Incest taboo

From ArticleWorld


Incest taboos exist in virtually all societies, and consist of firm rules prohibiting sexual intercourse and marriage between specific groups of individuals. Every culture has different rules and definitions of what relationships are incestuous, and how violation of the prohibition will be treated. Anthropologists are very interested in the reasoning or beliefs behind the taboos, and the consequences of violating them. These rules often shed light on structures and theories of kinship and exchange, as well as creation myths, and violations and their consequences tell us about the dynamics between individuals and their society, and the gap between rules and behavior.

Because the taxonomy of relationships differs wildly from society to society, the prohibitions against incest are wide-ranging and complicated. While the brother-sister taboo is familiar to most westernized people, cultural prohibitions are usually more detailed, using genealogical considerations and mapping. Relations between affines are often prohibited in complex ways, because kinship itself is defined extensively, including the entire clan sometimes, rather than only as nuclear families. Incest taboos also depend on whether a society is patrilineal or matrilineal as they determine 'belonging' differently.

There are many theories about incest taboos. A common, but generally discredited, interpretation suggests that a psychological revulsion towards incest is universal in human beings. Another theory, which explains some positive consequences of a few kinds of incest taboos, holds that the prohibitions are about preventing inbreeding. One of the most influential ideas explaining the origin of these taboos comes from Claude Lévi-Strauss, who suggested that they were strategies to encourage exogamy, thereby creating ever-expanding family networks and strengthening social solidarity.