced because their children had summer vacation off with nowhere to go. Unfortunately, parents do not get complimentary vacation times with their children which makes it difficult to find someone one to look after them. Some families do not have easy outlets to watch their children such as grandparents, neighbors, or day care due to insufficient funds. In some kinship, this wouldn’t be an issue at all for it is their kinfolk’s duty to help them out. Not having outlets for American families can mean having to accommodate their work schedules. The Carlsburgs had to manipulate their work schedules in order to have time to watch after their children during the summer. Excessively working also takes a toll on ones’ health while long work hours in this case resulted in inadequate amounts of sleep. This in return can put a tamper on how you may perform through your daily routines. Americans look at these hard obstacles as “sacrifice”. They feel they have to sacrifice in order to maintain their lives and families. Overall, kinship in American families can be viewed as connected as well as disconnected due to the lack of free and valuable family time. This kinship system is practiced by Americans due to having to conform to societal adaptations, however, it doesn’t mean it’s implemented or agreed upon by others. The support within American families can be seen as very indirect (individually working to pay bills), while other kinship groups may give direct support (working together to make food, working on the farm, etc.).

by Jasdeep Brar


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