What is kinship?

I asked miles, about kinship and he wrote me a fantastic email back explaining not only what it was but its relationship with ontologies, etc. I hope miles you didnt mind me blogging it

> I came across the term at that thing on Wednesday.
> And started wondering how this relates to semantics? For example
> wouldnt social organization just be another ontology?

Your man at the mobile ponytail conference seems to be using “kinship” as a buzzword – it's characteristic of designers to strip language of meaning in pursuit of trendiness /images/emoticons/happy.gif

Is social organisation an ontology? Hmm.

It seems to me there are two (or maybe more, but I will consider two) kinds of ontology: constructed ontologies, and natural ontologies. Natural ontologies are wired into the human brain, and are presumably evolved classificatory mechanisms.

Natural ontologies are those expressed by children, or culturally universal. For example, children have no difficulty distinguishing the animate from the inanimate, or the dead from the living from the never alive. To a certain extent, natural ontologies overlap with culturally approved constructed ontologies, and contribute directly to epistemology.

Constructed ontologies require a more “sophisticated” view of the world. For example, children may not be able to make the same kinds of distinctions between sanity and insanity that adults are able to, and, therefore, are ontologically blind to a classification system that distinguishes the rational from the irrational.

In the wacky, wacky world of computer science, an “ontology” (and I presume this is where you came across the word) it the relationship amongst objects you have to tell a computer to make it seem like it understands constructed or natural ontologies. For example, you would need to tell a computer the relationship between “hardcore” and “porn” so that a search containing those two terms as positive assertions didn't return results about building materials or music. So, in the computer sense of things, kinship is an ontology that is, a manifest describing the relationships amongst blood relatives.

But outside of computer science, kinship precedes ontology. That is, we have no reason to suspect that ants or bees have the concept of ontology, but, clearly, their social actions are constrained by kinship. This is because kinship isn't written in the genes (in people, natural ontology is written in the genes, or at least, in the expression of the genes), it _is_ the genes. Kinship is the measure of shared genetic material (your kin share your genes, and the closer your kin, the more genes they share). So, kinship is not imposed on living matter through intellect or instinct – it is a fact of living matter.

Kinship is only distantly related to social organisation (though many primitive” societies are organised along kin lines) in human beings. We do not form organised collectives because we are related, but because we are able to articulate common purpose at a “higher” level.Bees and ants do what they do because the others in their colony are their sisters: this is not what guides our social collectives. At best, ontology can only apply to social organisation at a meta-level (classifying the terms we use for social organisation is an ontology).

Please note this was slightly edited.

I have little to say in return for now, except this is a great starting point and it may be very relvent for work in the future. Now if only I could find a visual topic map editor.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.