Kinship provides a link between biologically constituted and culturally constituted societies. Although we argue that kinship terminologies may well interface biology and culture, using formal and computational methods we refute the assumption that kinship is based on genealogical definitions of kin terms as the primitives of kinship systems. Rather, genealogical definitions of kin terms are entirely predictable when the kinship terminology is viewed instead as a system of cultural symbols.
Kinship terminologies have an underlying logic that makes it possible for a terminology to be commonly shared among culture bearers despite imperfect learning and imperfect transmission of “kinship knowledge”. Though there has been over a century of intensive study of kinship systems and marriage rules, this work has not adequately addressed the nature and form of the underlying conceptual/cultural constructs that underlie the way cultural kinship constructs the other as having a symbolically defined relationship to self.
The Kinship Algebra Expert System (KAES), helps to demonstrate this. KAES is a computer program that begins with informant information about relationships among kin terms and produces an underlying grammar for the kin terms as a system. We will further present results from a multi-agent simulation models to indicate an account for why kinship terminologies might tend to be describable by algebras, and why the resulting algebras are similar, even for apparently quite different kinship terminologies. We will also present some implications of these results for understanding the origins and propagation of human culture.
A Kinship Parable Read a little story that illustrates why we think the KAES project is significant.