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Developmental Cycle

  The developmental cycle was a concept introduced by the anthropologist Meyer Fortes in 1958, to replace an ideal notion of a household. Domestic groups fluctuate over a lifetime, expanding after marriage when children are born or other dependents share the household, and later fragmenting when the adults reach old age. The domestic group may expand to include members who are not kin, and are sometimes given fictive kinship to normalize their relationships in the group. The exploration of the notion of a developmental cycle in domestic groups has drawn attention to the fluctuating nature of the domestic group, which had previously been treated as a stable producing unit in statistical analyses. By rejecting kinship studies that were frozen in time, Fortes introduced a much-needed dynamic to their analyses.

The concept of cyclical change has also been useful in analysing the life course of an individual. Each person must go through particular stages—often marked by rites of passage—in order to realize their full social status. This cycle has been used to explain how changes in status serve to maintain the status quo. By having specific privileges attached to each stage in life, individuals are induced to accept the constraints as well. For instance, among the Maasai of Kenya, unmarried men form a distinct age-set which separates them from everyday community life. The young warriors are dominated by the elders, yet when members of this age-set graduate to the status of elders, they relish the opportunity to dominate the young men in their turn. The dependent relationship of women on men in the Middle East has been discussed in terms of a bargain. Women get power and prestige through their elder sons, and so come to accept their relatively insignificant status as newlyweds, often dominated by their husband\'s mother living in her household. The birth of a son signals the beginning of their rise in authority. CL

Further reading J. Goody (ed.), The Developmental Cycle in Domestic Groups; , P. Spencer, The Riddle of the Sphinx.



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