Marriage Anthropology universality

May 2, 2022 - 13:23
May 19, 2022 - 11:18

Discuss the issues related to the universality of marriage definitions, citing examples wherever necessary.

The problem of the universal definition of marriage is almost as puzzling a phenomenon today as it was at the dawn of anthropology.

Generations of anthropologists spill gallons of ink to give a definition of marriage that can be applied to all human societies but all their efforts were in futility. The greatest barrier to this anthropological effort is the unimaginable variation in the institution of human marriages.

The institution of marriage exists in every society but can anything general be said about it from the point of view of all societies. This is the crux of the problem of the universal definition of marriage.

Early definitions:

Westermark: According to him” marriage is a relation between one or men with one or more women which is recognized by custom or law and which involves certain duties both in case of parties entering into union and in case of children born to it”.

Similarly, Malinowski and Radcliff-Brown in their definition emphasize on “union of men and women in which they are the jural father and mother of the child born to the women”.

This definition cannot accommodate men-men, women-women, women-ghost marriages.

Example: Dahomey of Africa, nuer. Hence they have no universal applicability.

Murdock defined Marriage as a universal institution that involves residential cohabitation, economic cooperation and the set up of a nuclear family. Cases of Kerala Nayars contradict this definition, where acknowledgement of paternity clears a child's membership.

Modern definition:

Modern definition by Kathaleen Gough after comprehensive case study of Nayars which points to the customer transactions to establish the legitimacy of children in society leave cases such as in Onotoa and Turk in Micronesia, where marriage is not at all necessary to establish legitimacy. It also did not comprehend on men to men marriages and polygamy

Definition of prince peter left the cases of Nayars and Onatowa debatable by terming marriages as “socially recognized assumptions by man and women”.

However, E R leach came up with defining it on the basis of a list of rights. But neither all rights exist in one society nor at least one right exists for all societies. Thus existing definitions of marriages are debatable. This does not mean the institution of marriage is not universal.

Till the data pertaining to every ethnographic situation is obtained and analyzed and elements common to it are identified, the debate over the universal definition of marriage remains unsolved.

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