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Marriage Payments: a fundamental reconsideration


Marriage payments: a fundamental reconsideration

Abstract This paper is a constructive critique of the well-known book by Jack Goody and Stanley Tambiah (1973), Bridewealth and Dowry. Given the general acceptance of Goody’s framework in contemporary studies of marriage and marriage payments, it is essential that we refer to this framework as we advance new theoretical concepts of marriage-related socio-economic processes. As some reviews of this paper have observed, this critique is certainly overdue.

In the course of this discussion we shall set forth analytical conceptions of wealth and consumption goods that we find to be foundational to an understanding of marriage payments and other economic processes; and we provide consistent criteria for studying the cross-cultural incidence of payments, gifts, bequests and inheritance that are often associated with marriage.

For cross-cultural analysis it is important that the dimensions of social process be clearly delineated, in spite of confusion that arises at the level of common discourse. Unfortunately, the Goody-Tambiah presentation amplifies this confusion in the interest of an ethnocentric evolutionary scheme. And in the context of the study of marriage payments in China, Goody’s construction of the “indirect dowry” is particularly unfortunate.

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