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human relationship term; web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of most humans in most societies; form of social connection
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Fraternal Love

Kinship is the most basic principle of putting individuals into social groups, roles, and categories. The basic sort of kinship is to belong to the same family by birth.



Kinship tells us how we are related to our family or each other, through our biology and history. Kinship can be a complex system of social groups. It is a universal system as everyone has a family. Some small and large scale societies use kinship not only for human reproduction but for “economic transactions, the political system and [their] religious beliefs” (J.Hendry, 1999).


The anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan invented kinship studies. In the 1850s and 1860s he watched the Iroquois, a Native American group in the Northeastern United States. He was mostly interested in what was keeping societies together. He was the first to state the different types of kinship systems that exist, in his book, called ‘Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family’.


There are two main types of kinship.

Consanguinity means to be related by blood. Laws in some countries use the amount of consanguinity between two people. For instance, deciding who is allowed to be married. It can also be used to decide who can receive property after death if there is no will. Many religions also use the amount of consanguinity to define acceptable practices.

Affinity means to be related by social processes, like marriage or adoption. There are also legal and religious definitions for acceptable amounts of affinity.


There are two types of descent involved in kinship. Patrilineal are the relations that come from the father’s blood line. Matrilineal are the relations that come from the mother’s blood line.

Examples of kinshipEdit


  • C. Delaney. (2004). ‘Relatives and Relations’: Investigating Culture. Oxford: Blackwell. p.192.
  • J. Hendry. (1999). ‘Family, Kinship and Marriage’: An Introduction to Social Anthropology. London Palgrave.
  • L. Rival. (1998). ‘Androgenous Parents and Guest Children’: The Huaorani Couvade. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol.4: p.619-642.