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Book reviews
Reproduction and Succession: Studies in Anthropology, Law and Society..By Robin
Fox. Pp. 269. (Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, 1993.) £30.95.
Fox's book is thought provoking and highly readable. It consists of four separate
essays, whose underlying theme focuses on the potential conflicts between kinship
relations and the state. He synthesises material from modern American court cases,
ethnography, and ancient literature to look at the strength of kinship ties and how
such ties may come into conflict with the type of ideology which dominates state
based societies. The general message is that despite the state's attempt to limit the
power of kinship groups, such kinship structures have always been important. Fox
uses social and biological data to look at why this might be so. His ability to integrate
the traditionally separate perspectives of social and biological anthropology is
stimulating. It provides a breath of fresh air to those who are used to the debate being
pitched in the fruitless term of biological explanations versus social ones.
The book is divided into two sections: 'reproduction' and 'succession'. In the
introduction to 'reproduction' Fox discusses the role of the anthropologist in policy
making, in which modern anthropologists have little influence. However, in the
chapters that follow he convincingly shows how a biosocial perspective could
contribute to modern debates regarding an individual's rights to reproduce, and the
structure of the modern family. He does this by discussing two recent court cases, one
concerning the rights of Mormons to practise polygamous marriage, and the other
concerning a surrogate mother who refused to give up her baby at birth.
The first chapter discusses the case of a Mormon police officer who was sacked for
admitting that he had married two women. The officer tried to fight his dismissal by
taking the state government to court. Fox points out that polygamy is one of several
normal human mating patterns, and he argues that there is no intrinsic reason why
it should be any more detrimental to human society than any other, including
monogamy. Much of the chapter is a description of the state court's objections to
polygamy and, although interesting, I felt it would have been valuable if Fox had
extended his anthropological discussion of polygamy to the environments that favour
the practice, and expanded on the deeper reasons for the state's objection to
polygamy, in terms of the formation of powerful kinship groups.
However in the following chapter, Fox brilliantly applies biosocial reasoning to
the issue of parenthood in a world of new reproductive technologies. Specifically he
examines how these technologies can bring the fundamental mother-child relationship
into conflict with the modern commercially dominated ideology which treats the
'contract' as virtually sacrosanct. He focuses on the case of a woman who having
agreed to be a surrogate mother, refuses to keep her side of the contract and give up
her child at birth. Fox argues that much thinking is not sophisticated enough to deal
with these problems rationally, and he brings his wealth of biosocial knowledge to
bear on this issue.
This was the strongest chapter of the book and the most successful in synthesising
the insights of biological and social anthropology. Fox addressed seemingly uncon
nected issues such as the biology of mother-child bonding, and the role of class and
status in our society to produce a thought provoking and far sighted analysis of the
problems raised by the new reproductive technologies. This shows the important
Book reviews
contribution that biosocial anthropology can make to some of the issues raised by
these new medical technologies.
In the second section, subtitled 'succession', Fox moves away from mating and
reproduction per se and examines the issues of kinship. He provides an illuminating
analysis of the strength of kinship bonds in the plays of ancient Greece, centring on
Sophocles' play 'Antigone' first presented c. 440 BC. He suggests that classicists and
commentators have tended to ignore the importance of kinship in ancient Greek
society. The majority have seen the conflict in the play in individual terms; either as
'men versus women', 'society versus individual', 'living versus dead' or 'men versus
gods'. Fox offers an anthropologically informed translation of 'problem' passages in
the play, and it was exciting to see how biosocial insights can be used to interpret
literature and that literary analysis is not just under the domain of the structural
In the final chapter, Fox addresses the strong bond that commonly occurs between
a mother's brother and her son, known as the institute of the avunculate. This chapter
was impressive for presenting an unusually broadly based discussion of the avuncu
late. Fox presents a balanced discussion of the traditional social anthropological
theories which include the early social evolutionary school, the functionalism of
Radcliffe Brown and Levi Strauss's structuralism. He then revitalises the issue by
discussing various biological perspectives that illuminate the privileged position that
the mother's brother often enjoys.
In the section on the ethological approach Fox adds a unique insight into the issue
of the avunculate. He returns to the strength of the mother-infant bond, contrasting
its universality among mammals with the role of males, which varies between species
and environments. Males other than the genitor can fulfil the nurturing parental role
and Fox argues that whenever the mating bond is weak, but a male is still needed for
the upbringing of the child, then it is natural for the mother's brother to step into that
Fox then examines the evidence of kinship relations in non-human primates and
he describes the complexity of such relationships. He stresses that primate kin
relationships do not necessarily explain patterns of kinship among humans; however
he does argue that the complex patterns of mating and kinship that have evolved in
humans could have developed from elements present in the basic primate repertoire.
Overall, the book is refreshing in that it integrates ideas from traditionally
separate areas of anthropology to illuminate important issues. Fox presents balanced
and fascinating arguments in a clear and highly readable style and demonstrates a gift
for extracting the essence of the issue, integrating different approaches, and offering
the reader a rounded synthesis.
Qemographic Change in Sub-Saharan Africa. Edited by Karen A. FooteT K$rmath**&
This report is thefirstjj^s©^
onPQpute#em*sOyiianTiics of Sub-Saharan Africa of the United^^ateT*NlFCrcmal
rolume 26, Number 3
July 1994
Journal of
Incorporating Biology and Society of the
Galton Institute
Published by the Biosocial Society
Cambridge, England
Journal of Biosocial Science
July 1994 Vol. 26, No. 3
M. Sans, I. Alvarez, S. M. Callegari-Jacques and F. M. Salzano Genetic similarity
andmate selection in Uruguay
page 285
Stan Becker and Suraiya Begum Reliability study ofreportingofdays since last sexual
intercourse in Matlab, Bangladesh
page 291
Kevin Marjoribanks Sibling and environmental correlates of adolescents' aspirations:
family groupdifferences
page 301
Kofi D. Benefo, Amy O. Tsui and Joseph de Graft Johnson Ethnicdifferentials inchildspacing idealsandpractices in Ghana
page 311
L. Caro Dobon and J. Santo Tomas Martinez Inbreeding in Ojeda and Pernia,
1875-1985, province ofPalencia, Spain
page 327
Abdelrahman Ibrahim Abdelrahman Education and assortative marriage in Northern
andurban Sudan, 1945-79
page 341
Odile Frank, P. Grace Bianchi and Aldo Campana The endoffertility: age,fecundity
page 349
andfecundability in women
M. Kabir, Ruhul Amin, Ashraf Uddin Ahmed and Jamir Chowdhury Factorsaffecting
desiredfamily size inBangladesh
page 369
Dilip C. Nath and Kenneth C. Land Sex preference and third birth intervals in a
traditional Indian society
page 377
Colin Francome Gynaecologists and abortion in Northern Ireland
page 389
Ryutaro Ohtsuka Subsistence ecology andcarrying capacity in two Papua New Guinea
page 395
Gill Green The reproductive careers of a cohort of men and women following an HIVpositive diagnosis
page 409
Book reviews
Adrian Friday reviews Causes of Evolution: A Paleontological Perspective (edited by
R. M.Ross & W. D. Allmon)
page 417
Daniela Sieff reviews Reproduction and Succession: Studies in Anthropology, Law and
Society (by R. Fox)
Stanley J. Ulijaszek reviews Demographic Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (edited by
K. A. Foote et al.)
page 420
Bill Morgan reviews A Lexicon of Lunacy. Metaphoric Malady, Moral Responsibility,
and Psychiatry (by T. Szasz)
page 423
Robert Peel reviews Science as Practice and Culture (edited by A. Pickering) page 423
Elena Godina reviews Living with Civilisation (edited by N. W. Bruce)
page 425
ISSN 0021-9320
Primed in Oreal Britain by Henry Ling Ltd, The Dorset Press. Dorchester. Dorset