Alliance Theory

The Alliance Theory (or General Theory of Exchanges) is the name given to the structural method of studying kinship relations. It finds its origins in Claude Lévi-Strauss's Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949), and is opposed to the functionalist theory of Radcliffe-Brown. Alliance theory has oriented most anthropological French works until the 1980s, and its influences were felt in various fields, including psychoanalysis (who shared the belief in a universal incest taboo), philosophy and political philosophy.

The hypothesis of a "marriage-alliance" emerged in this frame, pointing out towards the necessary interdependence of various families and lineages. Weddings themselves are thus seen as a form of communication, which anthropologists such as Lévi-Strauss, Louis Dumont or Rodney Needham described for us. Alliance theory hence tries to understand the basic questions about inter-individual relations, or what constitutes society.

Alliance theory is based on the incest taboo: according to it, only this universal prohibition of incest pushes human groups towards exogamy. Thus, inside a given society, certain categories of kin are forbidden to inter-marry. The incest taboo is thus a negative prescription; without it, nothing would push men to go searching for women outside of their inner kinship circle, or vice versa. This theory echoes with Freud's Totem and Taboo (1913). But the incest taboo of alliance theory, in which one's daughter or sister is offered to someone outside a family circle, starts a circle of exchange of women: in return, the giver is entitled to a woman from the other's intimate kinship group. Thus the negative prescriptions of the prohibition have positive counterparts The idea of the alliance theory is thus of a reciprocal or a generalized exchange which founds affinity. This global phenomena takes the form of a "circulation of women" which links together the various social groups in one whole: society.

Read more about Alliance TheoryElementary Structures and Complex Structures

Other articles related to "alliance theory, alliances, theory":

Alliance Theory - Elementary Structures and Complex Structures
... According to Lévi-Strauss's alliance theory, there are two different structural "models" of marriage exchange ... wife-exchange arrangements, exogamy therefore promotes inter-group alliances and serves to form structures of social networks ... Levi-Strauss' theory is supported by fact that patrilateral cross-cousin marriage is in fact the rarest of three types ...
Critiques of Structural Anthropology
... By the late 1970s/early 1980s the heyday of alliance theory were over ... the structural significance of affinal ties, alliance theory effectively neglected the importance of descent and genealogical ties ... In others, alliances are of primary significance, as in e.g ...
The Structural Anthropology of Lévi-Strauss
... Further information Alliance theory Lévi-Strauss took many of his ideas from structural linguistics (Ferdinand de Saussure--who saw in the structure of ... on vertical social relations, Lévi-Strauss' model of kinship systems came to be called alliance theory ... wife-exchange arrangements, exogamy therefore promotes inter-group alliances and serves to form structures of social networks ...

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