This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue.
The vast majority of Freelance Traveller’s readership come from Western European-derived backgrounds, postindustrialization, where the primary kinship structure is that of the nuclear family, or possibly the extended family. Many are well-read enough to be aware of the existence some other structures, and possibly have a basic idea of what those structures are. This Jotting is intended as a brief overview of kinship structures, some real-world, others documented in fiction. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list, or to present a comprehensive view of any individual structure; it is merely a starting point for one’s own efforts to flesh them out, or for further research. Recommended reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinship
- Nuclear family: Familiar to most readers, the nuclear family is a two-generation, close-consanguinuity structure: parents and children. The parents are related by marriage or a similar partnership agreement; the children are related by blood (direct descent) from both parents.
- Extended family: Additional generations and/or avuncular consanguinuity are added to the nuclear family.
- Lines or Lineages is used here, somewhat inaccurately, to refer to a group of families that, over the course of several generations, maintain a single name and traceable blood relationship. All of the currently-living members of a line can be collectively viewed as a ‘hyperextended’ family.
Clan is a badly-defined word, used for many structures that are only
superficially similar. The superficial similarity can generally be
described as ‘a set of nuclear and/or extended families that may not be
closely consanguinous in the currently-living generations, but which all
claim descent, either actual or fictive (‘stipulated’), from a ‘founding
member’ or ‘apical ancestor’’. See
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clan (especially links to specific instances), but also see specific
- The canonical example is that of the Scottish clans. Actual or stipulated blood ties to the Chieftain of the clan is not necessary; families that look to the Chieftain’s family for protection or other solidarity (‘septs’) are considered members of the clan, and subject to the Chieftain’s authority.
- In the Liaden UniverseŽ by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Liaden society is organized around what are called clans. Membership is not universal; there are lines that are not known to be incorporated into clans. In general, a clan consists of two lines, collectively exogamous in the general case (but under certain circumstances [‘lifemates’] endogamy within the clan but across lines may be accepted). A mutual common ancestor to both lines is not required; rather, it is acknowledged that the lines are separate and that the founding of the clan was a conscious act between apical ancestors of each line.
- In the Jao Empire series by Eric Flint, K.D.Wentworth, and David Carrico, the Jao kochan is actually a fairly good match for the technical definition of ‘clan’, though there are strong indications that rather than a single apical ancestor, they claim descent from a small group. Kochan are strictly endogamous, and there are facial markings of genetic origin that the knowledgeable observer can associate with specific kochan. The Jao also have a structure called a taif that is functionally identical to a kochan, but lacks the experience to self-manage within Jao society. A taif is under the sponsorship of a kochan, but will eventually become a kochan in its own right, affiliated with the kochan that sponsored it.
- The Luriani familial ami (the term is also used for e.g., the crew of a ship) appears to be a hybrid structure similar in some ways to the Liaden clan, and in other ways to something that partakes of some of the elements of both the nuclear family and the extended family. Recommended reading: Mongoose Publishing, Minor Alien Module 1: Luriani; Freelance Traveller, Funny Fish
- House Societies are difficult to explain; it is perhaps best to refer the reader to the linked Wikipedia article for an explanation. Some discussion of uncertain canonicity suggests that elements of this model are present in the Vilani ‘caste’ system.
- Caste: Key to the definition of caste are social stratification, limited or no mobility, (usually mandatory) endogamy, and ritual inclusion/exclusion based on notions of purity/pollution. The Vilani ‘caste’ system does not appear canonically to have the two latter features, though some canonical material suggests that the first two are strongly present. Start with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste, and search the web for Vilani with other keywords that would tend to limit the search to Traveller-related pages.
- Tribe: Weakly consanguinous, may be either exogamous or endogamous. Common ancestor may not be acknowledged, or may be fictive (e.g., divine or animal descent). Often strongly associated with place, and may consist of several units generally described as clans, but usually more like hyperextended families. The Biblical “Twelve Tribes of Israel” would, given their ostensible origin, be more accurately described as ‘clans’ in the technical sense.
It should be noted that adoption is a possibility in any of these basic structures, though specific instances (e.g., Jao kochan) may restrict or disallow it. Under most circumstances, an adoptive member of the kinship structure is treated as a blood relative.