Accepted Paper:

From matrilineal kinship to matricultural systems  


Marie-Françoise Guédon (University of Ottawa)

Paper short abstract:

This paper introduces the term ‘matriculture’ to designate cultures where identity is derived through the mother or the mother’s kinship group, where matrilineal kinship systems flourish, and where varieties of social empowerment for women may arise.

Paper long abstract:

As recently summarized by Peggy Reeves Sanday, the term 'matrilineal' is conceptually linked with lineages, clans, and descent: with kinship systems. In contrast, the controversial but increasingly popular term 'matriarchy' has in fact nothing to do with kinship but, rather, refers to social and political organization.

Such diverse societies as the Northern Athapaskan, Navajo, Tsimshian, Tlingit, and Iroquoian nations in North America, the Batwa and Ashante in Africa, and the Asian Mosuo and Khasi, among others, are identified as matrilineal in the classical sense of the term. However, when working directly with these societies and taking into account the local discourse about matrilineality, the ways in which both women and men discuss their kinship systems, and their socio-political organization, it becomes clear that they start neither from matrilineality nor from a definition of women's role and capacities, but instead derive both from a larger cultural dimension. In previous discussions, I began to refer to that dimension as a cultural system, from a Geertzian perspective.

My Indigenous partners, my colleagues, and I have tested this approach in various cultural contexts and now concretize the results by proposing the term 'matricultural' to designate the particular worldview which allows matrilineal kinship systems to flourish and which may also give rise to various modes of empowering women. The term matriculture draws attention to several oft-neglected dimensions of the cultural contexts, dimensions that I wish to recall while presenting views expressed by members of matrilineal societies about the "matri"-cultural dimensions of their society.

Panel RM-KG05
Nicole Mathieu's legacy for the theory of matrilineal societies