Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fission - Fusion and Fictive Kinships

First, allow me to preface this post with I'm exhausted. I refuse to be held responsible if this rambling is incoherent. Tell me in the morning, after I've had coffee...

In a recent discussion, some acquaintances of mine have been debating the idea of fictive or created kinships: Are marriages a blood relation or created kin? What about adopted children? What about friends who fill the void of familial relationships?

Many agree that with the industrial revolution, Western European and American culture has had to create communities to serve the purpose of extended families of the past. As we create these extended networks of friends, we move from the concrete capital of blood into the symbolic capital of friendship. Evolutionarily speaking, we all gain from these extended networks with our blood relatives as they help us navigate the waters of finding food, avoiding being food and booty (and not the Captain Jack version of booty). Additionally, it has been suggested that we are more incline to help those of our kind with whom we share a genetic link because we are in essence helping ourselves by keeping some of the same genetic material out in the pool. If I help my cousin survive, my genetic material is still present in the community because we share common grandparents.

Now, how does this evolutionary tactic extend to the modern day fictive kinship dynamic? One could argue that these fictive kinships are not evolutionarily feasible because we are not out there promoting our own genetic material. The flip side of this is that these fictive kinships help us to gain food and to avoid being eaten. So are we trading one evolutionary positive for a negative? Maybe? Maybe not?

These fictive or created kinships also provide symbolic capital to the group. They may not be providing the actual food we need but they do provide the emotional gumption to go to work-to earn the money-to go to the store-to buy the food... Now, the question is: What causes these relationships to break down and return to their original state of friends or acquaintances, or less than that? Is there some sort of stresser which reduces the symbolic capital of the community, causing the group to go through a fission. Do the times of abundance help to re-inforce the relationship and bring in others to the community-A fusion state?

Most of our primate cousins go through some sort of fission/fusion during times of stress and abundance in regards to food availability. When food is declining due to drought or human intervention- these groups of blood and fictive kinships will divide into smaller groups. It is easier for the groups to forage and provide food to these smaller groups thus eliminating some of the stress-Its easier to feed five mouths than fifteen. When the rains have arrived, and fruit (usually fruit is a preferred food amongst our cousins) has returned these primate groups return to their larger group status.

But, is that the whole story? No. These groups which had split off had to re-establish social hierarchies for food dispersal amongst the new groups. Additionally, some of the group members probably were killed off during the famine period. If one of those killed were a member of the alpha community, then others will strive to take over. Also, some members who went from a Beta member during the previous abundance period, might become an Alpha during the fission and not want to return to their lower status when the group has fused back together. Now, how does this relate to those of us with the larger brains and bipedality?

If we are going through a famine of symbolic capital from our extended created families, do we go through the same acts of fission? When we are happy with our symbolic capital, do we invite more to join our group? Since we have moved away from our blood relatives, establishing neo-local environs, are we seeking out to re-establish these relations for our own psychological needs? or our own evolutionary needs?

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