Rules of Marriage

Main Question: How in fact are marriages constructed and arranged?

Introductory Terms | References

15:00 MB     00:09:30     shot in 1986

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Introductory Terms

Marriage: "Marriage is a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are the recognized legitimate offspring of both partners" (Notes & Queries)
"Every society has some way to operate a distinction between free unions and legitimate ones" (Levi-Strauss)
"Marriage is a relationship established between a woman and one or more other persons, which provides that a child born to the woman under circumstances not prohibited by the rules of the relationship is accorded full birth-status rights common to normal members of his society or social stratum" (Gough)
"Marriage is (to borrow Maine’s phrase)" ‘a bundle of rights’; hence all universal definitions of marriage are vain" (Leach)
Rights in Rem (possessive): Literally "in a thing", a right against all the world, e.g. infringed if someone steals it or destroys it or damages it, "possessive rights"; such rights are often infringed if a man commits adultery with wife. They also give "procreative" rights, rights in a woman as a mother or childbearer
Rights in Personam (personal): Personal rights and duties, for example in relation between husband and wife each partner has personal rights imposing duties upon the other, such as sexual access, provision of food, clothing and shelter. Those in a woman are termed "in uxorem", to distinguish them from procreative rights "in genetricem".
Monogamy: Only one partner of each sex in a marriage
Polygamy: Several partners (either sex) marriage to one of opposite sex
Spouse: Marriage partner of either sex
Marriage Rules: In many societies the "bundle of rights" that is contained in a marriage is of interest to a wider group than the individuals concerned and hence there are a number of explicit rules (normastive rules) concerning whom one should or should not marry
Elementary/Complex Systems: "Elementary structures of kinship are… those systems which prescribe marriage with a certain type of relative or, alternatively, those which, while defining all members of the society as relatives, divide them into categories, viz., possible spouses and prohibited spouses… ‘Complex structures’ is reserved for systems which limit themselves to defining the circle of relatives and leave the determination of the spouse to other mechanisms, economic or psychological" (Levi-Strauss)
Positive Rules: Stating that one should marry a certain category of relative, if the rule states that "one must" this is termed "prescriptive", if the command is only that "one ought" then the system is "preferential"
Negative Rules: Stating whom one must not marry, "proscriptive" rules
Exogamy: "Rule of marriage that requires a person to marry outside local, kin, status, or other such group to which a person belongs" (Schusky)
Endogamy: the reverse of exogamy, i.e. to marry inside group
Matrilateral: On the mother’s side
Patrilateral: On the father’s side
Cross-cousin: "The child of a father’s sister or of a mother’s brother; the children of siblings of opposite sex are cross; cousins" (Schusky)
Parallel Cousin: "The children of siblings of the same sex. The children of a father’s brother and a mother’s sister are parallel cousins" (Schusky)


Anderson, M., Chs. 13-15 (on mate selection in "complex" societies)
Dumont, L., (1968) "Marriage; Marriage Alliance" in Int. Enc. Soc. Sci
Fox, R., Chs 7&8 in Kinship & Marriage, Penguin
Gough, E.K.M. (1965) "The Nayars and the Definition of Marriage", Jnl. Roy. Anth. Inst.
Harris, C.C., Ch.2 in The Family
Keesing, R., Chs. 3& 5 in Kin Groups and Social Structure
Leach, E.R., Ch.3 & 4, in Rethinking Anthropology