[rdfweb-dev] Relationship Schema Updated

Michael Bauser michael at bauser.com
Sun Mar 14 09:08:41 UTC 2004

Hash: SHA1

Morten Frederiksen wrote:

> For those that haven't, it seems the anthropologists have figured out,
> all kin-relationships can be defined with just eight terms: mother,
> sister, brother, daughter, son, wife and husband.
> Comparing with the relationship schema, it seems that
> parentOf/childOf/siblingOf/spouseOf could be split into the genered
> counterparts, but as we already have a separate gender property, it
> seem necessary.

I *think* you're thinking that an intersection of foaf:gender and
/rel:(child|parent|sibling|spouse)Of/ are enough to identify someone's
role, like "husband" or "wife". There are at least Three Problems that
prove this won't work:

The First Problem is that you're assuming the value of foaf:gender is
always going to be "male" or "female". It's not, because the spec isn't
written to enforce that. Other values *are* going to show up.

There are intersexed and transgendered individuals who break the
male==husband, female==wife  mold. In particular, intersexed individuals
may disavow the strict male/female gender identities, while still
accepting the role of wife/husband, because their culture doesn't have a
third spousal role available. Someone can be the "husband" without being
100% "male".

(Is this getting weird enough for everybody yet?)

The natural response is to turn the equation around, say that "everyone
married to a woman must be a husband" and hope two intersexuals never
marry each other, but that won't work, either, because of the Second

Same-sex marriage. The person married to a woman might be the other
wife. So, you can't count on the foaf:gender of either spouse to
describe the kinship role of either spouse. See, "husband" and "wife"
aren't *literally* "male spouse" and "female spouse", they're "spouse
with the male role in a marriage contract" and "spouse with female role
in a marriage contract".

"Male role" and "female role" are, of course, culturally defined and
individually flexible; the sociological/anthropological utility of the
"husband/wife" divide is two-fold:

1) Every society recognizes the division.
2) Each society gives the roles non-negotiable positions in descent

The second fact, is our Third Problem with using foaf:gender...

Women can be husbands and fathers.  For example, the Nuer (under certain
circumstances) allow infertile women to become "husbands" -- that is,
they marry another woman, and if the second woman (also known as "the
wife") has children, the children are part of the infertile woman's
*patrilineage*. A person can be a culturally-valid "father" while being
0% "male", and a woman can be married without being a wife *or* a lesbian.

It's not about gender, it's about lineages and social roles. spouseOf,
childOf, siblingOf, and parentOf just don't make the grade, because
there inability to anchor someone's position in a lineage prevents them
from describing real roles in real social networks.

Kinship is not a trivial aspect of social networks. In fact, kinship
networks are the only social networks that are universal. Every human
society recognizes some form of kinship (and the eight basic kinship
relationships), and every human being has kin. We can't even *pretend*
FOAF is good for describing social networks unless there's a compatible
vocabulary that has the key kinship relationships locked down.

> The properties grandchildOf/grandparentOf/descendantOf/ancestorOf
could be
> left out, as these can be described by introducing the intermediaries
(as all
> other kin-relationships can, e.g. uncle).
> Aside from the mentioned properties, the rest of the schema deals with
> kinds of relationships, the "social" ones. These aren't exactly
easier, but
> at least that'll always be a matter of taste...

I have objections to several of those as well; see my reply to Ian's

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