SIDEDNESS, 60 MILLION STRONG: Where the Exception is the Rule

Douglas R. White (UC Irvine) and Michael Houseman (Paris EPHE)

Abstract of presentation for the American Anthropological Association 2001

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early generations

Pul Eliya

later generations

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Sidedness is a concept of dual organization at the behavioral level in marriage networks, discoverable by network analysis (White and Jorion 1996). Through examples in South Asia, Australia and elsewhere, sidedness in marriage networks is shown to be much more widespread than moiety organization. Sidedness may instead self-organize via network interaction into a statistical pattern that "goes without saying" and that emerges from the convergent effect of a whole series of "diametricalizing" tendencies (political rivalries, ceremonial dualism, parallel lines of inheritance or transmission of status, emergent patterns in marriage choices, etc). Reviews of the network approach to sidedness and other features of social organization appear in L'Homme (Barry 2000a,b) and elsewhere. Failure to detect this type of dual organization in marriage behavior may result from the way ethnographers associate dual organization with hereditary moieties. Sidedness is an indicator of symmetric exchange between different segments of a society which for Dravidian societies, conquered from the north thousands of years ago, helped preserve relative autonomy of local quasi-egalitarian social organization, and may have provided robust resistance to assimilation to a dominant ideology of stratification.

Marriage network analysis of ethnographic studies in South Asia shows Dravidian network sidedness as a complex emergent structure in which marriage behavior matches an egocentered dual organization of kinship terminology (Houseman and White 1998), long thought to lack a matching two-sided structure at the behavioral level. The phenomenon of sidedness may be widespread among speakers of Dravidian languages, who number over 160 million (a high outer limit for sidedness in South Asia: Kannada, Tamil, Tulu, Gondi and Telugu linguistic subfamilies in India and Sri Lankai numbering 30M, 44M, 1.5M, 2.5M and 53M respectively). Analysis of marital networks in present-day "settled" Australian Aboriginal populations (Houseman 1997) suggests another pattern of sidedness in the absence of any terminological dual organization. The existence of a such flexible but sided behavioral structures in marriage choices has gone virtually undetected among ethnographers of Dravidian-language societies in South Asia or of "settled" groups of Aboriginal Australians.


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This research was supported under NSF Grant BCS-9978282.