Fictive kinship is a term used by anthropologists and ethnographers to describe forms of kinship or social ties that are based on neither consanguineal (blood ties) nor affinal ("by marriage") ties. It contrasts with true kinship ties.

To the extent that consanguineal and affinal kinship ties might be considered real or true kinship, the term fictive kinship has in the past been used to refer to those kinship ties that are fictional, in the sense of not-real. Invoking the concept as a cross-culturally valid anthropological category therefore rests on the presumption that the inverse category of "(true) kinship" built around consanguinity and affinity is similarly cross-culturally valid. Use of the term was common until the mid-to-late twentieth century, when anthropology effectively deconstructed and revised many of the concepts and categories around the study of kinship and social ties. In particular, anthropologists established that a consanguinity basis for kinship ties is not universal across cultures, and that—on the contrary—it may be a culturally specific symbol of kinship only in particular cultures (see the articles on kinship and David M. Schneider for more information on the history of kinship studies).

Stemming from anthropology's early connections to legal studies, the term fictive kinship may also be used in a legal sense, and this use continues in societies where these categories and definitions regarding kinship and social ties have legal currency; e.g. in matters of inheritance.

As part of the deconstruction of kinship mentioned above, anthropologists now recognize that—cross-culturally—the kinds of social ties and relationships formerly treated under the category of "kinship" are often not predicated on blood ties or marriage ties, and may rather be based on shared residence, shared economic ties, nurture kinship, or familiarity via other forms of interaction.

In sociology of the family, this idea is referred to as chosen kin, fictive kin or voluntary kin. Sociologists define the concept as a form of extended family members who are not related by either blood or marriage. The bonds allowing for chosen kinship may include religious rituals, close friendship ties,[1] or other essential reciprocal social or economic relationships.[2] Examples of chosen kin include godparents, adopted children, and close family friends.[3]: 31–32  The idea of fictive kin has been used to analyze aging,[4] foreign fighters,[5] immigrant communities,[1] and minorities[6][7] in modern societies. Some researchers state that peers have the potential to create fictive kin networks.[8]


Types of relations often described by anthropologists as fictive kinship include compadrazgo relations, foster care, common membership in a unilineal descent group, and legal adoption. A noted Gurung tradition is the institution of "Rodi", where teenagers form fictive kinship bonds and become Rodi members to socialize, perform communal tasks, and find marriage partners. In Western culture, a person may refer to close friends of one's parents as "aunt" or "uncle" (and their children as "cousin"), or may refer to close friends as "brother" or "sister", although this is just a mere courtesy treatment and does not represent an actual valuation as such. In particular, college fraternities and sororities in some North American cultures usually use "brother" and "sister" to refer to members of the organization. Monastic, Masonic, and Lodge organisations also use the term "Brother" for members. "Nursing Sister" is used to denote a rank of nurse, and the term "Sisterhood" may be used for feminists. Fictive kinship was discussed by Jenny White in her work on female migrant workers in Istanbul.[9] In her work, she draws on ideas of production and the women she works with being drawn together through "webs of indebtedness" through which the women refer to each other as kin. These relationships are, however, less frequent than kin relationships, and serve purposes that are neither comparable to nor exclude a natural family.


Recently, many anthropologists have abandoned a distinction between "real" and "fictive" kin, because many cultures do not base their notion of kinship on genealogical relations. This was argued most forcefully by David M. Schneider, in his 1984 book A critique of the study of kinship.[18] In response to this insight, Janet Carsten developed the idea of "relatedness". She developed her initial ideas from studies with the Malays in looking at what was socialized and biological. Here she uses the idea of relatedness to move away from a pre-constructed analytics opposition which exists in anthropological thought between the biological and the social.[19] Carsten argued that relatedness should be described in terms of indigenous statements and practices, some of which fall outside what anthropologists have conventionally understood as kinship.[20]

This does not imply, however, that human non-kin relationships, such as in tit-for-tat situations, even within a friendship relation, are more important than kin relationships, since their motivation is also related to one's survival and perpetuation, or that people are necessarily bound to the culture they are inserted in, nor can it be generalized to the point of claiming all individuals always undervalue kinship in the absence of nurturing. In those cases, attachment to others is not a cultural act but an act of survival. Herbert Gintis, in his review of the book Sex at Dawn, critiques the idea that human males were unconcerned with parentage, "which would make us unlike any other species I can think of".[21] Such individuals can be considered out of the natural tendency of living beings for survival through offspring.

In response to a similar model advanced by E. O. Wilson, Rice University's David Queller said that such new model "involves, and I suspect requires, close kinship".[22] The theory also overlooks phenomena of survivalist non-kin or not close kin such as the one that can be seen on tribalism or ethnic nationalism.

A study has shown that humans are about as genetically equivalent to their friends as they are their fourth cousins.[23]

Use in sociobiology

See also: Social bonding and nurture kinship

In the biological and animal behavioural sciences, the term "kinship" has a different meaning from the current anthropological usage of the term, and more in common with the former anthropological usage that assumed that blood ties are ontologically prior to social ties. In these sciences, "kinship" is commonly used as a shorthand for "the regression coefficient of (genetic) relatedness", which is a metric denoting the proportion of shared genetic material between any two individuals relative to average degrees of genetic variance in the population under study. This coefficient of relationship is an important component of the theory of inclusive fitness, a treatment of the evolutionary selective pressures on the emergence of certain forms of social behavior. Confusingly, inclusive fitness theory is more popularly known through its narrower form, kin selection theory, whose name clearly resonates with former conceptions of "kinship" in anthropology.

Whilst inclusive fitness theory thus describes one of the necessary conditions for the evolutionary emergence of social behaviors, the details of the proximate conditions mediating the expression of social bonding and cooperation have been less investigated in sociobiology. In particular, the question of whether genetic relatedness (or "blood ties") must necessarily be present for social bonding and cooperation to be expressed has been the source of much confusion, partly due to thought experiments in W. D. Hamilton's early theoretical treatments. In addition to setting out the details of the evolutionary selection pressure, Hamilton roughly outlined two possible mechanisms by which the expression of social behaviors might be mediated:

The selective advantage which makes behaviour conditional in the right sense on the discrimination of factors which correlate with the relationship of the individual concerned is therefore obvious. It may be, for instance, that in respect of a certain social action performed towards neighbours indiscriminately, an individual is only just breaking even in terms of inclusive fitness. If he could learn to recognise those of his neighbours who really were close relatives and could devote his beneficial actions to them alone an advantage to inclusive fitness would at once appear. Thus a mutation causing such discriminatory behaviour itself benefits inclusive fitness and would be selected. In fact, the individual may not need to perform any discrimination so sophisticated as we suggest here; a difference in the generosity of his behaviour according to whether the situations evoking it were encountered near to, or far from, his own home might occasion an advantage of a similar kind.[24]

Traditional sociobiology did not consider the divergent consequences between these basic possibilities for the expression of social behavior, and instead assumed that the expression operates in the "recognition" manner, whereby individuals are behaviorally primed to discriminate which others are their true genetic relatives, and engage in cooperative behavior with them. But when expression has evolved to be primarily location-based or context-based—depending on a society's particular demographics and history—social ties and cooperation may or may not coincide with blood ties. Reviews[25] of the mammal, primate, and human evidence demonstrate that expression of social behaviors in these species are primarily location-based and context-based (see nurture kinship), and examples of what used to be labeled as "fictive kinship" are readily understood in this perspective. Social cooperation, however, does not mean people see each other as family or family-like, nor that people will value those known not to be related with them more than the ones who are or simply neglect relatedness.

See also


  1. ^ a b Ebaugh, Helen Rose, and Mary Curry. "Fictive kin as social capital in new immigrant communities." Sociological Perspectives 43, no. 2 (2000): 189-209.
  2. ^ Fordham, Signithia. "Racelessness as a factor in Black students' school success: Pragmatic strategy or pyrrhic victory?." Harvard educational review 58, no. 1 (1988): 54-85.
  3. ^ Ciabattari, Teresa. Sociology of Families: Change, Continuity, and Diversity. SAGE Publications. 2016.
  4. ^ Mac Rae, Hazel. "Fictive kin as a component of the social networks of older people." Research on Aging 14, no. 2 (1992): 226-247.
  5. ^ Cerwyn Moore (2015) Foreign Bodies: Transnational Activism, the Insurgency in the North Caucasus and “Beyond”, Terrorism and Political Violence, vol.27, no.3, 395-415
  6. ^ Liebow, Elliot. Tally's corner: A study of Negro streetcorner men. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.
  7. ^ Stack, Carol B. All our kin. Basic Books, 1975.
  8. ^ Tierney, William G., and Kristan M. Venegas. "Fictive kin and social capital the role of peer groups in applying and paying for college." American Behavioral Scientist 49, no. 12 (2006): 1687-1702.
  9. ^ White, Money Makes Us Relatives.
  10. ^ Horstman, Compadrazgo and Adaptation in Sixteenth Century Central Mexico
  11. ^ Carlos, Fictive Kinship and Modernization in Mexico: A Comparative Analysis.
  12. ^ Kim, "Mama's Family": Fictive Kinship and undocumented immigrant restaurant workers.
  13. ^ Jacob, Unknotting fictive kinship and legal process.
  14. ^ Howell, Adoption of the Unrelated Child: Some Challenges to the Anthropological Study of Kinship
  15. ^ Frese, Anthropology and the United States military: Coming of Age in the Twenty First Century.
  16. ^ Freed, Fictive Kinship in a North Indian Village
  17. ^ Vatuk, Reference, Address, and Fictive Kinship in Urban North India.
  18. ^ Schneider, A Critique of The Study of Kinship
  19. ^ Carsten, The substance of kinship and the heat of the hearth; feeding, personhood and relatedness among the Malays in Pulau Langkawi.
  20. ^ Carsten, Cultures of Relatedness.
  21. ^ Gintis, Herbert. "Much that is True, but Remember: Is does not Imply Ought". Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  22. ^ Brandon Keim (2010-08-26). "E.O. Wilson proposes new theory of social evolution".
  23. ^
  24. ^ Hamilton, William D. (1964) The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour. Journal of Theoretical Biology 7:1-52. Reprinted in. 1996. Narrow Roads of Gene Land. Vol. 1. Oxford: W. H. Freeman.
  25. ^ Holland, Maximilian. (2012) Social Bonding and Nurture Kinship: Compatibility between Cultural and Biological Approaches. North Charleston: Createspace Press.


  • Carsten, Janet, ed. (2000). Cultures of Relatedness: New Approaches to the Study of Kinship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-65627-3.
  • Carsten, Janet (May 1995). "The Substance of Kinship and the Heat of the Hearth: Feeding, Personhood, and Relatedness among Malays in Pulau Langkawi". American Ethnologist. 22 (2): 223–241. doi:10.1525/ae.1995.22.2.02a00010. JSTOR 646700.
  • Schneider, David M. (1984). A Critique of the Study of Kinship. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. OCLC 10605668.
  • White, Jenny B. (2004). Money Makes Us Relatives: Women's Labor in Urban Turkey (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-24042-1.