Kinship Past, Kinship Present: Bio-Essentialism in the Study of Kinship

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In this article, I reconsider bio-essentialism in the study of kinship, centering on David Schneider's influential critique that concluded that kinship was “a non-subject” (1972:51). Schneider's critique is often taken to have shown the limitations of and problems with past views of kinship based on biology, genealogy, and reproduction, a critique that subsequently led those reworking kinship as relatedness in the new kinship studies to view their enterprise as divorced from such bio-essentialist studies. Beginning with an alternative narrative connecting kinship past and present and concluding by introducing a novel way of thinking about kinship, I have three constituent aims in this research article: (1) to reconceptualize the relationship between kinship past and kinship present; (2) to reevaluate Schneider's critique of bio-essentialism and what this implies for the contemporary study of kinship; and (3) subsequently to redirect theoretical discussion of what kinship is. This concluding discussion introduces a general view, the homeostatic property cluster (HPC) view of kinds, into anthropology, providing a theoretical framework that facilitates realization of the often-touted desideratum of the integration of biological and social features of kinship. [bio-essentialism, kinship studies, homeostatic property cluster kinds, Schneider, genealogy].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)570-584
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


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