Claiming Kin Symposium 2013

Symposium Talks

Stephanie Coontz (Evergreen State College)

It’s me or the in-laws!:
The Rocky Relationship between Couples and Kin

This talk will discuss the social origins and evolution of marriage, from an institution in the service of kinship, where the claims of the marriage were subordinate to the claims of parents and other kin, to one that came to compete with kinship for people's loyalty and attention. I will also discuss the tremendous variation in societal expectations of love and obligation both for partners and for blood relatives.

Martin Daly (University of Missouri)

Kinship mitigates violent conflict

Contemporary understanding of the evolutionary process suggests that all creatures, including human beings, have been "designed" by Darwinian selection to be de facto "nepotists" whose attributes are organized in such a way as to promote the survival, well-being, and eventual reproduction of their genetic relatives. From this perspective, the purported ubiquity of family violence is puzzling. Are theories of social evolution relevant to modern human behavior, and in particular to interpersonal violence? I will present results of a variety of studies showing that the answer is "yes".

Charmaine Royal (Duke University)

(Re)Conceptualizing Identity and Kinship:
Insights from genetic ancestry testing

The direct-to-consumer (DTC) offering of genetic and genomic ancestry tests has attracted a broad range of consumers and inspired a growing body of academic and popular literature on the implications of the testing. Despite the increased interest and scholarship, there is a dearth of empirical data to enhance our understanding of the personal and societal impact of ancestry testing and to guide the development of best practices or policies. This presentation of findings from a multi-site study of participants in genetic ancestry testing highlights the potential role of genetic information in affirming or disrupting longstanding notions of ancestry, ethnicity, race, and kinship.

David Haig (Harvard University)

My mother’s kin are not my father’s kin:
Genomic imprinting in human development

We all receive a set of genes from our mother and a set from our father. These two sets of genes are subject to different evolutionary forces in interactions within families. This results in an internal genetic conflict. The expression of this conflict in fetal and childhood development will be discussed.

Charis Thompson (University of California, Berkeley)

Unlikely Dish Fellows:
The Biotech Mode of Reproduction and the Question of Too Much Heterosex

New reproductive technologies are currently being explored to prevent the transmission from mother to child of debilitating mitochondrial disorders. These techniques aim to replace maternal mitochondrial DNA with donor mDNA, and they thereby introduce a third genetic / biological parent into a child’s parentage. While societies generally police reproduction socially to prevent both too much homosex (things like homosexuality, incest, and cloning) and too much heterosex (things like miscegenation, adultery, and interspecies), mDNA transfer technologies would seem to introduce a radical new form of heterosex. In this talk, I consider these techniques in light of the general trend to more disclosure around the genetic origins of donor-conceived children. When and why does the use of third-party genetic material designate some kind of parent-child identity and rights nexus, and when and why not? What are the implications of these kinds of genetic mixing on kinship for citizenship, forensics, therapeutics, and enhancement within and across borders?

Barbara Natterson (University of California, Los Angeles)

What Animal Psychopathology Can Teach Us About Human Mental Health

It is increasingly recognized that the mental processes and behavior of animals from mammals to birds to reptiles can become dysregulated. Examples of psychopathology in animals include self-injuring syndromes in mustangs, parrots, and dogs, compulsive grooming in cats, birds, and reptiles, psychogenic sexual dysfunction in stallions, and psychotropic substance seeking behavior in wallabies, waxwing birds, bighorn sheep, and many other animals. This burgeoning awareness of psychopathology in animals species offers novel insights into the nature and evolutionary origins of mental health and illness in contemporary humans.

Theresa Kelley (University of Wisconsin)

Figuring Kinship: Erasmus Darwin's Botanical Monsters

A tireless inventor who participated in provincial scientific communities in late eighteenth-century England, Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, experimented with and speculated about changing forms of life in scientific papers and literary works. His first poem, The Botanic Garden (1789-1792), combines verse and copious notes to illustrate the "sexual system" of Linnaean botany. Yet Darwin's poem turns away from Linnaeus’s fixed species and hierarchies to contend that plant traits such as "respiration" create kinships between plants and animals, including humans. Darwin's poetic personifications provide arresting justifications for the scientific claims that cycle between his verse and his notes. Darwin’s figures are not simply illustrations but hypotheses that collectively insist on their necessary and conceptual contribution to the conversation between science and literature that begins in the romantic era and continues into our present.

Robert Walker (University of Missouri)

Multiple Fathers in Lowland South America

Most people’s paternity beliefs match the biologically-correct version that a child only has one father. However, in most traditional indigenous societies in lowland South America, a common conception belief is that more than one man can contribute to the formation of a fetus. This practice is known as partible paternity and is characterized by non-exclusive mating relationships and various institutionalized forms of recognition and investment by multiple co-fathers. Partible paternity beliefs are nearly ubiquitous in several large language families in the lowlands, which suggests an evolutionary history of partible paternity that may extend back at least 5,000 years. This talk investigates the potential benefits of partible paternity through a comparative study of lowland societies. Partible paternity likely brings benefits for both men and women, especially in those societies where essentially all offspring are said to have multiple fathers.

Bernard Chapais (University of Montreal)

How kinship created human society

Kinship is certainly undergoing profound changes in contemporary societies with the development of composite families, same-sex marriage and other phenomena, but far from lessening the effect of kinship on social life, those cultural novelties are generating new social contexts in which kinship continues to markedly affect social relationships. Kinship is an integral part of our evolutionary heritage. In our close relatives, the nonhuman primates, the importance of kinship is such that it may, alone, determine the whole structure of power relations in a group. In humans, the importance of kinship is even greater. Both the extent and social significance of human kinship networks are unparalleled in other primates. Interestingly, this appears to reflect not so much our unique cognitive abilities as the characteristics of our social structure. I shall argue that the evolution of pair-bonding and the human family, and their consequences on kin recognition, created the very foundation of human society.

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