Paradoxes of Affiliation in the Contemporary Family.

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      In the segmentary societies that ethnologists have been studying for more than a century, descent is a fundamental principle closely concerned with social organization. It stands for an individual's incorporation into the social group by a blood tie and often proceeds in unilineal fashion, with transmission affected either solely through men or women. When descent is cognatic, as in modern western society, no distinction is made between maternal and paternal relatives. At least in theory, an individual can identify from him or herself as descending simultaneously from his or her four grandparents; nothing obliges a person to choose one side or the other. With the cognatic descent that characterizes highly differentiated modern societies, the individual enjoys a certain latitude. Logically, then, the collective nature of descent diminishes, which means that descent as the principle of kinship transmission can no longer engender authentic kinship groups. Through the subjectivist affiliation characteristic of the contemporary family, two opposed conceptions of the family tie, and more broadly, the social tie, seek to be reconciled with each other: on the one hand, the modern ideal of the social tie, freely chosen by an autonomous individual; on the other, an assigned membership that situates that same individual within a world order.