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Structure and Function in Primitive Society

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Radcliffe-Brown is a representative of modern British structural functionalism and sociocultural anthropology. His work “Structure and Function in Primitive Society” is dedicated to the classical problems of social anthropology, among which are systems of kinship in primitive societies. One of the articles poses the problem of relations between mother’s brother and sister’s son. Radcliffe-Brown advances a new approach that differs from Junod’s hypothesis but at the same time that relies on it. Radcliffe-Brown develops his conception taking into consideration the traditions of BaThonga, Nama and Thonga tribes.

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Radcliffe-Brown declines the explanation of Junod, who perceives the opportunity to interpret the customs connected with mother’s brother in assuming the existence of matriarchal institutes in these societies in the past. According to Radcliffe-Brown, the notions of matriarchy and patriarchy are very difficult and relative, but not absolute. Primitive societies are neither matriarchal nor patriarchal. Some of them are closer to the first type of society, some - to the second. Even in patriarchal societies some social significance is given to the kinship, which is traced trough the mother.  Therefore the first principle that forms the background of Radcliffe-Brown’s conception is that in the majority of primitive societies the regulation of social relations is based on the kinship. This regulation is provided with the formation of a valid and determined behavioral stereotypes for the interaction between every category. That is why social anthropology is aimed at discovery and explanation of such tendencies.  

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The most typical principle of Kins’ classification in primitive societies, pursuant to the author, is the principle of equivalence of brothers that means the similar attitude to the brothers or sisters of the person. In more developed societies this principle is extrapolated on the attitude towards mother’s and father’s relatives. If we conceive the specific of patriarchal society, which is reflected in the respectful and subordinate attitude to the father and expectations of tenderness and leniency from the mother, and incorporate it in the conception of primitive societies with their behavioral patterns based on the kinship, it will be difficult to define their sociocultural practice due to the sex belonging. Therefore A. Radcliffe- Brown points out some goals which sociaal anthropology has to be ready to face up to and work out. Firstly the problem of the behavior of mother’s-brother in interactions with the members of matriarchal societies has to be investigated. The behavior of the person in the relations with other relative from the side of the mother and with the whole kindred mother’s group has to be also examined. It will not be difficult if we accept the hypothesis proposed by Radcliffe-Brown that in primitive society the tendency to identify individual with the group that he belongs to is really strong.

In addition to everything of the above mentioned, Radcliffe-Brown emphasizes the significance of ceremonial, ritual customs in primitive society. They are the reflection of the relations between the members of a certain society and are aimed at maintenance a social stability, order and harmony via enactment in rituals some aspects of the relations between, for example, mother’s brother and sister’s son. 

Realizing the problems that have to be solved Radcliffe-Brown considers his theory is based on the hypothesis which doesn’t pretend to be the genuine truth because it has many aspects to be developed and defined more precisely.

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