The Deep Structure of Human Society: Primate Origins and Evolution

  • Bernard ChapaisEmail author


On theoretical grounds, one expects all human societies to share a common structural denominator, or deep social structure, which would describe both the unity of human society across cultures and its uniqueness in the animal world. Here, I argue that a powerful model of humankind’s deep social structure is the concept of reciprocal exogamy described by Claude Lévi-Strauss – a social arrangement in which groups are bound together through the particular linkage of pair-bonds and kinship bonds. The present analysis provides a phylogenetic test of the exogamy model of human social origins. It shows that reciprocal exogamy breaks down into a number of phylogenetically meaningful components and that the evolutionary history of the whole system may be reconstructed parsimoniously in terms of the combination of a Pan-like social structure with a new mating system featuring stable breeding bonds. The concept of deep structure points to the following human universals: stable breeding bonds and their correlate, fatherhood; the multifamily community; strong siblingships; bilateral (uterine and agnatic) kin recognition; incest avoidance; out-marriage (exogamy); matrimonial exchange; dual-phase residence (pre/postmarital); lifetime bonds between dispersed kin; bilateral relations between in-laws; kin-biased and affinity-biased marriage rules; and between-group alliances (supragroup levels of social organization).


Human Society Early Hominid Hamadryas Baboon Preferential Bond Sexual Promiscuity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am grateful to Robin Fox, Peter Kappeler, and Joan Silk for their helpful comments on the manuscript, and to Julie Cascio for technical assistance with the figures. I also thank several people who provided invaluable comments on my book Primeval Kinship: How Pair-Bonding Gave Birth to Human Society, on which the present chapter is based, namely Peg Anderson, Bernard Bernier, Annie Bissonnette, Carol Berman, Robert Crépeau, Michael Fisher, Michel Lecomte, Martin Muller, Jean-Claude Muller, Robert Sussman, Shona Teijeiro, and Richard Wrangham.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of MontrealMontrealCanada

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