This research topic submitted by Ann E. Doyle ( ) on 3/2/98 .

The nature of Human Family Structure

Thesis: I would propose that family structure in societies is dependent upon the cultural context in which these structures formed and currently exist, rather than the biological necessity or Evolutionary context in which these societies formed and currently exist.

I am interested in Studying the nature of family structures both over time and where how they exist presently. There are three basic types of family structuring, all being dependent on a variety of variables.
First, there is the matriarchy that can or cannot exist with matrilineal lines of power. Matriarchy is the important familial construction here. This model suggests that a household or family is run by the wife or the women of the Home Page and hold and delegate most of the power. A matriarch is defined by Websterís as, "a female who rules or dominates a family, group, or state, specifically: a mother who is head and ruler of her family and descendants." A matriarchy is the system which is defined by this type of female organizational structure. This type of familial structure is not perceived to be "common" but has existed and does exist in some cultures. There are some writings which denounce the fact that matriarchies ever did exist or currently exist (Amoros) yet there is a widespread notion of this type of family structure prevailing especially in Native American cultures as well as plenty of "New-Age" literature that endorses this type of structure within the Home Page or group.
The next type of family power structure is the patriarchy. This model of family structure may or may not exist with patrilineal lines of power. This model suggests that a household or family is run by the husband or the men of the Home Page and hold and delegate most of the power there. A patriarchy is defined by Websterís as, "social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependents of wives and children, Ö control by men of a disproportionately large share of power." Interestingly, a patriarchy also is included as the hereditary lines are passed through the men in a family. This type of familial structure is perceived as "common" and has been recorded as such throughout history and many principle social organizations are founded on such a theory. In contemporary family structures, this type of dominance is being tested with the rise of single-parent (mothered) Home Pages and the higher mortality rates of men.
Finally, the last type of family power structure lies somewhere in between these two. Many "Western" or "Progressive" societies firmly believe that their dominant family structure is neither the patriarchy nor the matriarchy. Many families believe that they are ruled in different sectors by different members of the parental group and are therefore a combination of the two. Inheritance is many times today passed down to children of a family of both genders. Sometimes the mothers make the decisions and hold the power and sometimes the fathers make the decisions. This model of family structure is certainly new and Progressive and a threat to the long held dominance of men over women not only in the Home Page but in social organizations as well.

The point of delving into defining and researching the history of these types of familial structures is two-fold. I am interesting in seeking out what the common belief is about contemporary family structures as well as deciding where the history lies behind each. Some would assert that because men are more physically powerful, then in our developing years as humans, they ruled the Home Page. This is a biological reason for a patriarchy and sustains many beliefs as to why this form of family power still exists. On the other hand, some would argue that because women have the most parental investment in their offspring because they carry and bear the children of a household, then the power must lie with them instead. Many modern views are trying to incorporate both of these models.

Under each system of either matriarchy or patriarchy or a combination of the two, there exist the phenomenon of the power being passed on to the children of the family. I am also interested in researching how the family structure impacts familial power lines. This also has to do with the types of familial structures. There are three main types of family structures that influence how a family operates and why.
First, there is the family structure of monogamy. This structure assumes that there is one man and one women in a relationship and that their offspring are theirs alone and this constitutes their family - along with grandparents, aunts and uncles and other relations. By looking at family structures, I would be able to asses how the power of each family was structured - either matrilieally or patrilineally or some combination thereof. This would greatly impact how each society were formed and whether or not biological factors had/have anything to do with how the power structure is laid out since there are only one of each sex in this type of marital union.
Second, the family structure of polygyny will be examined. This structure assumes that there is one man married to several different wives. There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding this type of marital union yet it remain popular both in the past and in the present, especially with western defined "backwards" communities. Form a biological standpoint, this type of marital structure allows men to pass their genes on through many different women thus furthering his line and traits. I think that this type of union would be highly common in patriarchal systems of household structures an maybe the society at large in which these marriages exist.
Lastly, the family structure known as polyandry will be examined. This marital structure assumes that there is one woman with several husbands. This structure is rare and exists only with maybe three groups of observable peoples in the world. Again, from our western standpoint, this type of marital union is only found in "backwards" communities. This structure, in theory, is also more threatening to men because is supposes that women are the controllers of the family line and assumes that it is they who carry the power since they in theory, at least, would selectively choose the men they would marry to father their offspring. I am interested why this practice is so very rare and currently diminishing even among the groups which practice it. I also thought that any group practicing this type of marital union would also be a matriarchy yet Iíve found that because of the mature of the marriages, this is not always the case.

In conclusion, I am interested in Studying from both a sociobiological and a cultural standpoint the phenomenon of family structures. I am intrigued by the types of marital unions that many different communities practice and therefor the types of power structures that are involved. From preliminary research on many of these three issues, I have found that much of the data is leaning toward explaining these constructions as cultural rather than sociobiologically. The research supposes that many of even the "primitive" tribes practice their chosen marital union because of cultural needs. With the modern onslaught of "equal parenting" literature and ideology, I wonder whether this is true or not. The following are ways in which I have/will research this touch subject and try to answer some of my questions about family/marital and subsequent power structures of different cultures.

Methodology is an important aspect of researching a subject. The way in which one asks questions may slant and argument in one direction over another and can also influence many surveys for data that the researcher wants to prove rather than nondiscriminantly acquiring data.
First, I have done quite a bit of research on different types of family structures and how power manifests itself under each of these models. I would like to do more. The Journal of Comparative Family Studies has been immensely helpful as well as different anthropology journals in finding examples of different types of family structures and the lifestyles that come with them.
Second, I need to do more research on inheritance of power whether it be monetary, status or other that is passed down through these different types of family structures. I believe that this is an important step in defining how power structures influence a family and consequently how the genders are treated, either in accordance to power or not.
Finally, I would like to conduct three surveys on campus asking the general population, yes, maybe even adult types as well, about some of these questions I have raised. I am curious to know if family structures of my peers and contemporaries are what they are espousing to be in practice rather than in rhetoric (the equality of parenting thing). I would also like to gear one towards the "myth" of matriarchies and matrilineal heritage and to see what the dominant thought is on this idea today. Lastly, I would like to conduct an survey to see that people think about whether or not cultural norms shape family institutions or if the predominant thought is that out "history" and menís strength over women has determined that the majority of global marriages are predominantly either monogamous or polygynous and patriarchal. I certainly have my ideas about this last issue, as I will be trying to prove, yet I wonder what other people think.
I think that if people answer these questions honestly, I would receive a fairly reliable evidence packet. I would hope that the surveys would be done honestly and as explicitly as possible by the group.

I will analyze the material in a very simple and straightforward manner. I would simply put together groups of data on each of these areas and compile the answers. I would look empirically at the data and try to draw conclusions from said data rather than trying to "make up" results or draw false conclusions. I donít really know how to test the data since I donít have it before me currently nor do I yet have concrete questions. Iíll keep in touch and address this when reporting data.

I would hope that this would go over quite well. I have some ideas about contacts and most of my research is complete in the marital structure area. This is a huge project for me and I hope that some of my conclusions would prove insightful. I will probably modify the research and questioning as I see appropriate but I am very interested to know whether our families and the power structures within are either sociologically or culturally defined.


**These are journals that I have pulled several articles from:

American Anthropology

Critique of Anthropology

Current Anthropology

Journal of Contemporary Family Studies

Literary Review


Social Science and Medicine

many many websights on a variety of topics for preliminary research

**Other Sources:

Chinese Sociology and Anthropology vol.24 n4 1993 Summer pp.25, 54

Man in India vol.71 n1 March 1991 pp. 163-81

New York Times Magazine 119 April 21 p. 18

Womenís Studies International Forum vol.16 n6 1993 November pp. 569+

Hitchcock, John. A Mountain Village in Nepal. Holt Rinehart and Winston. New York, NY. 1980.

Jones, Rex. L. and Shirely Kurz Jones. The Himalayan Women. Mayfield Publishing Co., Palo Alto, CA. 1976.

Levine, Nancy E. The Dynamics of Polyandry. The University of Chicago Press,Chicago, IL. 1988.

Schuler, Sindney Ruth. The Other Side of Polyandry. Westview Press, London, Boulder, CO. 1987.

Watkins, Joanne C. Spirited Women. Columbia University Press, New York, NY. 1996.

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