George Murdock and the Family

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[This article is part of a longer article. Download the whole article in its original format.] George Murdock advanced the thesis in Social Structure that the family was a universal social institution found in all societies. His claim was based on his study of 250 societies of all kinds - from small hunting communities to industrial societies. He definition of a family indicates that it is a social group that lives together, shares resources, works as a unit and rears children. In a family there are at least two adult members that conduct a sexual relationship that is tolerated by the norms of the society they live in. The smallest family unit is known as the nuclear family - and consists of a husband and wife and their children. If other individuals are included in the family, then the family is called an extended family. Extensions to the nuclear family can take the form of (a) vertical extensions - including other generations, such as the parents of the spouses; or (b) horizontal extensions - including members of the same generation as the spouses - such as the wife's brother. There have been challenges to the thesis that the family is universal. For example, Kathleen Gough studied the Nayar of Kerala in Southern India prior to the establishment of the British Raj in 1792. In this society marriage took the form of a ritual connecting a girl to another Nayar man, but partners of such a marriage did not cohabit, and the wife had only one duty, which was to attend the funeral of her husband and mourn his death. This unusual marriage rite is connected to the fact that Nayar men were professional mercenaries and were often absent from their villages. On return to their village they were allowed to have sexual relations with any of the women in the village, provided they were of lower or equal caste than themselves. Such relations were known as sandbanham wives. A man could have an unlimited number of such relations, but a woman was expected to limit the number to...
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