where do clans come from?

in “Family Structure, Institutions, and Growth: The Origins and Implications of Western Corporations,” stanford economist avner greif wrote [pgs. 308-09]:

“There is a vast amount of literature that considers the importance of the family as an institution. Little attention, however, has been given to the impact of the family structure and its dynamics on institutions. This limits our ability to understand distinct institutional developments — and hence growth — in the past and present. This paper supports this argument by highlighting the importance of the European family structure in one of the most fundamental institutional changes in history and reflects on its growth-related implications.

“What constituted this change was the emergence of the economic and political corporations in late medieval Europe. Corporations are defined as consistent with their historical meaning: intentionally created, voluntary, interest-based, and self-governed permanent associations. Guilds, fraternities, universities, communes, and city-states are some of the corporations that have historically dominated Europe; businesses and professional associations, business corporations, universities, consumer groups, counties, republics, and democracies are examples of corporations in modern societies….

“In tracing the origins of the European corporations, we focus on their complementarity with the nuclear family. We present the reasons for the decline of kinship groups in medieval Europe and why the resulting nuclear family structure, along with other factors, led to corporations. European economic growth in the late medieval period was based on an unprecedented institutional complex of corporations and nuclear families, which, interestingly, still characterizes the West. More generally, European history suggests that this complex was conducive to long-term growth, although we know little about why this was the case or why it is difficult to transplant this complex to other societies….

“The conquest of the Western Roman Empire by Germanic tribes during the medieval period probably strengthened the importance of kinship groups in Europe. Yet the actions of the church caused the nuclear family — consisting of a husband and wife, children, and sometimes a handful of close relatives — to dominate Europe by the late medieval period.

The medieval church instituted marriage laws and practices that undermined kinship groups…. The church … restricted marriages among individuals of the same blood (consanguineous marriages), which had historically provided one means of creating and maintaining kinship groups….

“European family structures did not evolve monotonically toward the nuclear family, nor was their evolution geographically or socially uniform (Greif, 2006, chap. 8).** By the late medieval period, however, the nuclear family was dominant. Even among the Germanic tribes, by the eighth century the term ‘family’ denoted one’s immediate family and, shortly afterwards, tribes were no longer institutionally relevant. Thirteenth-century English court rolls reflect that even cousins were as likely to be in the presence of nonkin as with each other. The practices the church advocated (e.g., monogamy) are still the norm in Europe. Consanguineous marriages in contemporary Europe account for less than 1 percent of the total number of marriages, in contrast to Muslim and Middle Eastern countries where such marriages account for between 20 and 50 percent per country (Alan H. Bittles, 1994). Among the anthropologically defined 356 contemporary societies of Euro-Asia and Africa, there is a large and significant negative correlation between the spread of Christianity (for at least 500 years) and the absence of clans and lineages; the level of commercialization, class stratification, and state formation are insignificantly correlated (Andrey V. Korotayev, 2003).”
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the presence (or absence) of clans in societies is somehow connected to the mating patterns of societies. in fact, it seems to be that a whole range of kinship-based societal types is somehow connected to a whole range of mating patterns: the “closer” the mating patterns in a society, the more “clannish” it tends to be — the more distant the mating patterns, the less “clannish.”

so we see a spectrum of “clannish” societies ranging from the very individualistic western societies characterized by nuclear families and, crucially, very little inbreeding (cousin marriage, for instance) to very tribal arab or bedouin societies characterized by nested networks of extended families and clans and large tribal organizations and having very high levels of inbreeding (specifically a form of very close cousin marriage which increases the degree of inbreeding). falling somewhere in between these two extremes are groups like the chinese whose society is built mostly around the extended familiy but in some regions of china also clans — or the medieval scots (especially the highland scots) whose society for centuries was built around the clan (h*ck, they even coined the term!). these “in-betweener” groups are, or were, characterized by mid-levels of inbreeding (typically avoiding the very close cousin marriage form of the arabs).

furthermore, not only do the degrees of extended family-ness/clannish-ness/tribal-ness in societies seem to be connected to the degrees of inbreeding in those societies, the degrees of “clannism” also seem to be connected to the degree of inbreeding — the more inbreeding, the less civicness, the less democracy, the more corruption, and so on.

it’s not clear what exactly the mechanism(s) behind this inbreeding-leads-to-clannishness pattern is, but since mating patterns are involved, and mating is a very biological process, it seems likely (to me anyway) that the explanation is something biological — i.e. some sort or sorts of evolutionary process/es — like natural selection — resulting in different/different degrees of behavioral traits related to “clannism” in different populations with inbreeding acting as a sort of accelerant for those processes.

clans and clannism, then, are not things that peoples “fall back on” in the absence of a state as mark weiner suggests in The Rule of the Clan [kindle locations 106-108]:

“[I]n the absence of the state, or when states are weak, the individual becomes engulfed within the collective groups on which people must rely to advance their goals and vindicate their interests. Without the authority of the state, a host of discrete communal associations rush to fill the vacuum of power. And for most of human history, the primary such group has been the extended family, the clan.”

rather, people’s attachments to their extended families/clans/tribes — and, more importantly, their tendencies towards clannish behaviors — are likely innate behaviors. and those behaviors likely vary, on average, between populations since (long-term) mating patterns have varied — and, indeed, still vary — between populations.

such innate behaviors cannot be changed overnight — certainly not within a generation or even two (evolution does take some amount of time — but not, necessarily, extremely long amounts of time either) — and definitely not by simply changing a few laws here and there in the hopes of encouraging individualism. as avner greif grasped, although probably not fully because he’s likely missed the underlying biology of what he’s noticed, family structures need to be altered in order to effect changes to larger societal structures (again, all via tweaks to innate behavioral tendencies). and, again, that can’t be done overnight — as greif pointed out, the process in europe began in the early medieval period (with the church’s bans on cousin marriages) and didn’t really start to take hold until the late medieval period — i.e. a 500 year (or, conservatively, a ca. 25 generation) timeline.
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see also: Cousin Marriage Conundrum by steve sailer and Why Europe? by michael mitterauer (in particular chapter 3) and Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade by avner greif.

**see “mating patterns in europe series” in left-hand column below ↓ for further details.

(note: comments do not require an email. busy clan members.)

family type in egypt

todd says the egyptian family type is his ‘endogamous community family’ type (by endogamous he means that the children of brothers marry):

– cohabitation of married sons with their parents
– equality between brothers established by inheritance rules
– frequent marriage between the children of brothers
– arab world, turkey, iran, afghanistan, pakistan, azerbaijan, turkmenistan, uzbekistan, tadzhikistan
– islam

from what i’ve read so far, that seems more-or-less right. one important point, though: the extended family seems to be more important the further south you go in egypt. the extended family is still important today in lower egypt, in and around cairo and the delta, but it’s really important in upper egypt to the point where one should really be talking in terms of clans and/or tribes — tribes especially with the nubians in the south and the bedouins in peripheral areas.

there’s a reason for this difference which i’ll talk more about in a follow up post, but you can already guess what it is: inbreeding/endogamous mating happens at much greater frequencies in southern egypt and in the frontier governorates than in the delta region. simple.

there are a couple of other exceptions to todd’s classification of the egyptian family type — the actual structures on the ground are not a perfect fit with todd’s description — for instance which members of the extended family tend to live in egyptian households seems to be more flexible than todd’s definition — but, still, i think he’s generally right. these are, indeed, endogamous community families.

here are some interesting excerpts from a couple of sources related to the importance of the extended family in egypt:

African Families at the Turn of the 21st Century (2006), pgs. 57-58:

“In urban and rural areas the importance of family for women and men remains central to their lives….

For most Egyptians some version of the extended family still plays a crucial role in their day-to-day existence. Contrary to modernization theory with respect to family development, extended families have not lost their appeal or importance. Most people attempt to live near their parents, siblings, cousins, or grandparents, should they still be alive, and maintain an active relationship with many of their relatives. It is important to note that extended family households which are often found in Egypt do not follow the traditional patterns in which geneaologically related persons of two generations live together or in which married siblings form one household. Rather, extended families are based on the incorporation of unmarried relatives into a family. Widows, divorcees (especially those with no children), and bachelors do not live separately and would be stigmatized should they make this choice. Further, unmarried sons or daughters live with their parents until marriage, irrespective of age. After divorce or the death of a spouse, both men and women, especially if they do not have children, are expected to return to their parents if they are still alive; otherwise they are supposed to live with a brother, sister, or other relatives. Another popular extended family pattern is the one in which a child is ‘borrowed’ by a relative with no children of his or her own. Among lower-class people one tends to find this phenomenon more often among grandparents who need the assistance of a child for housework. Among more well-to-do families, an uncle or aunt will offer to take care of a sibling’s children for an extended time period, primarily for sentimental reasons or because the biological parents already have other pressing obligations such as an extended leave abroad.

“Another common middle- and lower-class family pattern found in Egypt is the incorporation of nonrelatives, such as apprentices and work assistants, into a particular household. Such individuals have a special position, because even though not all of them sleep in the house of their employer, their food and laundry is part of the household. Upper-middle- and upper-class families are characterized by the presence of domestic servants who may or may not live in the household. Often domestic live-in servants will come from the family’s natal village, even if the family has not lived there for several generations.

that last group of people, the live-in servants from the family’s natal village, might often be distant relatives to the family for whom they work.
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“Positivity in the Middle East: Developing Hope in Egyptian Organizational Leaders”
Advances in Global Leadership, Volume 4 (2006), pg. 281:

“Cultural collectivism dominates the Egyptian society, with extended families and family ties being very important. Children normally live with their parents until they get married, and sometimes even share their parents’ place after they get married due to their tight economic resources and the scarcity of affordable housing. Children are expected to support their parents at old age. However, this collectivism does not necessarily translate into patriotism. People may be loyal to their immediate families, to their extended families, to their neighbors, and to their friends and acquaintances, but not necessarily to their political leaders and current situation…. Sabotaging public transportation seats, writing on building walls, littering, breaking traffic lights, and other destructive behaviors are commonplace by children and adults alike. This behavior usually extends to the workplace, where personal abuse of business resources takes place, and in most cases even accepted as the norm.”
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this final excerpt describes the situation in upper or southern egypt, i.e. where there is greater inbreeding:

Development and Social Change in Rural Egypt (1986), pgs. 150-51:

“The importance that poor peasants attach to the brokerage services by a single wealthy patron can be seen in the continuing importance of the extended family unit in rural Egypt. In the village of El-Diblah [pseudonymous village representative of upper egypt], as well as other Egyptian communities, politics and much of life itself are organized on the basis of large, extended families numbering 500 members or more. These extended families are broad patrilineal structures, which may or may not be able to trace themselves back to a single historical founder. While these extended families do not represent monolithic social structures, most fellahin are animated by a real feeling of belonging to a particular extended family unit. When they need a loan or help with outside government officials, poor peasants will often turn to the leader or a prominent person within their extended family. In the village of El-Diblah three of the four leading extended families are headed by rich peasants. In the eyes of most fellahin, this is exactly as it should be. In the countryside wealth acquired by virtually any means provides a good indication of an individual’s ability to deal with (or against) the ouside world.

“‘Zaghlul,’ for example, is the rich peasant head of one of the leading extended families in El-Diblah. A short, wiry 55-year-old fellah, whose dress and mannerisms are almost indistinguishable from those of other peasants in the village, Zaghlul now owns about 25 feddans of land. Much of this land is planted in sugar cane, a crop that he uses to supply his own cane press that produces black molasses for local sale. As the owner of 25 feddans of land, and the proprietor of one of the few ‘manufacturing’ enterprises in the village, Zaghlul is able to dispense a wide number of agricultural and non-agricultrual work opportunities to favored members of his extended family. Many of the poorer members of his extended family live in a mud-brick settlement surrounding Zaghlul’s modern two-story, red-brick house. In the evenings a steady stream of these poor people come to Zaghlul’s house, seeking brokerage and intercessionary services (for example, help in securing agricultural inputs and medical services from the government)….

previously: “l’explication de l’idéologie” and corporations and collectivities

update: see also mating patterns in egypt and corporations and collectivities

(note: comments do not require an email. three fellahs.)