Social Structure 2015 (Anthropology 412/812)

Social Structure: Anthropology 412/812

(Spring 2015)

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 9:30-10:20
in 111 Avery Hall

Last update: 12/14/2014
Instructor: Raymond Hames

Phone # 472-6240, 2411
Office: 836 Oldfather Hall
Office Hours:
Monday 2:00-4:30
Tuesday 8:00-9:00
Friday 8:00-9:00



This course on social organization focuses on family, marriage, and kinship in non-western society and, to a lesser extent, historic and current western societies.  The aim is to firmly ground students in anthropological concepts and theories relevant to those topics especially those with comparative and evolutionary emphasis. Much of what we know about variation in social organization comes from comparative sources such as the HRAF which documents variablity and factors that may explain such variability across time and space.  The first part of the course will be devoted to a grounding you in traditional topics and theoretical issues in the study of social organization. In the second and third segments of the course we will explore research that plays on detailed issues in sexuality, marriage, family, and kinship.  Please note that on-line readings in the weekly schedule are required readings and they are designed to accquaint you with recent findings and controversies in the field.

Research Paper
All students will be required to write research papers but requirements will differ for graduate and undergraduate students.  By the end of the 7th week you should have a basic understanding of issues and topics in social structure and this knowledge should guide your choice of a term paper.  Each student must visit me and propose a paper topic for my approval.  I should be able to help you with source materials and clarify your approach.  Sample topics include: causes of divorce, determinants of lineal descent, kin support, factors influencing mate choice, adoption, cooperative child care, determinants of female status, parental investment, etc.

Undergraduate students (412 credits) will write a 10-12 page paper while graduate students (812 credits) will write a 20-22 page paper. In addition, graduate students will present a fifteen minute oral version of their paper during the last week of class.   Most of you will write a literature review and a few may try a research paper.  The format for each can be found by clicking here.   References should be formatted following the American Anthropologist style sheet located here.  You should cite your sources properly.  This link should clarify how and why this is done: . Writing clearly is of great importance to effectively communicate your ideas.  Towards this end, I will give all the opportunity to submit a complete rough draft of your paper prior to the final paper's due date (see timing below).  Finally, all student will be required to write a 200 word abstract describing their papers to be posted on-line.  To gain an idea of what past students have done click here for paper titles and abstracts created by former students and click here for this semester's abstracts (when available).

The paper should be analytic.  That is, you will focus on a specific issue or problem (e.g., marital choice, division of labor in the family, inheritance, sexuality and gender) the relevant theoretical approaches, and empirical research along with your critical assessment of productive theories and research .   I encourage you all to be aware of what your peers are doing so that you may provide one another with support especially on topics that overlap or when one of you have a particular expertise you can offer a peer.  

Finally, academic honesty is expected of all students.  Any plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty in any exam or assignment will result in an automatic “F” for the course and I will report you to the Director of Student Judicial Affairs.

Each exam (3) will count 20% toward the final grade and the term paper will count 40%. Class participation is strongly encouraged and will be rewarded.

Students will be expected to be familiar with the assigned reading so they can contribute to class discussions. This means that one has read and taken notes on currently assigned readings for the week.  In general, I'll begin the class by highlighting the main issues in the readings by clarifying definitions, elaborating theory, and filling in empirical and historical gaps.  Later, I'll move on to empirical tests of theory, especially focusing on how a particular hypothesis was deduced, the kinds of data required, methods used to gather the data, and the outcome of the test of a particular hypothesis. You should feel free to interject comments at any time to enable me to clarify or extend what I'm talking about or to present an alternative way of dealing with a particular issue.  Indeed, I'll stimulate this process by simply asking students to give us their position on particular issues and case studies.


Sex, Gender, and Kinship, by Pasternak, Burton, Carol Ember, and Melvin Ember
(PEE=abbreviation in weekly schedule)

Social Structure in the News

Weekly Readings, Assignments, and Lecture Topics

Date: week of



1. Jan. 12

  • Introduction: family, marriage, and kinship
  • Evolution of Biparental Care

Read PEE Chapters 1-2
Read "Reared by homosexuals: The Regnerus controversy"

Read WEIRD People

2. Jan. 19

Monday is MLK Day, no class.

  • History of Social Organization
  • Status of Women
  • Demonstration of HRAF

Read PEE: Chapter 3;
Guest Lecture Dr. Kyle Gibson on "Proposition 8"
New Family Forms: Lesbian & Gay Families;
Read "Gender" on Blackboard for Social Structure.  Once on Blackboard for this course , go  "course documents", and then click on "Sanderson Readings" and click on the appropriate file (Gender).

3. Jan. 26

Bride price and dowry systems
Division of Labor and Sexual Inequality
Polygyny and Monogamy

Read PEE: Chapter 4
The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage
Read "Testosterone and Male Behavior"

Read Read "Family and Marriage" on Blackboard

4. Feb. 2

Marriage & The Incest Taboo
Cousin Marriage

Read PEE: Chapter 5-6
Read "Finding Mates" in Sanderson (pages 107-115 on incest only) on Blackboard

5.  Feb. 9

First Exam Feb. 9th
Mate Selection & Courtship, parental control  and romantic love
Quality of Marital Relationships

Read PEE: 7-8
Sanderson "Finding Mates": pages 10-54

6. Feb. 16

Divorce and Remarriage

Read PEE:9
Read NY Times on Step-mothers

7. Feb. 23

Kin Selection

8. Mar. 2 Residence, Descent, and Descent Groups
Second Exam: March 6th

Read PEE: 10-12

9. Mar. 9

The Mystery of Menopause

Read: An evolutionary perspective on menopause

10. Mar. 16

Alloparenting and Helpers
at the nest

Read Sanderson's Chapter entitled "Parenthood" on Blackboard

March. 23

Spring Break

11. Mar. 30

Trivers-Willard and preferential investment by sex

The evolution of socially imposed monogamy and problems with polygyny

12. Apr. 6

A curious problem: RS, wealth, and & modern society

Thursday: work on your papers and prepare to meet about your papers with the instructor individually next week.

Read "Status and Wealth" on Blackboard

13. Apr. 13

Third Exam: April 13th

14. Apr. 20

Discuss Term Papers with instructor: Complete rough drafts may be turned in early on 22 April for comments & preliminary grade.

Work on your papers and meet with me on your papers office hours.

15. Apr. 27

Graduate student presentations on April 29th, term paper due  May 2nd



Useful Web Sites on Social Organization and Research Tools

The University of Nebraska Library has a number of useful web resources useful for this course. 
Many can be found by clicking on this link  If you are off campus, you will be asked to log-in by entering your last name and NU ID number.  If you are on campus, the links will bring you lead directly to the site.

Of those listed on the above link the “Anthropological Literature” (from Harvard’s Tozzer Library, see below for a few more details) is the most complete listing of anthropological works in the world.  For those interested in Native Americans “Bibliography of Native North Americans” can’t be beat, and Electronic HRAF (eHRAF) is very useful for those with focused comparative research questions

There are also some useful web sites to broaden and deepen your understanding of material in this course.

Brain Schwimmer's  Kinship Tutorial
An excellent site to learn about kinship and especially kinship terminological systems and it can be found here.   
© Brian Schwimmer

Annual Review of Anthropology 
This journal is published yearly with 10-15 chapters that are bibliographic overviews of current research in all fields of anthropology.  If you want to explore recent research on a possible term paper topic (e.g., "Social Organization & Technology", "African Kinship Studies"), it is a great place to start.    It is available on-line through UNL’s library.

Kinship Sites:
General kinship (excellent gateway to kinship web sites with pdf's of published works, but quite limited)
Michael Fisher's "Calculating Kinship" Site

Anthropological Literature (Tozzer Library of Harvard University)
This site holds the contents of the Tozzer Library's anthropological collection and content listings of 876 anthropological journals!  Unfortunately, you cannot read any of them on-line.  However, it is a great place to do keyword, title, author, or topic searches and it is the most complete bibliography of anthropological literature in the world.