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  Marriage, in its Western sense, defines the ceremonial and legal union of a man and woman, usually with the aims to live together and reproduce children. However, this definition does not apply to all societies. Whereas the relationship between a woman and her children tends to be similar across societies, there are a myriad of ideas—about gender relations and roles, the selection of a mate, marriage ceremonies and residential patterns—to do with the socially acknowledged bond between opposite sexes. A change in social status occurs at marriage, but this need not involve a man\'s exclusive rights over a woman\'s sexuality or the recognition of the legitimacy of children. In some societies, pregnancy outside of or before marriage may be accepted as the norm.

Many terms have been used to order the varied and complex cultural interpretations of marriage. In 1865, the lawyer John McLennan coined the words exogamy, to describe marriage outside of a social group, and endogamy, for marriage inside a socially distinct group. Along with other social theorists of the time, he believed that marriage patterns evolved from a state of sexual promiscuity to group marriages to one in which monogamy (the culturally approved relationship of one man with one woman) prevailed.

Such evolutionist assumptions were later criticized as speculative and biased against non-Western societies. Instead, anthropologists began to look at how marriage operated as a functional institution of various societies. Types of marriages considered were polygynous marriages, in which the husband marries more than one wife, and the less-common polyandrous marriages, in which the wife marries more than one husband. Usually, these different types of marriages are related to human and land resources. Monogamous families tend to predominate where private property and land are at issue. Polygynous families are prevalent where humans are the most important resources in economic and political systems such that more children are able to be reproduced. Polyandrous marriages are reported in places like the Himalayas where there is a shortage of land and family size is limited by assigning several males, commonly brothers, to one female.

Marriage payments or gifts take the form of bridewealth (payments, in valuables or estate, from the husband\'s side to the wife\'s), or dowry (payment from the wife\'s group to the husband\'s or for the couple themselves). In certain marriages, like those of India, the virgin bride is considered as a gift, kanyadaan, to be given to the husband\'s group along with her dowry payment.

There may also be cultural variations in residential and familial organizations after the marriage union. When a wife goes to live with the husband\'s group, it is called virilocal (Latin, ‘in the man\'s place’). If the husband is expected to live with the wife\'s group, it is termed uxorilocal (Latin, ‘in the woman\'s place’). Extended family describes the situation in which the married partners are accommodated with an extensive network of kin such as the husband\'s brother\'s family or the grandparents. A nuclear family stems from the establishment of a home away from both partners\' kin.

As a general rule of thumb, where extended families prevail those with the authority to select mates for their next of kin do so with an expressed interest in the social status and work qualifications of prospective mates. This is usually referred to as ‘arranged’ marriage. Where nuclear families prevail, the criteria for mate selection depends less on the extended network of kin and sometimes even the parents. Such a marriage is often based upon the concept of a ‘love match’. However, the difference between the two forms of arrangement is a matter of degree. Even in ‘love’ marriages, there is a marked tendency to choose mates from similar cultural, religious and economic backgrounds.

All systems of marriage designate categories of people whom a person may not marry, or may only marry subject to serious disapproval. These stem from two perspectives. One prohibits the marriage of persons who are closely related. This is known as the incest rule and may show variations in the categories of kin that are not approved for marriage relationships. Commonly, this takes the form of mother/son, father/daughter and brother/sister. In certain Muslim communities, there is a marked preference for marriage between first cousins related through the father\'s sister, rather than the father\'s brother. This serves the purpose of containing property that had been given out as dowry within the original family line.

The other criteria of mate selection prohibits persons from marrying someone from a very different ethnic or economic background. This may be of rigid or adaptable nature according to the social circumstances.

Patterns of marital situations, roles and changes have also formed a part of social enquiry, as have incidents of marriage breakdown and divorce, which also exhibit widely varying features. Whereas divorce may involve highly formalized procedures in Western society, instances such as Hopi divorce involve the less complex practice of putting the husband\'s belongings outside the house door. Ways of channelling marriage payments and rights of children or other kin after a divorce serve to further outline the way gender rights and status are thought of in society. RK

See also caste; ethnicity; evolutionism; exchange; kinship.Further reading Jack Goody & , S.J. Tambiah, Bridewealth and Dowry; , Lucy Mair, Marriage.



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