Branly talk and DVD/Video for October

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Powerpoint pen use in presentations -- MacBook -- [HSC]

Claude Lévi-Strauss Centennial - alive and kicking


Kinship Computing and Complexity: Cohesion, Class and Community


P-systems are models of the empirical elementary relations of marriage and parentage in kinship networks that, to capture the general principles and empirical diversity of human kinship, use the formal representation of graphs embedded within the nodes of other graphs. These include descent nodes that embed descent-group members at various fractal levels in a tree of descent, the reproductive units or marriage nodes that encapsulate couples and the nuclear families that arise from them, and the easily demarcatable units of structural endogamy created by marital relinking. The connections between the nodes at the outer level such as marriage nodes in a P-system are especially useful in the analysis of marriage and descent, while at inner level we can describe how individuals are embedded in the kinship structure.

As shown in White and Johansen's (2006) ethnographic case study, P-system network formalisms capture not only nomographic conceptual distinctions, as between Lévi-Strauss (1949) in the theory of marriage alliance, Murdock (1949) in the extensionist theory of kinship, or Bourdieu (1977) and Harrison White (2008) in the theory of embedded social practices, but also the contrastive ideographic perspectives of different kin systems. Painstakingly concrete but formalized mathematically, P-systems, notably P-graphs and Tipp-graphs, provide a means to study how discrete changes occur over time in the elements and relational patterns of kinship systems. P-systems synthesize key elements of many different theoretical approaches, including those of complex systems, rather than endorsing favored theories. This talk presents examples of the network analyses of empirical kinship networks and what they can show us in terms of general social theory.

Within the field of kinship computing, P-systems (Harary and White 2001) incorporate and generalize the P-graph kinship network analysis of White and Jorion (1992) which traces back to a number of Parisian precursors (Weil, Guilbaud, ...). Kinship computing has contributed a wide range of substantive contributions that are reviewed here. White and Houseman (

Bourdieu P. 1977 Outline of a Theory of Practice. // Harary F, and White D. 2001 P-Systems: A Structural Model for Kinship Studies. Connections // Lévi-Strauss C. 1949 Elementary Structures of Kinship. // Murdock G. 1949 Social Structure. // White D. and Houseman 2002 The Navigability of Strong Ties: Small Worlds, Tie Strength and Network Topology Complexity // White D. and Johansen 2006. Network Analysis and Ethnographic Problems. // White D. and Jorion 1992. Representing and Analyzing Kinship: A network approach. Current Anthropology // White H. 2008 (2nd Edition) Identity and Control: How Social Formations Occur.


graphs embedded within the nodes of other graphs

Marriage structure: e.g., the "motif" nodes of Tipp for marriage types, which point to subsets of nodes involved in relinking marriages.
Descent structure: e.g., nodes for lineages and sublineages

segregation of higher level descent and marriage structure from nuclear family structure

 and lineage/sublineage fractality are among the other kinds of graph embeddedness captured by P-systems.