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3 Tutorials that teach Descent
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Author: Paul Hannan

Differentiate between the systems of descent. 

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain, Images from, Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology, Studies of Society. Today's lesson on descent. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward, to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial. So today, we're going to look at and define how sociology looks at descent.

So descent is just tracking one's ancestry over the generations. So you look back and see who your parents were, and then you'd look at your parents' parents, and your parents' parents' parents, and you'd track through history how you came to be, what are your ancestors through history.

Now, there are a couple different ways to do that tracking. The first one is patrilineal. Now, that's when you look at your ancestry through your father's side. So as you saw in the animation there, you're not concerned about where your family really came on your mother's side. Instead, you're tracking everything through your father's side.

This is the most common way that cultures around the world track their lineage. They do it through their father's side. Sociology hasn't really come to conclusion why this type of tracking is more prevalent, but there are some theories about-- and most of those theories focus on the inequality of the genders, that in most cultures, the means of production, the wealth, the power, is more likely to be held by the males. And so they're more likely to track ancestry through that male side.

Now, when you track your ancestry through the other side, through the mother's side, that's matrilineal. And again, this is a little bit less common, but it still happens. There are still societies that do this type of tracking.

Now, when you look at both sides, that's bilateral descent. So that's tracking one's ancestry through both sides of the family. This is really common in industrialized societies. I like to think of the analogy of hyphenating names. Now, you don't have to have hyphenated names to use this approach to tracking your descent, but it's a nice way, at least that I think about it.

So in a lot of Latin American cultures, you would hyphenate two names. So you wouldn't become-- you wouldn't just take your father's last name. You'd also take your mother's last name, and you'd combine together to make a last name for the children. Now, again, last names isn't the only way that you track descent, but that's just one way that I like to think about an example in the real world of how you can see that. And again, this is much more common in industrialized societies.

So today's takeaway message, descent is tracking one's ancestry over generations, and we have patrilineal, which is looking through the father's side, and matrilineal, which is looking through your mother's side. And then we also learned about bilateral descent, and that's looking at both sides of the family to figure out your ancestry.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Bilateral Descent

Tracing descent through both the males and the females in society.


The system people use to trace their kinship relationships through generations.

Matrilineal Descent

Tracing descent through the females in society.

Patrilineal Descent

Tracing descent through the males in society.