I am currently preparing a doctoral thesis on this subject under the supervision of Christophe Darmangeat (Université Paris Cité, LADYSS)
Through the symmetrization of paternal and maternal families, bilateral kinship generates a certain type of social relationship, centered on individual and conjugal autonomy, and more broadly a political organization, in this case a state formula, which is expected to implement pacification, protection and public service. Based on observation of the rural territory of Isandra, in the Highlands of Madagascar, the present study will seek to explain the resilience of bilateral kinship, both as an organizing principle of a highly autonomous peasant society and as a guiding idea of what is expected of the nation-state.
By cross-referencing the level of cultural complexity with the principle of descent, Georges Murdock has observed that societies with bilateral kinship
are found at both the simplest and most complex levels, while unilinear systems essentially occupy the intermediate levels. Murdock deduces from the first point (the simplest systems are essentially bilateral) that bilaterality predates over the other systems. The second point (the strong presence of bilaterality at the most complex level) remains to be explained.
The present work aims to explore
this bimodality of bilateral kinship, and in particular to account for the second point - the close relationship between bilateral kinship and complex social organization, in this case the state.
The aim here is not to provide an exhaustive demonstration of this relationship and its causes, but to grasp its concrete expression:
- in its day-to-day operation
, at the level of the family, the local community and the State and its services,
- in its historical movement
, through a non-linear sequence of political organization models developed in response to various tensions and disruptions.
To this end, we will focus on a field that makes visible the properties of bilateral kinship both in its local expression and in its large-scale political evolutions. This is the Isandra district, a peasant territory located in the Highlands of Madagascar
Centered on the autonomous conjugal cell (bilaterality), this society is structured around ritual gatherings
organized at kinship and local level, which maintain intervillage networks
mediated by married women. The Malagasy state, which takes a back seat but plays an essential role, produces a supralocal unity
and manages security, health and education, with varying degrees of success. This system emerged after several centuries of chronic insecurity, and today the territory functions by combining local autonomy based on conjugality and a peacemaking, unifying nation-state.
Finally, we propose a general hypothesis
that attempts to account for the anthropological processes underlying the observation of Murdock and his Malagasy incarnation. By mobilizing related men around war, unilinear systems weaken conjugal cells and marginalize women. Conversely, complex bilateral societies rely on the organization of military activity outside the kinship sphere, thus preserving the independence of nuclear families for the benefit of the general dynamics of society. Bilaterality thus seems to favor the emergence of the state in its inclusive form, making possible both public service and individual autonomy