In the later nineteenth century, a number of learned scholars discovered, independently of one another, some basic principles of human kinship organization that had previously gone unrecognized.
They noticed the existence of matrilineal descent (reckoning descent and inheritance through the mother rather than the father), exogamy (the necessity of marrying outside one’s group), and the principle of kin group property-owning.
With evolution the hottest intellectual topic of the times, the scholars viewed their ideas as critical to a general understanding of human social development. They proposed sweeping evolutionary schemes based on their discoveries.
But the scholars disagreed on many points, including whether matrilineal descent was the earliest form of human kinship reckoning. As time went on, numerous other scholars entered the debate, which they saw as key to understanding human social evolution.
From early theories that had little ethnographic grounding to later ideas that relied on a “fieldwork revolution” led by intrepid ethnographers who studied the cultures of tribal peoples around the world, The Kinship Wars reveals that the issue of kinship was a good deal more complex than theorists first supposed.