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Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture Paperback – 1 May 1995


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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (1 May 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300063083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300063080
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 869,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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This highly original book presents a new theory of the origins of human culture. Integrating perspectives of evolutionary biology and social anthropology within a Marxist framework, Chris Knight rejects the common assumption that human culture was a modified extension of primate behaviour and argues instead that it was the product of an immense social, sexual, and political revolution initiated by women.

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Wim Jacobs on 2 Aug 2001
Format: Paperback
Blood Relations is a fascinating account of a possible way culture may have arisen. It is a ground breaking study in as much that it re-evaluates women's role in the cultural evolution proces, rather than see everything from a uniform (male oriented) point of view. At the same time it does not yield to feminist propaganda, and retains its objectivity throughout.
Perhaps exagerating the uniformous interpretation of the various myths discussed at the end of the book, Chris Knight does voice a lot a thought provoking ideas. The sheer volume and encyclopedic qualities of the work allow for sound evaluation of the proposed thesis.
Not one for the summer holidays, nor one for the unprepared, but this tough read is certainly one to at least make you re-evaluate culture and its origins. Much more so than most popular science titles. Unfortunately you will have to read these as well if you do not yet have the required background.
If the origin of culture is your quest, than this book is an absolute must!!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By E N Cuentro on 29 Dec 2006
Format: Paperback
The disclaimer I should give first is this: I'm not a trained anthropologist, and I don't have a background in anthropological study far beyond this work. It's also the case that, while the ideas it contains are becoming slowly more accepted, they are very much outside the mainstream.

But it is wonderful.

Beautifully written, authoritatively referenced (four or five a page, almost all with page numbers) and closely argued; it's an argument for the origins of modern humanity - culturally, biologically (in many ways) and psychologically. Despite myself, and my oxbridge scepticism, I found myself drawn into its thesis. Not without reservation - I couldn't agree with all of it, especially concerning the determination of the structure of kinship by the rest of the theory - but generally, I'm sold. It's not a quick read, but well worth it. The volume provides a rich mine of symbolism and meaning for creative projects as well as containing an encyclopaedic overview of origins theory in the last 100 or more years.

Even if it's not true, it's worth it in a purely literary sense to get yourself into the head-space where you can believe (one amongst other equally astonishing theses) that the edifice of the dragon in human mythology is a reification of female menstrual solidarity during the period (ah hem) of human revolution depicted by the book.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Earl Hazell on 20 Nov 2002
Format: Paperback
"The notion of tabu as connoting both 'danger' and 'power' belongs in fact to a venerable tradition. One source of this is the work of Durkheim...a pioneering article on menstrual symbolism published in 1898...Durkheim argued that women established the exogamy rule by periodically BLEEDING so as to repulse the opposite sex...[women] were the immediate agents of religious ideology's segregating action."
"...But of course, the model of cultural origins advocated in this book would lead us to trace the underlying abstract logic of the Rainbow Snake...much further back into the Aborigines past--indeed, right back to their first entry into Australia [from central Africa]..."
"It would be interesting to study the ideological and political factors which led to Durkheim's insights being virtually ignored for a hundred years."
Chris Knight, BLOOD RELATIONS
Chapter 11: "The Raw and The Cooked" and
Chapter 14: "The Dragon Within"
" At Yirkalla, in...north-east Arnhem Land [aboriginal Australia]...women's solidarity is still very strong, menstrual blood is regarded as 'sacred'... It is only when this snake power of the women themselves has been established that the conditions are felt appropriate for the climax of the ceremony...
'...really we have been stealing what belongs to them (the women) for it is mostly women's business... Women can't see what men are doing...This is because all the Dreaming business came out of women--everything...In the beginning we had nothing...we took these things from women.'
"It is one of the severest indictments of 20th Century anti-evolutionist anthropology that its models have led ethnographers to dismiss such profound Aboriginal insights as scientifically valueless.
Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Compelling work on evolution of human society 23 Mar 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book may be the most important book ever written on the evolution of human social organization. It brings together observation and theory from social anthropology, primatology, and paleoanthropology in a manner never before equalled. The author, Chris Knight, who teaches social anthropology at the University of London is up to date on all these fields and has achieved an extraordinary synthesis. His critiques of Claude Levi-Strauss on totemism and myth are a sheer tour de force. The basic premise can be summarized, though only in an extremely cursory fashion, as follows. The basis of primate social organization is predicated on the distribution of food resources and how females array themselves around these. Males array themselves around females. Over the course of human evolution, the acquisition of animal protein came to be of critical significance. Proto-human females acquired this valuable resource from males via a collective bargaining agreement which formed the basis of human kinship organization and social exchanges. This accomplished through a systematic "sex-strike" cycle which ran according to a lunar based schedule of menstruation/hunting following by ovulation/feasting. Human females evolved concealed ovulation and a cultural system of sexual advertisement based on menstruation that guided this cycle. Females could now say 'yes', but they could also say 'no', depending on the success of the hunting venture. The author explores evidence for this thesis both in the ethnography of currently existing non-industrial societies as well as in the paleolithic in the use that anatomically modern humans' made of red ochre and other pigments to signify and exploit the menstrual event. A number of previously incomprehensible myths, such as the 'Rainbow Snake' of the Australian Aborigines, receive a new and revealing interpretation in this light.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The Most Brilliant Anthropological Study Ever Written 25 Dec 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The many words used to describe Chris Knight's "Blood Relations" include, monumental, encyclopedic, brilliant, original, ingenious, and a tour-de-force. It is all of these and more! This work is simply the most brilliant and imaginative book about human cultural development ever written. Its range is astonishing. Its arguments are cogently made with great detail. Its synthesis of primatology, socio-biology, and anthroplogy are compelling. Where others have depicted women as the victims of a dominant male hierarchy, Knight reveals how the sex roles and behavior of both men and women developed together in a dialectic relationship. Where others have stressed the loss of oestrus and continuous sexual receptivity in the female, Knight spotlights menstruation and its associated marital and other cultural taboos. Where others stress man the hunter and woman the gatherer, Knight envisions paleo-women as evolving an increasing solidarity to shape the structure of both hunting and gathering. Women are not the passive creatures that are so often depicted by the radical feminists who have an interest in portraying women as the victims of dominant males. Females have been active participants in shaping culture, behavior, and human destiny. As Knight says, "symbolic culture involves very widespread levels of synchronized co-operative action."
Somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago, Knight believes, a massive social, sexual, and cultural explosion occurred and he does an ingenious job of providing us with insight into how this may have happened. A major change in reproductive strategy had to take place before males could take off as hunters and leave their women behind. Women synchronized their ovulatory cycles with one another; the concept of the "sex-strike" is the heart of the book. Blood as a symbol of menstruation provides a key to much of human culture and Knight uses it to explain the inner logic of many of mankind's myths and taboos. Because the disruptive effects of sex can be enormous, these controls have played an important role in the development of human culture.
The riches of this deeply learned book cannot simply be conveyed in a brief review. It is a work to be read over and over and contemplated. The many insights into human culture and the relationships among the sexes will surely provide any open minded person with a new perspective as to why we are the way we are.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A tour-de-force 15 Sep 2000
By Mick H - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book was a revelation for me. Having struggled through numerous turgid anthropological works by the likes of Levi-Strauss, Roheim, etc., it was thrilling to read such an ambitious clear-sighted and compelling account of the origins of human culture, together with an excellent critique of much current anthropological thinking.
It's worth mentioning that Chris Knight is a marxist, and by that I don't mean vaguely left-wing in the manner of, say, Eric Hobsbawm. He's a real believer...dialectic materialism, the whole works. Clearly Knight believes his marxism is essential to his thesis. I would argue that although this maybe enabled him to see through other anthropological schools - structuralism, functionalism, what-have-you - and to develop his own theories, in the end it's irrelevant to his conclusions. So, wade through the marxist stuff, you can ignore it, it's not to my mind necessary to agree with his ideological beliefs (I don't) to appreciate his arguments, and to agree with much of what he says - or at least to find this a wonderfully stimulating book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant study by a brilliant man! 10 Sep 2003
By M. J. Jenkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Dr.Chris Knight was one of my lecturers at university and without fail I would come away from my Anthropology lectures with my head blown away by all the amazing knowledge transfer that occurred. It was all fantastic stuff and all totally confusing until one of those "aha" moments, when all of Chris's and the other anthropologists theories suddenly all fell into place and began to make real sense.
The book itself was a key text during our studies with various chapters needing to be read at various times. For that reason I shall not break down the book, rather I shall say that it will be one of the most illuminating and eye-opening books that you will ever read. Maybe not the easiest to read but definitely one of the best. Oh, and you can always impress your friends in the pub of an evening with your knowledge of Marxist paleo-anthropological theories pertaining to the emergence of human culture!
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Paradigm shifting achievement that revalidates Afrocentrism 19 Oct 2002
By Earl Hazell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"The notion of tabu as connoting both 'danger' and 'power' belongs in fact to a venerable tradition. One source of this is the work of Durkheim...a pioneering article on menstrual symbolism published in 1898...Durkheim argued that women established the exogamy rule by periodically BLEEDING so as to repulse the opposite sex...[women] were the immediate agents of religious ideology's segregating action."
"...But of course, the model of cultural origins advocated in this book would lead us to trace the underlying abstract logic of the Rainbow Snake...much further back into the Aborigines past--indeed, right back to their first entry into Australia [from central Africa]..."
"It would be interesting to study the ideological and political factors which led to Durkheim's insights being virtually ignored for a hundred years."
Chris Knight, BLOOD RELATIONS
Chapter 11: "The Raw and The Cooked" and
Chapter 14: "The Dragon Within"
" At Yirkalla, in...north-east Arnhem Land [aboriginal Australia]...women's solidarity is still very strong, menstrual blood is regarded as 'sacred'... It is only when this snake power of the women themselves has been established that the conditions are felt appropriate for the climax of the ceremony...
'...really we have been stealing what belongs to them (the women) for it is mostly women's business... Women can't see what men are doing...This is because all the Dreaming business came out of women--everything...In the beginning we had nothing...we took these things from women.'
"It is one of the severest indictments of 20th Century anti-evolutionist anthropology that its models have led ethnographers to dismiss such profound Aboriginal insights as scientifically valueless."
Chris Knight, BLOOD RELATIONS
Chapter 13: "The Rainbow Snake"
This is a five star, paradigm-shifting treatise on human cultural origins if there ever was one. Chris Knight's rendering of the four plus million years of primate and proto-human history in BLOOD RELATIONS, right up to the latest 200,000 years that begin true humankind and human culture in central Africa and along the Nile, through to the psychic/motivational bedrock of our conflicted modern society, becomes more impressive, more inclusive--and more impregnable with every chapter and every turn of the page.
My test for the far-reaching influence and power of any theorist--particularly of the wannabe revolutionary kind--is three-fold. One, their theory must be completely plausible; i.e. not needing simple revolt from detractors and complimentary but poorly explained aspects of ITSELF to proclaim and rationalize its essential relevance. Two, they must have the ability to completely encapsulate the foundational principles, concepts and findings of the other historical and competitive theories within its discipline as an integral part of its own new perspective; showing their ideas to be the great quantum leap beyond our sense of reality and the all inclusive step toward truth. And third, perhaps most important of all, it has to excite me. There may be things my mind will not be specifically educated enough, multi-lingual enough or quick enough to pick up, but you cannot fool my heart. All these three are BLOOD RELATIONS's great achievement and great contribution.
Chris Knight, the brilliant and controversial London anthropologist, does this all in BLOOD RELATIONS with such remarkable clarity and erudition, in fact, attempts to disagree with his findings becomes pointless. His unified field-theory of the prehistoric African woman's role in the formation of human culture is so incredibly well done, and so profoundly earth shattering in its implications, that I read the book twice to fully soak in all the sacred pre-verbal intuitions I have had that it reveals to be historical fact and obvious science.
So far the only complaint of BLOOD RELATIONS I could have is the only one possible: he seemingly focuses too much on the Marxist avatar of revolutionary cultural ideas while using it as the lens via which the origins of culture could be best understood. This at times seems to ironically minimize the revolutionary spirit of humankind that produced them. None less than the great Picasso was once quoted in saying "today's artists are tomorrow's politicians;" focusing more on the *artistic* power of the creative human spirit (my bias) may have put his new paradigm in an even more inclusive perspective. Yet even there he establishes, to my knowledge, the first credible dialectic between the devolved, political diseases of 20th century Stalinism/Maoism and the philosophical/scientific postulates of the 19th century Marxism upon which their regimes were originally based. So powerfully, in fact, that the Marxist perspective he examines and explains driving his reevaluation of 20th century anthropology--and, in turn, our entire view of human culture--need not (and in his book does not) come with the kind of intellectual apologies that would otherwise signify an inherent lack of validity.
Chris Knight with BLOOD RELATIONS shows unquestionably that women, via sex and the rhythm of menstruation, nurtured the primal creative impulse of civilization and they essentially created human culture. And he shows it to be made up of communal solidarity against oppressors and oppressive situations (be it prehistoric animals or alpha males), symbol-driven creativity, and achieving a certain oneness with the rhythms of nature. This primal social movement that is the womb of human culture, told in every ancient culture's foundational myths, could naturally just as easily explain the birth of democracy and/or capitalism in the historical ages of feudalism as it does the advent of Marxism in the age of capitalism...and what is next for human kind.
This is another of the great books of our time whose far-reaching influence in modern culture has not even begun to be felt. One can only imagine what anthropological works throughout history that have been ignored because of intellectual biases will now be reexamined and redeemed through his paradigm shifting work. I would combine this with Barbara Ehrenreich's 1995 work BLOOD RITES, and the 19th Century Gerald Massey's ANCIENT EGYPT, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD as an anthropological trinity of monumental, paradigm shifting proportions that will change your view of humankind-our true past, present and potential-forever.
BLOOD RELATIONS is beautiful.
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