views updated May 18 2018

phratry In many pre-industrial societies, social organization is based on kinship groups through descent in either the male or female line, but these kinship groups are then aggregated according to non-kinship principles into larger groups which (in some cases) the anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan termed ‘phratries’. Examples include several American Indian and Australian Aboriginal tribes. In other societies, extended kinship groups include the clan (usually a matrilineal descent group), and gens (patrilineal descent group). It is now common to designate as phratries any grouping or association of clans which recognize some relationship to each other. Often, therefore, phratries are organized around either a division of labour or distinct ritual functions. Moieties (the division of societies into two groups, based on any principle, such that there is a dual organization of the whole) are a particular form of phratry. However, all of these terms are subject to the vicissitudes of context, and have sensibly been used in very different ways. Students of kinship groups therefore have to live with a great deal of variation in the use of (sometimes poorly chosen) terminology—and are strongly advised to verify specific definitions and usage in particular circumstances.