Core symbols and cultural systems
Pages 4

David Schneider was in many ways the reverse of Turner. His most influential work, American Kinship, can be most charitably described as schematic. Instead of Turner’s flesh-and-blood accounts of rituals, symbols and explanations, Schneider provides a short, highly stylized account of American ideas about *kinship, synthesized from interviews with middle-class white residents of Chicago. In this, American ideas about what constitutes a *person, about what makes a person a relative, about blood and sex and biology, nature and law, substance and code, were explored systematically. Behind Schneider’s oddly deadpan prose style lay a hugely ambitious idea: that it was possible to abstract a ‘cultural system’ from statements and behaviour and render it in a clear, analytic way which demonstrated that culture was both systematic and autonomous. As the cultural system in question was the central area of kinship and family in Schneider’s own society, his account required a heroic effort of self-abstraction.