Introduction to Research on Kinship and Social Organization Using Cultural Frame Analysis and the Kinship Analysis Expert System (KAES)
Murray J. Leaf, Dwight Read
This is an interactive, instructional, and analytic website for what has usually been called “kinship terminology.” In fact, however, it is not the terms that matter. What is important, and anthropologists need to get at, is a specific kind of system of ideas that such terms, when used in some ways, point to and describe. We call these systems of ideas “kinship maps.” The site has four sections: introduction, cultural frame analysis, Kinship Analysis Expert Systems, and the kinship wiki.
The theory of kinship maps has to be taken in the same way that physicists speak of relativity theory or biologists speak of the theory of particulate inheritance. We are not guessing that such a thing exists. We are not saying “what if?” They exist. This has already been demonstrated, and the purpose of this site is to allow users to repeat the demonstrations for themselves. The theory is our effort to describe the results of these demonstrations. Precisely like biological or chemical theory, it is to explain what they are and why they are as we find them.
The theory of kinship maps is part of a larger theory of kinship organizations, which in turn is part of a larger theory of social organization. All of this is solidly empirical. All of it has been described in print (Leaf 1971, 1972, 2006, 2009; Leaf and Read 2012, 2014; Read 1984, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2018; Read and Behrens 1990). But the findings are not being taken up by as many anthropologists as their importance warrants. Evidently, what we have written is not being understood. There seem to be two reasons: anthropologists hold important misconceptions of what kinship is, and they hold related misconceptions of what kind of methods are required to describe it. The misconceptions carry over from previously prominent approaches, derived mainly from philosophical Positivism.
The present approach is in the contrasting tradition of experimentalism, as represented by the recognized landmark discoveries of the physical sciences themselves, from the Copernican Revolution to the double helix. The philosophical traditions that most consistently has articulated the conceptions of knowledge and meaning that experimental science assumes are Skepticisms (Burnyeat 1983) and American Pragmatism. In experimental science, the test of whether something is observable is whether you observe it, or perhaps better whether you observe it and agree with others on what it is. Ideas are observable. This text would make no sense if they were not. The pragmatic theory of meaning is that meaning lies in social action: we make our ideas clear when we clarify what kinds of actions they lead to and we demonstrate understanding by engaging in such action. In daily life we do this by working together. In science we do this by setting up experiments.
Kinship terms are things like the English terms “father,” “mother,” “son,” and “daughter.” But if we think of such terms only sounds or as symbols on paper, they are always have multiple meanings and only some of those are as names for ideas of the English kinship map. “Father” can be a priest. A “mother” can be the mother of all battles. A sister can be a sister ship, and so on. In those contexts they are, respectively, a religious title, a very big instance representing a whole class of things, and something very like something else. It would be foolish to worry about including these meanings in what we say about kinship maps here. In fact, meaning is a function of words in the narrow sense of sets of sounds or symbols; it is not a property of such things. Words in this narrow sense actually function as kinship terms only when they are understood to be designating an idea in a kinship map. So while the “kin terms” point us to the kinship ideas, it is the ideas that we are really after.
Everyone who learns a foreign language as an adult starts by learning the translations of concepts in their own language: words as well as basic ideas about language itself, such as what a sentence is, what tenses are, and what how person is expressed. As this knowledge builds up, however, and competence increases, they pass a point of relying on translation and become able to learn new concepts about the language or in the language using the language itself. The present methods or kinship analysis provide the same kind of competence. It begins with certain features that all kinship systems have, and that therefore have translation equivalents in our own language and the language of the kinship system we want to understand. It then uses the indigenous terms with their indigenous meanings, to elicit the rest of the kinship map. This allows us to obtain all of the indigenous kinship terms with their indigenous definitions as an interlocking, coherent, and complete system. It also allows us a to understand when the same terms might not be used as kinship terms, and to understand or recognize when other terms which may not seem to be kinship terms are used in their place. So in the end, we get a clean conception of the kinship terminology as well as the idea system that it designates.
Kinship maps define a conceptualized kinship space precisely in the way the ideas of Euclidian geometry define a conceptualized physical space. Kinship maps have specific formal properties. They define relations around a “self,” and the relations are reciprocal, transitive, recursive, and bounded. So the necessary empirical methods have to be focused on how to elicit and analyze such ideas. “Analyze” in this case does not mean speculate about what they refer to; it means determine their formal structure. Anthropologists are not accustomed to thinking this way.
In the physical sciences, there is a universal recognition that teaching cannot rely only on published descriptions of experimental results. The learner also has to engage in the experiment. This also applies here.
The first purpose of the proposed website is to demonstrate what kinship maps are and provide the means to analyze their logical structure. The next purpose is to support the continued to development of a research community that this should generate.
The Main Misconceptions
Componential analysis, introduced by Ward Goodenough in 1956, was the first complex of anthropological theory and method to focus directly and almost exclusively on kinship terminologies. But Goodenough’s assumptions provided an impenetrable barrier to explaining why they were important. He evidently drew his conceptions of language, meaning, and scientific method from John Stuart Mill and, perhaps, the Vienna Circle Logical Positivists. At the outset, he eliminated “terms of address” and confined the method only to “terms of reference.” This immediately eliminated recognition of reciprocity. He also avoided talking about indigenous ideas, aiming only at predicting the use of terms. And he proposed to predict this by associating terms with the “kintypes” they referred to. So any term that fit into such analysis was a kin term. Anything else was not. This is not how people in different cultures identify their kin terms for themselves. The method was easy to set up. Analyses multiplied, but so did disagreements. Finally, by the end of the 1960s, a developing series of critiques by David Schneider (1965a; 1965b) culminated in a blanket rejection of the use of kintypes in principle: “If the input is restricted to kin types, and only some of them, it is inevitable that the output is a series of dimensions implicit in those kintypes” (Schneider 1969:3). “You are what you eat (ibid.).” He rejected the alliance-descent arguments on similar grounds. They postulated total system models. No such system had ever been found in fact, and no society could be construed for alliance theory to the exclusion of descent theory or vice versa.
But Schneider was no less a convinced Positivist than those he criticized (Feinberg and Ottenheimer, eds. 2001). He agreed that the meaning of terms, from a scientific point of view, had to be the physical thing they referred to. He only rejected the idea that the referents of kin terms were kintypes. His alternative, in American Kinship, a Cultural Account (1968) was to describe kinship as a “system of symbols.” This of course raised the question of what a symbol was. His answer was to accept Clifford Geertz’s argument that the meaning of a symbol could only be the analyst’s own subjective interpretation (Geertz 1973; discussion in Leaf 1979: Ch. 13). It followed that kinship itself could not be an objective category.
In A Critique of the Study of Kinship, Schneider declared that a “quartet” of types of organizations that social scientists had been focused on for over a century–“kinship, economics, politics, and religion” (Schneider 1987:181) — were nothing more than “metacultural categories imbedded in European culture which have been incorporated into the analytic schemes of European social scientists” (ibid: 184). That is, they are ethnocentric imputations. This seemed to both explain the lack of progress and show a way out. What followed was the turn to “interpretivism,” “symbolic anthropology,” “post-modernism,” and “anthropology as cultural critique” (Marcus and Fisher 1999). So for those Schneider criticized as well as those who accepted his alternative, the kinds of idea-systems we want to call attention to continue to be non-topics and the experimental methods we want to demonstrate are not conceivable.
These are the misunderstandings we have to address: both the Positivistic ideas Schneider rejected, which still persist, and the Positivistic basis of his rejection, his argument that kinship is not objective or universal, and his especially deep-seated and destructive assumption that ideas can only be what analysts impose, they cannot possibly be what analysts find by empirical methods.
Cultural frame analysis is the method for the field elicitation of kinship maps and related socially established ideas. It was developed by Murray Leaf, as a graduate student. He first tested it in 1964, during his first fieldwork in a Punjabi-speaking village in North India. David Schneider was his dissertation chair. Schneider and Leaf agreed about the actual kinship systems they discussed, but held very different ideas about philosophy of science and scientific method. Leaf’s dissertation did not change Schneider’s convictions. Several years later after Schneider had left the University of Chicago to go to the University of California Santa Cruz, Leaf went there and gave a talk that demonstrated, again, the method described here. Schneider attended. He said nothing during the talk or in the discussion. Afterwards, as they were walking away together, Leaf pressed him for a reaction. Schneider’s response was “a kinship term is a term for a kinsman.” That was it.
Leaf’s first published description of the Punjabi kinship map was in 1971. It was independently replicated in 1972 by Sylvia Vatuk for Hindostani (Vatuk, 1972). It has been described many times subsequently, including a step-by-step description of the elicitation process in the journal Ethnology in 2006.
In 1974, Leaf described the American English kinship map in a seminar at UCLA. Dwight Read was present and immediate saw the possibility for a mathematical statement of its underlying generative structure. He first published this in 1984 (Read, 1984).
Read recognized that most anthropologists lacked the mathematical background such analyses required. So his next step was to write a computer program that would replicate the process for them. This is the Kinship Analysis Expert System, hereafter KAES (Read and Behrens, 1990; Read 2006).
This website has four main sections: introduction, elicitation of kinship maps, formal analysis of kin term maps, and a wiki. The introduction will provide instructions for using the site and a basic description of the methods to be demonstrated. The elicitation section will describe and demonstrate cultural frame analysis. The formal analysis section will provide the KAES for further analysis of the logical properties of kinship maps. The wiki will allow users to store and discuss the results of their own analyses and collaborate on further work as well as on maintaining the site as a research facility.
Elicitation: Cultural Frame Analysis
Cultural frame analysis depends on the fact that every kinship map is centered on a self and has a core of relatives directly connected to that self. For English, these direct relations are father, mother, brother, sister, son, and daughter. This core of direct kin, whatever it is, forms the cultural frame for eliciting the rest of the system. In most societies around the world a local translation counterparts of these concepts, including the idea of self and the idea of direct relations, are readily available. So the elicitation can start with them. If one happens to be working in a society where there is no established set of translation equivalents, this is not a barrier. It just takes a little longer to get started. But either way by the end of the process one should leave one’s own concepts entirely behind and work entirely in the indigenous system.
Since every one of the direct relations is also a self to themselves, they must have the same direct relations in turn. So we can ask what those direct relations are to the original self. Such as, what is father of father to you? What is mother of father to you? What is a brother of father to you? And so on around for all the direct kin of father. Then additional positions added by this process can be queried in the same way. As the map is extended outward some positions will be repeated and some will be new. Repeated positions can be queried to see if they are the same as those already obtained. If they are, which they logically should be, the map can be redrawn accordingly to resent represent the positions in the most economical way with one position for each term. This is normally done with a pencil and paper in the field. But for this website it will be simulated by drawing the map on an iPad as it would be elicited in the field and recording it as a video. This will be the main content of this section.
It is possible to use the same technology for field elicitations.
Figure 1 is the first such elicited kinship map, of Punjabi.
Figure 2 is the kinship map for English. The elicitation procedure was exactly the same. The shape differs because the indigenous ideas differ.
Eliciting a kinship map in this way is conducting an experiment, precisely like any of the classic experiments used for teaching biology, chemistry, or physics. The resulting kinship map should have the same effect: it should be clear that the experiment has exposed a genuine phenomenon of nature, perhaps not ordinarily apparent but absolutely convincing once observed in this way. Moreover, the person conducting the elicitation should see that those serving as informants, providing the material, see the same thing and can confirm its reality, even though they, too, have never actually seen it before in this way. They should recognize it as their own and be able to use it, explain it, and probably correct it, just in the way a phonemic analysis lets a linguistic informant see what their own phonemes are or a morphemic analysis allows them to recognize their own morphemes. This, by itself, is an important step forward–identifying an important cultural phenomenon that anthropologists have felt was there, somehow, for a century and half but never could find a way to expose.
Figure 2: American English Kinship Map.
The finished kinship map is more than the sum of its parts. Its parts are the definitions of all of the positions that it embodies and systematically relates to one another. In addition, however, it also provides a sense of what kinship itself is in this community, in a way that readily links the individual kinship relations to a larger kinship world view. For example, comparing Punjabi to English, a striking feature of the latter is the division into vertical parallel lines: own lineage of parents and children contrasted with collateral lines of uncles/aunts and cousins. This, coupled with the possibility that grandparents can be reckoned upward indefinitely by rule 1 means that in this system kinship is very much a matter of descent and nearness in kinship is nearness in descent.
By contrast, in the Punjabi kinship map everyone in one’s own generation is ether bhai (“brother”) or bhain (“sister”). There are no cousins. Bhai and bhain include all the children of all those related on one’s parents on the +1 generation, and the logic of the definitions on that generation and above means that the class can be extended outward indefinitely. It can include anyone in one’s caste, or even anyone in the world. So Punjabis do not distinguish brothers and sisters from non-brothers and sisters, but rather distinguish close brothers and sisters from less close, and this is not done by any concept like “blood” but by rights in jadi jaidad, “ancestral property.” This are obtained by birthright, articulated in what is recognized as customary law. An ancestor, in the sense of anyone above a parnana or nakardada is not a relative. They are dead and you cannot have a relationship with dead people. So in the Punjabi kinship world-view, a relative is one who you have an active, cooperative, relationship with concerning shared property. This fits with many other ideas such as what a family is, what a caste is, and what a village is. Elicitations always provide at least some of this kind of additional information, and once you have the initial thread you can develop another form of the cultural frame analysis to follow it.
Users who conduct such elicitations can upload the results to the website folder titled “Kinship Maps.” These can be scans of the pencil and paper drawing, cleaned up versions of the drawings created with computer drawing programs (we recommend Inkscape), or computer files from drawings using computer drawing pads or iPads, using programs like Sketches. It is even possible to use a tablet to make a video record of the entire elicitation process. Notes can be included in the folder. Users can also post discussions of the elicitations and issues that arise from them, on the kinship wiki. We have designed a polynomial nomenclature for them.
Initially, Leaf will be primarily responsible for monitoring this section of the website and will provide feedback. Results will be available to all users.
Kinship Polynomial Nomenclature
To classify kinship maps, we recommend a polynomial system like that of biology. The terms should be descriptive and presented in a fixed order. In biology, the most common order is genus, species, then possibly variety. But there is no problem adding higher-level categories at the beginning or more varietal information at the end. We can use the same idea here.
The three main terms we recommend are language, region, and cultural community. Using this system, the main kinship maps we have described Introduction to the Science of Kinship, in order, would be: Pama-Nygngan Kariera, Indo-Aryan Panjabi, English North American, Indo-European Czech, Uto-Aztecan Hopi, Sino-Tibetan Old Kuki Purum, Dravidian Tamil (standard), Iroquoian Seneca, and Dravidian Tamil (Nanjilnattu Vellalar). Individual characterizations can be changed without causing confusion. For example, we could describe English North American as Indo-European English North American, or Indo-Aryan Punjabi as Indo-Aryan Eastern Panjab Panjabi. And as with biology, there is no need to specify all possible categories in advance. We can add as we proceed, based on what we find. Languages and geographical regions both provide bases for natural hierarchies.
The Kinship Analysis Expert System (KAES)
Once a kinship map is obtained, its underlying mathematical logic can be exposed and explored. This is important for several reasons. One is that mathematics provides the best established way to formally prove that a set of ideas is a consistent, coherent, generative system. Another is that it reveals differences in the ways the logics of different kinship maps are organized that are not apparent from the kinship maps alone.
Read’s algebraic analysis begins by building a modified kinship map that he calls a kin term map, starting with a generative core of kin terms. But where the cultural frame analysis takes the core as the entire set of direct kin, the algebraic analysis seeks to break it into its own generative components. The analytic question is how minimal this subset of generating terms can be, and how to generate the full configuration of kin term nodes from it using clearly defined steps in a gapless and consistent manner. The result is what he calls a “kin term space” parallel to the diagrammatic space in the field elicitation and analogous to the physical space created in using geometry.
Figure 3 is Read’s representation of the American English terminology in the form of a kin term map. Its topological correspondence to the kinship map of Figure 2 should be evident:
Figure 3. Kin term map for American English Kinship
The generative kin terms are in the key at the upper right. Beginning with the self, these determine the positions derived through a kin term product of the form, K of L is M, that represents the situation where speaker refers to one person (properly) by the kin term L, that person refers (properly) to a second person by the generative kin term K, and M is a kin term (if any) that speaker properly uses to refer to that second person. A crucial point of the analysis, and a fundamental point about human thought in general, is that the kin term product operation can be applied recursively. This means that a kin term determined by one kin term product operation can then be included in a further kin term product operation. So, father of self is father. Father of father is grandfather, son of grandfather is uncle, and so on. The kin term map is a map showing the consequence of all such recursive calculations using the generative kin terms.
Read, as a mathematician, determined the generative logic underlying the structure of a kinship terminology in the manner that a mathematician constructs a mathematical proof. In this, mathematicians do not simply follow rules as though the outcome is pre-determined. They know what the starting point is and what has to be proved, but the rest is work out the proof. The basic question being addressed is whether the kin term map, showing the structural organization of the kinship terminology that has been elicited, can be generated logically from the starting point of generating terms through the way new terms are generated from the core set of kin terms using the kin term product. The kin term product for kin terms, implicit in the elicitation procedure, is shown explicitly in the kin term map. Working out mathematically whether it is possible to make a connection with no gaps and no ambiguity between the core kin terms and the structure of the terminology shown in the kin term map proves that the conclusion of a generative structure for a kinship terminology is logically the consequence of the premises. It does not mean that this is mechanically determined, or that no other conclusion is possible from the same starting point, should different kinship ideas be introduced. This is true of mathematical derivations in principle and we have already analyzed enough kin term maps to know that the structural differences among kinship terminologies are due to being based on different kinship ideas. Different kinterm maps can be generated, then, from the same core set of kin terms. Like the original kinship maps, they become more differentiated as the links are developed outward, in accordance with the kinship ideas that are part of the kinship terminology.
Read describes how to do the algebraic analysis in detail in Human Thought and Social Organization (Leaf and Read 2012) and in other publications, but so far no one else has learned to do it. The videos of elicitations in the website as well as working through already analyzed terminologies using KAES will clarify the steps in the analysis and show more fully what it is that will be learned. Critically, this will show that the algebraic analysis is primarily a formal implementation of the kinship ideas already identified as part of the cultural underpinnings of kinship terminology systems.
The KAES program allows a user to take a kinship map obtained by elicitation and then construct the kin term map that provides the kind of information needed to construct an algebraic representation of a kinship terminology. Instructions on how to enter the information are provided in the KAES section of this website, and in the KAES program. Users can download KAES as KAES,jar and the instructions for their own computers. Be sure to read the instructions about the operating systems and the version of Java that goes with them. It will not run on the current version of iOS for mac with the recommended version of Java, which is Java 8, but it will run on a developer’s version, as explained.
Relationship are entered into the KAES work area beginning with a self, and working outward as in the cultural frame elicitation. To enter each position, click on “New Term” in the Operations tab. A blank position will appear in the work area. It can be moved to a convenient space. Then click on it and fill in the options provided. This is where the differences from the cultural frame analysis come into play. While the cultural frame elicitation takes the configuration of direct kin as an and unbroken whole, KAES asks the analyst to break it up.
After self, the direct kin are entered first, one at a time, and arrows are set to establish the linking relations, as in figure 4. The further relations are added, building outward. In each case, the analyst is asked by the program to enter the name of the relation, whether it is defined as male, female, or neutral, whether it is a generator or not, and if it is a generator whether it is an ancestor, descendant, or spouse of the position it will be linked to. It is not always easy to judge how to assign these attributes. There may be rules that have yet to be discovered, but at this point it is a matter of using best judgment, trying to think consistently, and taking notes as you go. Positions are added until all positions in the kinship map are represented, and the boundaries are reached. This is the “kin term map,” as distinct from the “kinship map” that results from the frame analysis. At this point, you shift attention from Operations to Map Operations.
The top options in Map Operations allow the program to test kin term map for coherence and completeness. If it is complete, the user then tells the computer to simplify it by already specified steps until it cannot be simplified any further. Drop down menus provide the possible steps by which this can be done, based on experience so far. The simplification steps include procedures such as reducing the kin term map to just the affinal terms or the consanguineal terms. The structure can also be reduced to the just the male terms or just the female terms that can be reached through kin term products from the self term. Or, the structure can be reduced to the ascending terms above self or the descending terms below self. Or, an elder or younger sibling position can be removed. It is very likely to take several, perhaps many, attempts to draw the kin term map and then choose the steps for reducing it that will produce a structure that the program considered simplified.
The KAES program considers the kin term map simplified when further simplification is not possible. The simplified structure is the core structure for the kinship terminology. Then the program can be asked to generate the kin term map (if possible) from the core structure. It does so by algebraically undoing, starting with the core structure, the simplifications used to reduce it, thus showing how the structural layers of the kinship terminology are generated from the generating kin terms through the kin term product and structural equations representing the kinship ideas fundamental to the properties of a kinship terminology. If the links and nodes algebraically generated match the original input in the form of the kin term map, which is stored in memory, then the kin term map has a generative structure. If the nodes and links do not match, the program will say so. To date, no terminology has been found that does not have a generative structure.
Figure 4 is a screen shot of the KAES regenerated kin term map for American English. This is the counterpart to Read’s mathematical representation of Figure 3 and the kinship map of Figure 2, with the associated algebra. There are two important points. The first is that the maps are plainly isomorphic with one another: they have the same nodes in the same relations. The second is that the kinship map of figure 2 has been entered by Read using KAES and regenerated by KAES, with the associated algebra:
Figure 4. KAES regeneration of American English Kinship Map.
The analysis does two things. First, it provides computational proof that the graphic unity of the field elicitation is indeed a logical/mathematical unity.
Second, the steps in a successful simplification and regeneration can be compared with those for other terminologies to find similarities and differences that appear to be either more fundamental or more derivative or optional, as determined through the mathematical analysis. Read (2016) provides an initial typology of kinship terminologies based on differences in the generative logic of how kinship terminologies can be generated.
Just as the speakers of a language “know” the grammar of their language yet cannot articulate it, social actors “know” the concepts making up the generative logic of their kinship terminologies without being able to articulate it, and, like the speakers of a language, can sense when the usage of the terminology is coherent and comprehensive. Our everyday cultural repertoire does not provide a way to make that generative logic explicit, but all human communities have methods for teaching the proper usage of a kinship terminology. These methods are integral to the logic of the idea-systems themselves. Cultural frame analysis embodies the principles of this indigenous teaching process. So, we can now show cohesiveness and coherence directly through working out the generative logic of a terminology. KAES aids us in making evident the inner logic that gives a terminology its generative power—which is precisely the power to underlie and integrate the many usages with which they are associated.
The output of the KAES analysis, from the kin term map to the generated terminology, are in the form of small xml files. When using the KAES.jar file, a good practice is to save your results after each major step. This produces an xml file of the kin term map at that point, which can be reloaded if the program subsequently seizes up or otherwise stops working because it cannot execute its instructions.
XML files can be uploaded to the folder “Kin Term Maps.” This is available to all users of the website, and any other user can download them to work with on their own versions of the KAES.jar. These, too, can and should be described and discussed in the Wiki. Users should include their identifications in the file and can include an author’s copyright notice if they wish. These should have the same names as the kinship map files they correspond to. This will not cause confusion since the file name will always end in .xml. Notes can also be uploaded. As with kinship maps, include your name in the file and insert a copyright notice if you wish. An xml file can be edited with a text editor.
Dwight Read will be the primary monitor of this section of the website.
Interaction Between Frame Analysis and KAES
As the number of anthropologists engaged in eliciting and analyzing kinship maps increases, we expect to refine the analyses. We will develop a more universalized sense of how human communities define kinship. We will see more new ideas like property that have to be included while familiar concepts like descent can be deemphasized. Mathematical analyses of kinship maps will recognize new generative patterns. So the KAES program will doubtless have to be modified to include these adjustments in a form that more users can apply, and this will in turn provide additional insight into ways the surface semantics are shaped by the underlying logic.
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