A clan is? | Sociology for CUET by Vikash Ranjan | Sociology Guru


Question: A clan is?

  1. A unilineal descent group
  2. A bilateral descent group
  3. A multilateral descent group
  4. None of these

Answer: (1)

The MA CUET exam question revolves around the concept of a clan and requires an understanding of unilineal descent groups. The correct answer is (a) A unilineal descent group, and the provided response not only clarifies the nature of a clan but also delves into the broader context of lineage and descent systems in different cultures.

Understanding Lineages and Clans:

In anthropological terms, a lineage is typically the smallest kinship group with corporate functions in societies practicing unilineal descent. Unilineal descent refers to tracing one’s ancestry through either the male or female line. A patrilineal descent system follows the male line, while a matrilineal descent system follows the female line.

In a lineage, members can trace their relationships back to a common male or female ancestor, typically within four or five generations. However, when individuals believe they are related but cannot precisely trace their connections, the resulting groups are referred to as clans. Clans, therefore, are unilineal descent groups, and they are composed of multiple lineages.

Composition of Clans:

The response aptly describes that several lineages would be part of a clan. This organization reflects the broader kinship structure in societies with unilineal descent systems. It is crucial to note the distinction between patrilineal and matrilineal clans. In patrilineal cultures, clans are known as patriclans, while in matrilineal cultures, they are matriclans.

To illustrate, in the Yanomamo society, lineages are identified as the largest kin group. In contrast, both the Nuer and traditional Hmong cultures consider the clan to be the largest kin group within their social organization.

Unilineal Descent in Different Cultural Contexts:

The response touches upon the fact that unilineal descent, including the formation of clans, is not a feature of societies that do not adhere to this specific kinship system. For example, the United States, with its predominantly bilateral descent system, does not have clans. In bilateral descent, individuals trace their kinship connections through both the maternal and paternal lines.

Significance of Lineages and Clans:

The distinction between lineages and clans carries cultural and social significance. Lineages often play crucial roles in terms of property inheritance, ritual obligations, and social cohesion. Members of a lineage share a common ancestry and may collaborate on various social, economic, and religious activities.

On a broader scale, clans, composed of multiple lineages, contribute to the social fabric of a community. They are integral in maintaining social order, resolving disputes, and upholding cultural traditions. The grouping of lineages into clans provides a framework for organizing kinship ties beyond the immediate family, fostering a sense of belonging and shared identity.

Cultural Variation in Kinship Systems:

The response introduces the idea that cultural variations exist in the organization of kinship systems. Different societies adopt diverse approaches to tracing ancestry, and these variations influence social structures and relationships. Anthropologists have documented a spectrum of kinship systems, from unilineal descent to bilateral descent, and these systems are deeply embedded in cultural practices.

Examples from Anthropological Studies:

The mention of specific cultural examples, such as the Yanomamo, the Nuer, and the traditional Hmong, adds depth to the explanation. These examples showcase the diversity of kinship systems across different societies. The Yanomamo, with lineages as the largest kin group, contrasts with the Nuer and traditional Hmong, where the clan assumes the role of the largest kin group.

Anthropological studies have extensively explored the intricacies of kinship systems, and these examples serve as valuable illustrations of the theoretical concepts discussed in the response.

Contemporary Relevance and Critiques:

While the response provides a solid understanding of lineage and clan dynamics, it is essential to acknowledge that contemporary societies may not always neatly fit into traditional anthropological categories. Globalization, migration, and cultural exchange contribute to the evolution of kinship structures, challenging rigid classifications.

Critiques of the unilineal descent model and its application to diverse societies highlight the need for a more nuanced understanding of kinship. Scholars argue that relying solely on unilineal descent models may oversimplify the complexity of familial and social relationships, especially in today’s interconnected world.


In conclusion, the response to the MA CUET exam question effectively explores the concept of a clan as a unilineal descent group. It elucidates the distinction between lineages and clans, emphasizing the importance of unilineal descent systems in certain cultural contexts. The examples provided offer insight into the diverse ways in which societies organize their kinship structures.

The discussion on the Yanomamo, the Nuer, and the traditional Hmong adds specificity to the explanation, demonstrating the application of theoretical concepts in anthropological studies. The recognition of cultural variations and the acknowledgment that contemporary societies may deviate from traditional models contribute to a comprehensive understanding of kinship dynamics.

Overall, the response engages with the question by providing a thorough exploration of the topic, offering examples, and addressing potential critiques. It encourages a nuanced perspective on kinship systems and underscores the importance of considering cultural diversity in anthropological analysis.


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Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Question: Define the term “ethnic movement” and provide an example from India.

Answer: An ethnic movement refers to a collective effort by a group sharing common cultural, linguistic, or religious traits, seeking to assert their identity and rights; an example from India is the Khalistan Movement in Punjab.

2. Question: Identify the main objectives behind the Gorkhaland ethnic movement.

Answer: The Gorkhaland ethnic movement primarily seeks to establish a separate state for India’s Nepali-speaking population in the Darjeeling region, advocating for linguistic and cultural recognition and political autonomy.

3. Question: What was the Operation Blue Star, and which ethnic movement was it related to?
Answer: Operation Blue Star was a military action in 1984, aiming to remove Sikh militants hiding in the Golden Temple in Amritsar; it is related to the Khalistan movement, which sought a separate Sikh country.

4. Question: Mention a critical factor that triggered the emergence of ethnic movements in India, as discussed by Dipankar Gupta.
Answer: Dipankar Gupta emphasized that ethnicity is fundamentally a political process, wherein caste and religion, the key components of identity formation, are politicized by leaders for vested interests.

5. Question: What were the primary reasons for the Assam Ethnicity conflicts involving Bodo tribals and Bengali Muslim settlers?
Answer: The Assam Ethnicity conflicts primarily stemmed from issues related to immigration, land rights, and resource allocation, leading to clashes, riots, and evolving relationships among indigenous communities to address challenges.

6. Question: Briefly describe the role of the Dravidian Movement in terms of caste and societal structure.
Answer: The Dravidian Movement, led notably by E.V. Ramasamy, aimed to establish an egalitarian society, focusing on anti-Brahmanism and advocating for equal rights for backward castes, while also introducing reforms like self-respect marriages.

7. Question: Name the prominent ethnic movements in North-East India and specify one common objective.
Answer: Prominent ethnic movements in North-East India include the Nagas’ and Mizos’ struggles; a common objective was to gain autonomy and recognition for their distinct tribal identities and cultural uniqueness.

8. Question: What is the key argument of Gail Omveldt regarding traditional Indian society and multiculturalism?
Answer: Gail Omveldt opposed romanticizing traditional Indian society, arguing that hierarchy has always dominated it and dismissing the notion that multiculturalism is an intrinsic feature of Indian society as a myth.

9. Question: Briefly explain the social hierarchy factor as a contributing element to ethnic movements as suggested by Olzak.
Answer: Olzak suggests that the construction of hierarchies among ethnic communities, which often leads to the suppression of one group by another, is a key factor that can instigate social and ethnic movements.

10. Question: Identify one consequence of the unequal economic development factor within the context of ethnic movements in India.
Answer: One consequence of unequal economic development is the marginalization and underdevelopment of certain groups, leading to feelings of alienation and sometimes initiating ethnic movements as these groups strive for equality and recognition.

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