Twins: Legendary or Disposable?

Historically speaking, different cultures have had fascinating views and practices regarding twins.  In some instances twins are praised and seen as a blessing, while in others they have been despised and seen as a bad omen—sometimes leading twins in certain societies to be outright disposed of.  Being a twin myself, non-twins hold beliefs that twins have special twin ‘powers’ such as telepathy and share one mind with the same ideas and interests.  Bizarrely enough multiple people have asked my twin brother and myself to demonstrate that we could read one another’s minds by speaking the same word at the same time without any prior knowledge—with a 99% failing rate.

An anthropologist utilizing Practice Theory would look at how twins are seen and talked about in a culture vs. how that certain culture’s “established structures” view twins.  For example, in the United States most institutions do not alienate or limit twins, as they’re a ‘group’ that is deserving of the same inalienable rights that every other person is given.  However, employers or any non-twins could hold beliefs that associate twins with negative or unusual connotations that might restrict them from private establishments or ostracize them from the smallest of social groups.  In addition, the Practice theorist could observe the ‘historic turn’ of the twin phenomenon, as the particular history of the culture is more pertinent than any universal theories regarding twins.

A Culture and Personality anthropologist could easily examine different cultures’ rationales and beliefs regarding twins to support his or her theory that culture, rather than biology, shapes a culture’s personality and beliefs towards a phenomenon.  For instance, twins have attained a heroic status in the eyes of Italians, as the legendary founders of Rome were the twins Romulus and Remus.  Whereas, in many other cultures that practiced some sort of kin-land inheritance system, twins would have to be killed so as not to cause future violence and strife for the family, village, or even kingdom if it was the royalty and elites who birthed twins.  Even in our present place in history, “modern society,” such as the United States practice selective abortion, in which the parent or parents will choose to kill a twin inside of the womb.[1]  Twins are common in every culture that reproduces, so a Culture and Personality anthropologist could use the historical and modern beliefs of cultures pertaining to twins to show the variations in different cultures that do not hold a biological and universal personality regarding twins.

—Morgan O.

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28 Responses to Twins: Legendary or Disposable?

  1. Stephanie Grossart says:

    I think twins have always been a mind boggling circumstance. Obviously twins are not lesser humans or weird in any way but it is pretty different seeing clone like people. I would look at them in a culture and personality anthropologist view. Every culture has a different view of twins because of something that happened a long time ago regarding twins such as your greek example. It is easy to demonize something when you don’t understand it. Thankfully in modern day twins are extremely common and do not encounter discrimination that I know of.

    • kristoferboguniewicz says:

      With regards to your observation of twins being extremely common – particularly in the United States – I would, myself, explain this through Cultural Ecological means. Perhaps as giving birth to children became less dangerous for mothers, because of medicines obtained from the environment, more mothers were able to bear more children and thus the number of sets of twins increased as well. Logically, in regions of the world where giving birth to children is still dangerous for the mothers, less twins are born and can hold a special or stigmatized place in that society.

      • Taylor Rose Martin says:

        I really like the thought of examining this theory through Cultural Ecology. In the United States, twins are not discriminated against. Especially with famous twins such as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, I know the girls my age growing up wanted a twin. When observing the discrimination or negative connotation of twins in a cultural aspect, I think that Cultural Ecology would have been stronger than practice theory. Going off of kristofer’s comment about health, food availability could really affect a culture’s perception of twins. For instance, in an arid place where food is scarce, having two babies instead of one could put a lot of nutritional strain on the mother and the cultural around the twins.

        It would be interesting to look at the rise of quadruplets, sextuplets, etc. with the use of fertility drugs. How does this change our perception of twins and multiple births? Is it accepted among society to have this many children? It would be interesting to look at people such as “John and Kate plus eight” and the “Octomom”. You could use the same theories to view these phenomena.

  2. Lucy Johnson says:

    The author was well-written and did a fine job picking his theories, but I did think that implications the Practice Theory example might have been a bit week. I am no one’s boss, but I am a “non-twin’ and never in my life have I heard of someone being prejudiced towards twins. Frankly unless you and your sibling were competing for the same job they likely wouldn’t even know you’re a twin. I understand how you tried to display that twins get potentially different treatment even in cultures seemingly unbiased towards them via an example as relatable to the audience as the United States, but I it was neither accurate or relevant.

    The Culture and Personality I agree with.

    • Abi Peters says:

      I also found the practice theory explanation to be confusing and a bit forced. However, as another non-twin myself, I do think it is important to recognize that as non-twins we have little say in whether twins are actually discriminated or not – we are not living in their shoes. Possible a better practice theory example would have been that in America we say that we treat twins as regular people, nothing special. At the same time though are actions suggest we think they are special or super interesting people by constantly asking them if they can read each other’s mind or say the same word at the same time. What we say and what we practice is different.

    • kristoferboguniewicz says:

      I agree that the author is well-written as well and that the Practice Theory example is a bit ‘weak’ too. I believe he/she is using a general example that could be applied towards any group of people, as anyone can discriminate anything or anyone. So perhaps is isn’t a weak example, but a very general one to drive home a very general point.

    • Hannah Hilden-Reid says:

      Firstly, overall I found the essay to be very thought-provoking. But I would have to agree with Lucy. I had no issue with the Culture and Personality theory argument but the practice theory was not sufficiently argued and defended. The way it is phrased I couldn’t help but think that the argument was in a way equating the little “prejudice” twins face to the struggles of minority groups. Perhaps I am completely off but that is the feeling I received. Also the argument appears to be vague and isn’t supported by solid facts. The following sentence confused me, having no real qualitative or cultural research to defend it, “…employers or any non-twins could hold beliefs that associate twins with negative or unusual connotations that might restrict them from private establishments or ostracize them from the smallest of social groups” Despite my critiques I found the essay insightful and well-written.

      • Alana McDowell says:

        I have to agree with this as well. I didn’t see how the evidence in the Culture and Personality theory had much to do with the theory. I think a better theory for that paragraph would’ve been historical particularism or the historic turn, since the author mentions the value of twins in Italy due to the founders of Rome being twins, as well as the distaste for twins in a monarchical system due to throne/land disputes. These points seem to have more to do with the unique history of different regions; I don’t see where personality comes into play in these examples. The author doesn’t elaborate on the ways certain societies tends to create certain personalities, and even if he/she did, I still don’t see how it would be the strongest theory to use since twins are fated to be born twins and the shaping of their personality has nothing to do with whether or not they will be twins. Either way, this piece definitely made me think about analyzing the twin dynamic under different anthropological schools of thought. Interesting topic!

    • Christopher McKeown says:

      First of all, excellent paper Morgan. However, I do agree Lucy’s statements here, especially the idea unbiased approach. I think it would be very interesting to see this same article written from several different aspects including a non-twin and someone from a very different society that looks down upon twins. But, like Lucy states, I really appreciate the view you place on twins, it’s interesting, insightful, and from a first hand source. I would be very interested in how twins are shown across several cultures.

  3. Kait Bashford says:

    Excellent essay! I really liked your Practice Theory explanation of twins, especially how you suggested that American society has “established structures” for viewing these types of siblings. When you discussed the “historic turn” of the twin phenomenon, I was reminded of some disturbing things I have heard about studies conducted during the Nazi regime. Doctors would separate identical twins to see if they shared things like pain or pleasure. One twin would be tortured and they would see if the other reacted; and vice versa, one twin would be given positive stimulants while the other would be ignored. It is crazy to think that people would conduct such research in hopes of finding a significant connection between two individuals. I wonder if fraternal twins have experienced such a history? It is amazing to think about the differences in medicinal practices among cultures and throughout time, especially in regards to twins.

    • kristoferboguniewicz says:

      Indeed the medical history regarding twins could be an essay in its own right! As for your question regarding fraternal twins, I do believe that they too have experienced a history of medical fascination, even under the Nazi regime, as it is the biological and genetic makeup of being a twin that sets them apart for medical experimentation, rather than similar appearances that would identify identical twins.

  4. Greyden H says:

    I found this article very interesting because I am a twin. I would have never thought to have looked into the constructed views of twins in cultures across the world. I never considered myself to be any more special of a case than any other baby that was born on this earth, just though I was more uncommon of a possibility. To think that in some other countries, a hatred could be constructed against you as well as the idea of the pair of twins being thought of as bad omens. I have dealt with many kids who have teased me for being a twin, asking if I have some super powers, so I can relate to the author in this way. I alwasy thought it was funny for people to ask me that because it seemed as if because I was “different”, some sort of “different” idea of me and my twin had to be constructed.

  5. Kyle Santi says:

    I think the mistrust and suspicions you mentioned towards twins is because of the fact that twin births are rarer than single births, at least amongst humans. People fear things that are different, so they make excuses. Being raised in the United States, I never viewed twins as odd or abnormal with special powers. Since they were in the same womb, and that place is revered by many cultures, it makes sense why people would think that twins might have a deeper bond that is not inherently obvious and maybe even special powers. Also, I think you are right in that inheritance becomes complicated with twins because they were born at the same time and both have legitimate claim to the same household. Twins envoke many complicated feelings, and you did well in pointing them out.

  6. Claire Cohen says:

    Interesting essay! I think that your analysis using culture and personality theory is very well argued, however I don’t really fully understand the practice theory application. You bring up a good point about thinking about different historical issues involving twins. I like Taylor’s idea of using cultural ecology theory to analyze the prevalence of triplets and other multiple-birth pregnancies. In the United States, our cultural environment (for most people) provides mothers with adequate nourishment and prenatal care, therefore babies surviving pregnancies are more common than it used to be in the early 1900s, for example, when infectious disease was much more prevalent. Today, it could be interesting to compare the case of countries that still experience high infant mortality rates with wealthy nations such as the United States where there are enough resources for twins, triplets and even octuplets to be born.

  7. Alexandra Sapien says:

    Interesting the way you analyzed the practice theory towards the treatment of different twins, however, i think it could be taken a step further. Around 8-15 years ago some of my friends mothers were actually taking self-injections to increase the chance of getting twins when conceiving them. This is seen as a turning point for twins in American culture because, unlike societies where they ostracize or kill the one twin, Americans are making an effort to actually have twins. I also really enjoyed the reference to the fact that in Italy twins are seen as something to be joyous of. It would have been interesting to dive further into the aspect of genera and twins. While reading this essay i was curious, when you discussed that some twins were killed to prevent further strife for the family, would it matter if they were female twin? Because at a certain point in time females weren’t made to inherit land at all from the family.

  8. lilykoral says:

    I thought that this was a very fascinating essay. I never knew about majority of the facts that appeared in this essay about twins. However, I don’t know if I’d agree that your second theory adequately matches the examples. Culture and personality generally looks at the desired personalities and character traits and how they’re exemplified in culture. I feel like your historic examples for reasons behind twins’ subject positions might be better suited with a theory like post-structuralism.

  9. Hayley Dardick says:

    I was so excited to see your article as I have a twin brother as well! And yes, I also get asked if I share a telepathic connection with him… Shockingly, no. I think people are very fascinated by twins, but there really aren’t any mystical forces at play. I do believe, however, that twins share a close bond that can be unlike that of other siblings- you go through the life course at basically the same time.There is something unique about going through every stage of life with someone from the very beginnings in the womb.

    The previous commenter, Alexandra, got me wondering how a feminist anthropologist would study twins. For example, in my type of situation (boy-girl twins) is there a gender hierarchy at play? In societies where boys are valued more greatly, I would imagine the boy twin would rank above his sister, who is otherwise as equal as siblings could possibly be. Do boy-boy twins hold any extremely special value in certain cultures? Are girl-girl twins the absolutely worst luck you could get?

    • Brianna Dascher says:

      That’s a very interesting thought Hayley. I think that certainly depends on the cultural background at play. As Professor McGranahan mentioned recently, parents in Tibet are asked how the baby is if its a boy, and how the mother is if its a girl. In this situation, I would guess that the girl end of a boy-girl set of twins would essentially be ignored, because only the boy would really be prized. But I wonder if the parents would have the same reaction – some families love their daughters just as much as their sons would be loved, despite the cultural stigma, so how often would this gender hierarchy be ignored? And if so, would this be kept under wraps because it’s against the cultural norm?

  10. Sophia Grenier says:

    I think looking at how twins are treated would be really interesting through a Cultural Ecology lens. Maybe the way twins are viewed–celebrated or otherwise–has to do with the environment, and the abilities to support 2 children instead of 1. I’ve never really considered the praise or disposal of twins–it’s just never been on my radar. Either way, this was a pretty enlightening read.

  11. Allison Dudley says:

    I don’t agree with the Practice Theory paragraph because i don’t think that disclosing that you are a twin is important in any job scenario or life scenario in general. Is there any evidence of negative connotations or stereotypes for twins? I may be ignorant in the topic by not having a twin but I do know many twins. The telepathic powers among the twins that I know is an idea they ridicule and make fun of even to the extent of fooling people into thinking that they are actually reading each others minds. It is an interesting topic nonetheless because being brought into this world brings about a different aspect of life. Having someone so closely related (especially in the case of identical twins) is a fascinating phenomenon on how it affects the lives in any particular culture. I think that for that reason, culture and personality is a great angle to look at. Morgan you challenged my own neutral to positive thoughts on twins through your practice theory paragraph and I think it makes an interesting point.

    • Colton Erickson says:

      I also am not a twin but have had multiple friends who are. As far as I know, they did not carry any sort of social stigma or face problems in job or life scenarios that normal non-twins do not face. My friends who were identical twins were sometimes confused for one another, but this was more comical than anything else. In America, I can’t really see how having a twin would invite any sort of prejudice. However, cultures in other parts of the world are sure to perceive twins in different ways, and I agree very much so with the culture and personality portion. In other regions, people might be brought up to believe that twins are a bad omen or that they are lucky. It all depends on how that culture shapes its members. Something else I found interesting in the piece was where it said that in america, you can have an abortion to remove one of the twins. I had no idea that anything like that was happening.

  12. Rachel Echsner says:

    Twins throughout history have been somewhat confusing to different cultures. Most of the time whether they’re considered esteemed or damned, these ideas come from the simple fact that people in ancient times simply did not understand the concept of twins. After all, in the scene of things, having twins tends to be fairly abnormal. I thought that this essay did a good job of discussing the different views and ideas about twins. I like that you used the culture and personality theory to talk about how the way twins are viewed in each culture is really shaped by the culture’s experiences.

  13. Brianna Larkin says:

    I thought this essay was really interesting. I would’ve never thought to think about the historic terms that apply to twins and whether they were bad luck or good. I think a top reason why people that are not twins ask if there is any brain connection or anything is that I remember growing up that TV would kind of portray it in that way such as the one show “Sister Sister” with Tina and Tamara.

  14. Ellis Hughes says:

    These are very interesting points in terms of looking at how natural occurrences are perceived across culture. Being apart of reproduction, twins are the outcome of biological circumstances. But these biological circumstances have historically been subject to the rationality behind cultures, and what is valued in one place may be devalued in another. When you mentioned being asked about your ‘telepathy,’ it made me think about the fact that with the instances of twins, as well as other biological conditions, people and culture seem to build a reputation around such conditions which are false. This seems to happen out of the mindset that the concept of twins is considered different, and therefore are outside of the ‘normal,’ which, logically, is why twins are be telepathic. But why are these traits different when they are just another part of nature, found all over the globe? What is it that leads cultures to perceive natural, biological characteristics so differently within society and across the world?

  15. Mateo says:

    Morgan,

    I like your analysis of twins within Culture and Personality. However I believe a Cultural Ecology approach would better strengthen the Culture and Personality argument than the Practice Theory argument, though Practice theory could be used to support an analysis of regional environment, climate, resource availability, geographic and topographic variables and their effects on cultural perceptions of twins.

  16. Scout E. says:

    I thought this was an interesting essay. At least in the United States, many people find twins to be a weird phenomenon. It’s probably why the director of The Shining chose to include two young twins in many creepy scenes during that movie. I think it goes way beyond twins to anything that is biologically abnormal, such as a woman born with a penis or a man with “breasts.” With this being said, I am confused about the application of the culture and personality theory. As I understand it, cultures create an ideal of a perfect personality (or in other words, how a person should act). This is why people with certain mental disorders are ostracized in certain cultures because they act different than the norm. So I don’t think this is a problem with personality, but with biology. In the United States, people view the biological circumstance of twins to be weird, while in other cultures it is valued or seen as beautiful.

  17. John Cooper says:

    What about the other 1% of the time. What would an anthropologist make of the time when you can ‘read your twins mind’? Is that any difference then the amount of time you could read the mind of any person in the larger community you were raised in or have you and your twin been raised differently enough for the other people with in your community that there is a measurable difference?

  18. shelly kim says:

    twins always seem to be fascinate people and stand out. historically they’ve been interesting scientists and often became victims of human body experiment. but now, people should be educated well enough that twins are nothing more than normal and usual people just like us.
    when i was in middle school, kids used to make fun of this twin sisters at our school because they look the same. it’s time for people to put new thoughts in their head and don’t see twins as ‘different’ or ‘fascinating’. that’s what creates discrimination.
    great argument on cultural and personality theory. even though i really find selective abortion is disruptive and sad. i’m not opposing abortion it self but selective abortion is like killing your sibling.
    more explanation with practice theory with details would help
    but overall great!

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