Alliance Theory of Kinship Sociology YouTube Lecture Handouts

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Title: Alliance Theory of Kinship

Alliance Theory of Kinship by Levi Strauss: Incest Taboo, Circle of Exchange | Sociology


  • Claude Levi-Strauss
  • Known as the general theory of exchange
  • Elementary Structures of Kinship, 1949
  • How inter-individual relationships are woven and how they constitute society
  • Study of kinship systems which exemplify positive marriage like cross-cousin marriage rules


  • Part of social anthropology
  • Theoretical point of view
  • Focus on the importance of marriage in society as opposed to the importance of descent
  • Based on the exchange of women between groups of related men which gives greater social solidarity, better cohesion, better chances of survival of the members of the kin group
  • According to him regulating of marriages through prescription and preference creates an exchange of women in simple societies
  • It also involves exchange of gifts which ensures cooperation of members of the group

Views on Incest Taboo

  • Alliance theory is based on incest taboo
  • Link between nature and culture
  • Culture controls human behaviour
  • Sex is regulated by culture
  • Man is a cultural entity
  • It is this prohibition of incest that led human groups to follow exogamy.
  • Lévi-Strauss viewed this prohibition as beyond any sociological explanation and clearly shows a difference between consanguinity and affinity as the basis of kinship system.
  • Studied the relation between consanguinity and affinity in non-European societies
  • Opposite and complementary to each other
  • Such rules in fact rise due to the connection between blood ties and affinal ties.

Circle of Exchange of Women

  • Marriage as a process of exchange by Strauss
  • A daughter or sister is sent to a different family
  • Positive marriage rules regulate the exchange
  • Gives birth to elementary structures

Types of Exchange

Restricted Exchange

  • Two groups of men exchange women (for example, their sisters) .
  • Direct and immediate reciprocity

Generalized Exchange

  • Three or more groups exchanging women in one direction
  • Delayed and indirect exchange
  • Higher possibilities

Models of Structure

Two models to study kinship and exchange in marriage:

  • Elementary structures of kinship: When women in the ego՚s group are proposed to another eligible for exchange
  • Complex structures of kinship: When the group of potential spouses for the women are not known and kept open in the ego՚s group, excluding close kin like the immediate family, an uncle, etc.


Q. 1. The alliance theory of Levi Strauss has much similarity with:

1. Totem and Taboo by Freud

2. The Theory of Social Structure by Nadel

3. Kinsman concept of Radcliffe Brown

4. None of these

Answer: 1

Q. 2. Read the paragraph and answer the question:

“Because women were unique in value, reciprocity ensured that men who gave their sisters away in marriage would in turn receive the sister (or sisters) of one or more other men.”

The paragraph discusses about which concept of Strauss?

1. Incest taboo

2. Principle of reciprocity

3. Structure of kinship

4. Exchange of gifts

Answer: 2

Q. 3. Who has done the analytical assessment of alliance theory?

a. Rodney Needham

b. Louis Dumont

c. W. Rivers

d. McLennan


1. C only

2. D and b only

3. A only

4. A and b only

Answer: 4

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