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A Global Anthropology of Transforming Marriage (AGATM)

PI: Professor Janet Carsten

Funded by an ERC Advanced Grant

Project Overview

This research aims to create a new theoretical vision of the importance of marriage as an agent of transformation in human sociality. Marriage globally is undergoing profound change, provoking intense debate and anxiety. These concerns refract wider instabilities in political, economic, and familial institutions. They signal the critical role of marriage in bringing together - and separating - intimate, personal, and familial life with wider state institutions. But we have little up to date comparative research or general theory of how marriage changes or the long-term significance of such change.

Paradoxically, social scientific and public discourse emphasise the conservative and normative aspects of marriage. This underlines the need for a new theoretical frame that takes account of cultural and historical specificity to grasp the importance of marriage as both vehicle of and engine for transformation.

AGATM overturns conventional understandings by viewing marriage as inherently transformative, indeed at the heart of social and cultural change. The research will investigate current transformations of marriage in two distinct senses. First, it will undertake  ethnographic investigation of new forms of marriage in selected sites in Europe, N. America, Asia, and Africa. Second, it will subject ‘marriage’ to a theoretical critique that will denaturalise marriage and reintegrate it into the new anthropology of kinship.

Research on five complementary and contrastive sub-projects examining emerging forms of marriage in different locations will be structured through the themes of care, property, and ritual forms. The overarching analytic of temporality will frame the theoretical vision of the research and connect the themes. The resulting work aims to revitalise the study of kinship by placing the moral, practical, political, and imaginative significance of marriage over time at its centre.

Sub-Projects

  • Malaysia and Singapore: Emerging Forms of Middle Class Marriage in Penang and Singapore
  • North America: Legal and Religious Contestation and Innovation in Virginia
  • Botswana: Marriage, Risk, and Care in a Pandemic
  • Taiwan and China: Planning and Arranging Marriage under Contrastive Politico-Economic Regimes
  • Greeece: Marital Resilience, Stability, and Transformation under Conditions of Economic Austerity in Athens
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