Glossary of Terms

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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- A -

abortion
removal of an embryo or fetus from its mother's uterus before it is sufficiently developed to survive. The use of intentionally induced abortions is a common birth control or birth spacing method used around the world. Abortions are usually induced surgically or chemically.
ambilocal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced residence
the residence pattern in which a newly married couple has the choice of living with or near the groom's or the bride's family.
androgynous  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the characteristic of having a blend of both masculine and feminine personality characteristics but not strongly either one.
anticipatory sororate  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a cultural pattern in which some sexual permissiveness is allowed between a man and his wife's sister in anticipation of a future marriage between them. This is usually associated with sororal polygyny.
arranged marriage
a marriage partner selection process in which the future bride and groom usually do not participate actively in the decision. Marriages are commonly arranged by parents or their agents when the marriages are seen as principally uniting two families rather than just husband and wife. There is also often the rationalization that teenagers and young adults are too inexperienced to make a wise mate selection. The tradition of arranged marriages has been dramatically undermined whenever romantic love becomes a popular notion in a society.
avunculocal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced residence
the residence pattern in which a newly married couple moves in with or near the groom's maternal uncle's house. This is strongly associated with matrilineal descent and occurs when men obtain statuses, jobs, or prerogatives from their nearest elder matrilineal male relative.
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- B -

berdache  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
see two-spirited.
bisexual  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
an individual who is sexually and/or emotionally attracted by members of the same and the opposite gender. See heterosexual and homosexual.
bride price
things of high value given by a groom to his bride's father. It is a way of showing respect for the bride and her parents. At the same time, it is a compensation for the bride's family for the loss of her economic services. It is also a way of validating the groom's right to future offspring. Bride price is most common among polygynous, small-scale, patrilineal societies--especially in sub-Saharan Africa and among Native Americans. Bride price is also referred to as "bride wealth" and "progeny price."  See dowry.
bride service
work or services done by a groom for his wife's family instead of paying a bride price. Bride service is usually for a set period of time, often years. It is a common practice in societies that have little material wealth and strong rules requiring sharing that prevent the accumulation of wealth.  Bride price as also been called "progeny price."
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- C -

caste  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
an individual's rigidly ascribed, or inherited, status within society.  In India there are 4 major castes originally based on vocation:  the Brahmans (or Hindu priests), warriors, farmers, and shop keepers.  The castes are all ranked relative to each other with the Brahmans being at the top.  In addition, there are people in India who are outside of the caste system.  These outcasts are at the bottom of society.  One's caste is extremely important in India.   People are careful to marry within their own caste and to avoid physical contact with members of lower castes because of the danger of pollution.
cross cousin
one's father's sister's children or mother's brother's children. The gender of the children is not relevant in making this distinction. See parallel cousin.

diagram of a patrilineal descent pattern with the cross and parallel cousins labeled

cross dressing
see transvestite.
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- D -

descent  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
socially recognized links between ancestors and descendents, such as the bond between children and their parents.
dowry  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
money, property, or other things of high value given by a bride's family to the groom, ostensibly to establish a new household. It is her share of the family inheritance. A dowry is, in a sense, the reverse of a bride price.
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- E -

endogamy  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a marriage partner selection rule requiring that marriage be to someone within a defined social group such as an extended family, religious community, economic class, ethnic or age group.  Selection is always further restricted by exogamy rules.
ethnocentrism  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the feeling or belief that one's own cultural patterns are superior to all others. This results in the interpretation of other people in terms of one's own cultural values and traditions. An example is people from monogamous societies condemning polygamy as being "unnatural" and immoral. Ethnocentrism is universal and normal but not necessarily morally defensible or desirable because it prevents understanding other cultures. It also interferes with meaningful intercultural communication.
exogamy  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a marriage partner selection rule requiring that marriage be with someone outside of a defined social group such as one's nuclear family. Selection is usually further restricted by endogamy rules.
extended family
two or more nuclear families tied together by bonds of descent. Usually an extended family contains living relatives from three or more generations.

extended family diagram with the nuclear families circled

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- F - 

fictive kinship  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a socially recognized link between individuals created as an expedient for dealing with special circumstances, such as the bond between a godmother and her godchild. fictive kinship bonds are based on friendship and other personal relationships rather than marriage and descent.
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- G -

gender  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
sexual identity as male or female.
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- H -

heterosexual  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
an individual who is sexually and/or emotionally attracted by members of the opposite gender from himself or herself. Heterosexuality generally refers to sexual interaction between members of the opposite gender. See bisexual and homosexual.
homosexual  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
an individual who is sexually and/or emotionally attracted by members of his or her own gender. Homosexuality generally refers to sexual interaction between members of the same gender. In North America, female homosexuals are often referred to as "lesbians" while males are known as "gays." See bisexual and heterosexual.
household
a residential group usually, but not always, consisting of members of the same family.
hunters and gatherers
people who live in more or less isolated, small-scale societies and obtain their food by foraging wild plants and hunting wild animals. Hunters and gatherers are also referred to as "foragers."
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- I - 

incest taboos  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
rules prohibiting sexual intercourse with close relatives. The prohibition includes at least members of one's nuclear family and may extend to more distant relatives in some cultures.
infanticide  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the killing of children. Extreme threat of starvation has at times forced some societies, such as the Inuit of the North American Arctic, to kill family members. When this occurred, the decision was usually to eliminate the youngest daughter because she was the least likely to add to the family's food supply. Though illegal, female infanticide does occur occasionally in India and mainland China where there is a high value placed on having sons.
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- J -

joint family
two or more relatives of the same generation living together with their respective spouses and children. Joint families typically consist of 1-2 generations. See extended family.
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- K -

kinship  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
culturally defined relationships between individuals who are commonly thought of as having family ties. Kinship is based on marriage, descent, and, occasionally, fictive relationships as well.
Koran  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the sacred book of Islam.
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- L -

large-scale society
generally a society with cities, industry, intensive agriculture, and a complex international economy. Such societies have socio-economic classes and a government with hierarchies of officials. The importance of kinship is diminished in comparison to small-scale societies.
lesbian  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a woman who is sexually attracted to other women--a female homosexual.
levirate  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a rule specifying that a widow should marry the brother of her deceased husband. This keeps the dead man's wealth and children within his family. It also continues the bond between the husband's and wife's families. This rule is most common in societies that have patrilineal descent and polygyny.
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- M -

machismo  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the Spanish and Latin American ideal of men being confident, strong, dignified, brave, overtly masculine, and sexually active. This ideal of a macho pronounce the word, or "real man", was brought to the New World from Spain and Portugal. Its ultimate origin is probably to be found in the Islamic cultural traditions of North Africa that heavily influenced the culture of the Spanish Peninsula until the end of the 1400's A.D.  See marianismo.
marianismo  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the Spanish and Latin American ideal of women being modest, restrained, virtuous, and nurturing.  Women are expected to be sexually abstinent before marriage and passive in response to their husbands' demands after marriage.  Women are expected to have sexual intercourse only with their husbands.  "Marianismo" comes from the Virgin Mary, whose life women are encouraged to emulate as a model of "proper" femininity.  See machismo.
marriage
the socially recognized union of two or more people. It is a universal method of regulating heterosexual intercourse by defining who is acceptable as a sexual partner and who is not.  Marriage establishes social relationships that are the foundation for families and households.
matricentric click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced family
a nuclear family in which there is no continuing adult male functioning as a husband and father.  This man is missing usually due to death, divorce, abandonment, or no marriage having taken place. In such families, the mother raises her children more or less alone and subsequently has the major role in their socialization.  The children of teenage or young adult daughters may also be included in the family household.  Matricentric families are also referred to as being "matrifocused" click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced.
matrilineal descent  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
unilineal descent that follows the female line.  With this pattern, people are related if they can trace descent through females to the same female ancestor.  Both males and females inherit membership in a matrilineal family line, but only females pass it on to their descendents (as shown in the diagram below).

matrilineal descent diagram

matrilocal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced residence
the residence pattern in which a newly married couple moves in with or near the bride's mother's house.  This keeps women near their female relatives, while men must leave their natal households.  Matrilocal residence is strongly associated with matrilineal descent.
monogamy   click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
marriage of one woman to one man at a time.  This is the most common marriage pattern around the world today.  If remarriage is allowed following divorce or death of a spouse, the marriage pattern could be defined as being "serial monogamy."
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- N - 

natolocal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced residence
the residence pattern in which a bride and groom remain in their own separate family's households or compounds after their marriage rather than occupy a residence together. The children born of this union usually stay in their mother's home, which becomes a de facto matricentric residence.
neolocal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced residence
the residence pattern in which a married couple establishes a new residence independent of both their relatives. This pattern is now common in North America and other industrialized nations in which the importance of kinship is minimized.
nuclear family  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a family generally consisting of a man, woman, and their children. We are born into our "nuclear family of orientation" and we have children in our "nuclear family of procreation." Parents may think of themselves as being members of both of these families at the same time. See extended family and matricentric family.

diagram of an extended family with the nuclear families of orientation and procreation circled

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- O -

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- P -

parallel cousin
one's father's brother's children or mother's sister's children.  The gender of the children is not relevant in making this distinction.  With matrilineal or patrilineal descent, parallel cousins are members of the same lineage.  See cross cousin.
diagram of a patrilineal descent pattern with parallel and cross cousins highlighted
patrilineal descent  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
unilineal descent that follows the male line.  With this pattern, people are related if they can trace descent through males to the same male ancestor.  Both males and females inherit a patrilineal family membership but only males can pass it on to their descendents.  Also known as "agnatic descent."
patrilineal descent diagram
patrilocal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced residence
the residence pattern in which a newly married couple moves in with or near the groom's father's house.  This keeps men near their male relatives, while women must leave their natal households.  Patrilocal residence is strongly associated with patrilineal descent.  Just over half of the world's societies have patrilocal residence.
polyandry  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the marriage of one woman to several men at the same time. This is a rare type of polygamy. It usually takes the form of "fraternal polyandry", which is brothers sharing the same wife.
polygamy  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the generic term for marriage to more than one spouse at the same time. It occurs as polygyny or, more rarely, polyandry.
polygyny  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the marriage of one man to several women at the same time. This is the most common form of polygamy. It often takes the form of "sororal polygyny", which is two or more sisters married to the same man.
post partum sex taboo  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a prohibition against a husband and wife having sexual intercourse for a specified period of time following the birth of a child.
progeny price  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
see bride price.
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- Q -

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- R -

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- S -

small-scale society
generally a society of a few dozen to several thousand people who live by foraging wild foods, herding domesticated animals, or non-intensive horticulture on the village level. Such societies lack cities as well as complex economies and governments. Kinship relationships are usually highly important in comparison to large-scale societies.
sodomy  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
anal or oral copulation with another person or animal. Many societies criminalize sodomy as a "crime against nature."  In modern industrial nations, homosexuals are the usual target in law enforcement for anti-sodomy laws.
sororate  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a rule specifying that a widower should marry the sister of his deceased wife. This is usually favored by their respective parents because it continues the bond between their families. Where polygyny exists, an "anticipatory sororate" is often practiced. That is to say, there is a degree of sexual permissiveness allowed between a husband and his wife's younger sister in anticipation of a presumed future marriage between them.
sub-Saharan Africa  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
the region of Africa south of the Sahara desert.
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- T -

transvestite  click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
a person who wears the clothes and bodily adornment normally associated with the other gender.  Transvestitism, or cross dressing, is not necessarily connected with homosexuality.
two-spirited
a term used to refer to North American Indian homosexual men of the Great Plains and elsewhere in the West. In the past, two-spirited men led their lives as transvestites and were given respected social statuses within their societies. Formerly, they were known by the somewhat derogatory French term "berdache", which in turn came from an Arabic word meaning a slave.  Today, some homosexual Native American women also refer to themselves as being two-spirited.
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- U -

uxorilocal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced residence
the residence pattern in which a man moves into his wife's home. If it is with her mother instead, the residence pattern is called matrilocal.
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- V -

virilocal click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced residence
the residence pattern in which a woman moves into her husband's home. If it is with his father instead, the residence pattern is called patrilocal.
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- W -

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- X -

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- Y -

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- Z -

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 08, 2009.
Copyright 1997-2009 by Dennis O'Neil. All rights reserved.
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