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Defining Marriage and Legitimacy

Duran Bell
Current Anthropology
Vol. 38, No. 2 (April 1997), pp. 237-253
DOI: 10.1086/204606
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/204606
Page Count: 18
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Defining Marriage and Legitimacy
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Abstract

A cross‐culturally valid conception of marriage must begin with a definition of husband‐wife and with a distinction between spouses and lovers. From this perspective we find that marriage is an institution by which men are provided (socially supported) rights to women. Typically, this institution is embedded within a domestic group wherein a multiplicity of other rights and responsibilities are assigned. Hence, the definition of marriage attributable to E. R. Leach confounds domestic rights (which may exist in the absence of marriage) with marital rights. Notes and Queries and Kathleen Gough define marriage by reference to the legitimacy of children. However, legitimacy is a construct oriented toward restricting access to resources on the basis of parentage. In particular, characteristics of parentage are used strategically as a basis for delimiting the set of offspring admissible into the corporate groups to which their fathers or in matrilineal systems their mothers belong. The extent to which legitimacy is tied to marriage is a strategic variable in the control of dominants within a social system. It is often associated with marriage but sometimes not.

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