Why Marriage?
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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Why Marriage?

  • Author(s): Chit Hlaing, F.K.L.
  • Read, Dwight W
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 3.0 license

Marriage is not founded straightforwardly upon procreation.  Rather, marriage is universally — not withstanding groups such as the Mosuo of China lacking institutionalized marriage — a contractua l relationship legitimating a woman’s childbearing and giving her offspring social identity.  While a child-bearing woman may simply take on the motherhood role, the same is not true for fatherhood.  Rather, marriage defines a male conceptually as father for social purposes, regardless of his biological status.  From a conceptual perspective, this, in conjunction with the introduction during hominin evolution of the cognitive ability to recognize a relation of a relation as a relation, enabled the formation, by our ancestors, of genealogical tracing as a recursive process connecting pairs of individuals through parent/child links.  But genealogical tracing becomes problematic, both with regard to accurate transmission of genealogical connections across generations and to horizontal inclusion of individuals in disjoint social groups.  These limitations led to the radical introduction during the Upper Paleolithic, as suggested by the structural organization of the animal depictions in Chauvet Cave in France, of conceptually recognized and interconnected classes of kin.  This enabled the ethnographically documented, common procedure of culture-bearers computing kinship relations directly through kin terms, hence making kin term relations a foundational aspect of kinship relations.  We suggest, then, that “Why Marriage?” is answered through seeing how marriage made possible the kind of the kinship relational social systems that characterize human societies.

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