Social Bonding and Nurture Kinship: Compatibility between Cultural and Biological Approaches

277 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2011

See all articles by Maximilian Piers Holland

Maximilian Piers Holland

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE); The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)

Date Written: April 4, 2004


The current thesis aims to clarify some aspects of the relationship between biology and social bonds. The central task is to demonstrate that, despite clear problems of some past approaches claiming to represent biology, there is non-reductive compatibility between the perspective from cultural approaches documenting processes of social bonding in humans and the perspective from basic biological theory. In demonstrating this compatibility, the thesis also attempts to contribute to delineating the utility and limits of applying insights from biology to understanding aspects of human social behaviour, and to sociological study in general. The areas of social bonding and social relationships under focus are mainly at the level of individuals and primary social groups, rather than a structural-functional approach often employed in classical sociology of the family and comparative sociology.

The thesis initially reviews recent cultural approaches to understanding social bonding, and notes the potential academic value of a clarification of the association between social kinship and physical ('related by blood') kinship. In reviewing biological theory on social bonding and social behaviour, it is argued that classic sociobiological interpretations of this biological theory are erroneous in some crucial respects, and a different interpretation is argued for. Evidence on processes mediating social bonding in social mammals and particularly in primates is reviewed. It is demonstrated that circumstantial, social and contextual 'cues' typically mediate the formation of primary social bonds in these species, not genealogical relationship per se, and that these findings are compatible with basic biological theory. In the human case, it is demonstrated that the current interpretation of biological theory is also compatible with established disciplines closely associated with detailing mechanisms of social bonding (such as attachment theory). The consensus here is again that social bonds are mediated by various social and contextual cues rather than genealogical relationship per se.

Contemporary cultural approaches to describing processes of social bonding are investigated and found to be also compatible with the present interpretation of biological theory. With this basic compatibility demonstrated, the possible implications for analyses of patterns of social bonding in human societies is discussed. Delineating the scope of the biological perspective underlines the importance of analysing sociological and cultural influences on patterns of social bonding, including historical, economic and political factors. This is illustrated with some examples.

Suggested Citation

Holland, Maximilian Piers, Social Bonding and Nurture Kinship: Compatibility between Cultural and Biological Approaches (April 4, 2004). Available at SSRN: or

Maximilian Piers Holland (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) ( email )

Shatin, N.T.
Hong Kong
Hong Kong

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