What Went Wrong With Anthropology Of Family Structures?
October 25, 2007, 06:10 PM
A+
|
a-
Print Friendly and PDF
Boasian cultural anthropology was a glamor field in academia in the 1950s, yet it is now among the least publicized. What went wrong?

For example, sci-fi great Robert Heinlein wrote Boas`s student Margaret Mead into his 1957 sci-fi "juvenile" novel Citizen of the GalaxyYoung Thorby flees Sargon and is adopted into the extended family of Free Traders, a people who buy and sell anywhere in the galaxy. The rules of the spaceship crew / family are baffling to Thorby.

Fortunately, anthropologist Margaret Mader (i.e., Margaret Mead) is on board to explain why Thorby can`t fall in love with any girls in his Starboard Moiety, but must find his bride on the Portside Moiety, along with the other complications of Free Trader family structure.

Family structure is interesting stuff, and obviously has real world applications for, say, all those countries where America has soldiers wandering around, such as Afghanistan and the borders of Somalia. But nobody is interested these days.

So, what went wrong? First, anthropologists became obsessed with what Robin Fox, the author of the 1967 textbook Kinship and Marriage calls "ethnographic dazzle." The exception became the rule. A few decades ago, you`d always hear arguments beginning, "Well, there`s this one tribe where ..." which I parodied in The American Spectator in 1992 in "Report Cites Bias Against Women in Drug Rackets: `Aspiring Female Traffickers Lack Role Models,` Notes Expert."

"All the experts indignantly dismiss biological conjectures purporting to explain why males seem more violent than females. "Then why are the Nuzwangdees of Guyana — or is it the Wangduzees of New Guinea? Well, anyway, I heard there`s some tribe somewhere where more women than men are into GrecoRoman wrestling, or is it Australian football?" retorts Dr. Charles Womyndaughter."

The point of all this is to deny that there is a basic human nature, in order to facilitate intellectuals being funded to carry out improbably social engineering projects.

Fox wrote in 1991:

"But find me a society without a kinship system, and one without one that operates on the six basic parameters I outlined ... Such societies do not exist. ... This being so the question becomes not whether or not we "socially construct" the kinship systems we have, but why we construct the limited number of types we do out of all the possible types."

The flip side of this is that there tend to be general patterns in family structure that follow regional and racial structures, suggesting that within the basic human nature, some variation has evolved.

Cultural anthropologists didn`t want to hear that at all, so they intellectually emasculated their subject rather than follow the facts to their conclusions.