Revisiting the evolution of kinship

27 February - 1 March 2019

Australian National University, Canberra

Kinship is central to social life, bringing together the biological facts of reproduction and relatedness with the social facts of how family relationships are categorised. The evolution of more complex systems is likely to have played a key role in expanding the social universe of early humans or their hominin forebears.

Kinship has also played a central role in the fields of anthropology and linguistics, as (among other things):

  • a likely source of data for the relatedness of human groups 
  • a testing ground for the plasticity of organised semantic systems 
  • a demonstration of the complexity and elegance of conceptual systems in many hunter-gatherer societies (e.g. Australian) 
  • an ideal place to study the linked evolution of terminological and jural/social systems (e.g. cousin terms and marriage rules). 

For studies of kinship as a cognitive technology, its intricate systems present opportunities to examine how humans engage in complex social reasoning embodying recursive categories. From these heartlands, the relevance of kinship stretches out to the points of contact, in genetics, between biological systems of descent and social regulation of mating, and, in primatology, to the gradual extension of individual-recognition beyond the most immediate kin.

This workshop will bring together experts from all the above fields and more in order to examine the evolution of kinship systems from the pre-human through the early human to attested human societies. 

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University