Computational approaches to the study of post-marital residence : a thesis presented in partial fullfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Statistics at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
Post-marital residence is the location taken by a couple after marriage. It is often a cultural practice, a
choice based on tradition. Through its effect on family and family structure, post-marital residence
influences important concepts and practices such as inheritance of property, status of men and women,
initiation rites and tracing of descent. Due to its long-reaching effects and the fact that it is relatively
easy to observe, through a short discussion with informant or by collecting information about marriages,
post-marital residence has become an important subject of study for many anthropologists.
In the past, post-marital residence was predominantly explored through association studies. However,
factors influencing post-marital residence often exhibit unclear causative direction. This makes their
study using association analyses difficult.
This thesis will explore post-marital residence using three different computational methods: an
evolutionary approach based on language trees; a data-mining approach that finds clusters of societies in
an ethnographic database; and an agent-based model of warfare-induced residence change. These three
methods enable exploration of post-marital residence from significantly different angles, which enables
me to describe a much more complex and balanced picture. I find no evidence for the existence of global
patterns of residence change. In fact, even language groups with similar demographic histories differ
significantly in their patterns of residence evolution. However, I find strong evidence for the existence of
more localized patterns. Based on data that describe societal properties such as the prevalent type of
subsistence, sex taboos or type of housing, societies can be clustered into groups, with some groups
being almost exclusively formed by societies with a single type of residence. Finally, I find that while
warfare is able to induce a change of residence, it does this only when a significant portion of the society
is under warfare pressure. However, warfare can also be a catalyst when another factor influencing
residence change is present.
My results suggest that more localized patterns should be explored. Based on the grouping of
societies identified in this work, one should not assume that because two societies have the same residence
state that similar factors must be in play. In fact, a multitude of factors could induce change into a
specific residence state under different conditions. Thus, the factors for residence change should be
explored on a case-by-case basis and societies with similar histories and pressures should be grouped
together and investigated instead. Societies where the change of residence was induced by warfare
could be one such group. Results from the agent-based model can help to specify the exact conditions
Computational-based approaches enable new and interesting points of view on classical anthropological
problems. However, they are limited by the existence of data and a functional knowledge of societies
and cultures. These are often lacking, at least in a programatically accessible form. Thus, developing
better and more accessible databases and knowledge banks with a mechanistic description of cultural
concepts should be a primary future focus for anthropology.
Taken together, the results of the three approaches shown in this thesis form a strong statement
regarding how various factors influence a change of post-marital residence. This provides a proof
of concept of benefits for tacking classical anthropology questions with computational tools. It will
hopefully work as an invitation for collaboration between the two research areas.
Chapter 2 is republished under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license: Moravec, Jiří C., Atkinson, Quentin, Bowern, Claire, Greenhill, Simon J., Jordan, Fiona M., Ross, Robert M., Gray, Russell, Marsland, Stephen, & Cox, Murray P. (2018). Post-marital residence patterns show lineage-specific evolution. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39, 594-601. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2018.06.002