According to Bonvillain (2010: 211), family is a “basic unit of economic cooperation and stability” that generally includes at least one parent or parent substitute and children. Families provide both economic and social support for its members. It is the primary group responsible for rearing children and is where the enculturation process begins (enculturation refers to the process of learning the culture we are born into). The children in the family are not always the biological offspring. Through the process of adoption, other family members or strangers may adopt children who have lost their biological parents. This practice ensures that children without parents are cared for and not a burden on the rest of society. In some places, children are “adopted out” due to economic hardships facing the family.
Postmarital Residence Patterns
One thing that may help define a family is their place of residence after the parents are married. There are several types of residence patterns:
Patrilocal: In this residence pattern the newlyweds live with or near the husband’s family. This is the most common form found in the world. It is common in societies where solidarity of the male group is important; e.g., where there is heavy labor to be done or frequent warfare. Many cultures in the Persian Gulf region and North Africa are patrilocal.
Matrilocal: This, the 2nd most common residence pattern, is found in societies where the newly married couple moves in with or near the bride’s family. This is found in gardening societies (horticulturalists) or groups where warfare occurs with distant peoples and not near neighbors. The Hopi of the American Southwest are one example of a matrilocal group.
Bilocal (ambilocal): This type of residence pattern is the bilocal or ambilocal pattern. In this practice the bride and groom pick which family to go live with or near. It is found in societies where extended kin networks important and where land may be limited. The !Kung Bushmen are bilocal.
Neolocal: For this residence pattern, which is common in industrial societies, newlyweds live separate from both the bride and groom’s parents. They are economically independent from their parents. With the export of American culture through modern development, the neolocal residence pattern is becoming increasingly widespread.
Avunculocal: This residence pattern is found only in matrilineal societies like the Trobriand Islanders where men of the family must be cohesive. Usually it forms when warfare is not uncommon, but the threat is at some distance. This pattern is characterized by the newlyweds living in or near the house of groom’s mother’s brother.
Ahern, Susan and Kent G. Bailey. 1996. Family By Choice, Creating Family in a World of Stranger. Minneapolis: Fairview Press.
Bonvillain, Nancy. 2010. Cultural Anthropology, 2nd edition. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
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