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Marriage and the family

Offer semester
2nd semester

Lecture time
Wednesday 12.30pm – 2.20pm

Lecture venue

Course description

What kinds of family systems are in place in small-scale societies? How was the institution of marriage transformed with the rise of modern industrial society? How is globalization changing family structures, courtship patterns, and gender relations around the world? What new ethical configurations and new forms of inequality are emerging in the process? Theorists of globalization and activists writing from a range of positions point to phenomena such as the emergence of romantic courtship, companionate marriage, and gay identity politics in many different parts of the world as evidence of a dynamics of global convergence in the realm of intimate life; but there is plenty of evidence suggesting that these developments – far from being homogeneous – are subject to plenty of local and regional variations.

This course explores these local and regional variations on the basis of concrete case-studies focusing on a variety of contexts including Western liberal democratic states and various regimes of postcolonial rule in Asia and elsewhere. Starting with an introductory discussion of key anthropological debates on the cultural diversity of human family systems, the course will then move on to a critical overview of major social science approaches to intimate life, modernity, and globalization.

Extending the discussion to recent developments in family forms, reproductive technologies, politicized sexualities, and gender relations, the course will focus on specific ethnographic case studies that highlight the connections between everyday practices and large-scale political and economic processes. A strong emphasis will be placed on making sense of the growing impact of processes of commercialization and the increasing centrality of transnational mobility and migration in emergent configurations of intimate life.

Course learning outcomes

  • To introduce students to classic social science approaches to marriage and the family in modern industrial societies;
  • To introduce students to more recent anthropological and sociological debates on marriage and intimate life under conditions of late modernity and globalization;
  • To teach students new ways of thinking about the connections between local realities and global processes;
  • To teach students how to develop a broader cross-cultural understanding of contemporary processes of social change;
  • To understand that many of the topics studied under the general heading “marriage and the family” are marked by great diversity based on culture, age, race, socioeconomic status, religion, and many other factors;


Class participation15%
A term paper of 2,000 words35%
Final Exam50%

Required reading

Beck, Ulrich and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim. 2014. Distant Love. Personal Life in the Global Age. Polity Press. (Excerpts)

Borneman, John. 1992. Belonging in the Two Berlins: Kin, State, Nation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Excerpts)

Donner, Henrike and Gonçalo Santos. (eds) 2016. “Love, Marriage, and Intimate Citizenship in contemporary China and India.” Modern Asian Studies Volume 50, Special Issue 4 (Selected Articles)

Giddens, Anthony. 1993. The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Stanford University Press. (Excerpts)

Goodfellow, Aaron. 2015. Gay Fathers, Their Children, and the Making of Kinship. Fordham University Press. (Excerpts)

Hirsch, Jennifer and H. Wardlow (eds) 2006. Modern Loves. The Anthropology of Romantic Courtship and Companionate Marriage. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. (Selected Chapters)

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1929. The Sexual Life of Savages in Northwestern Melanesia. Harvest/Harcourt, Brace & Co. (Excerpts)

Rudrapa. Sharmila. 2015. Discounted Life: The Price of Global Surrogacy in India. NYU Press. (Excerpts)

Santos, Gonçalo and Stevan Harrell. (eds) 2017. Transforming Patriarchy. Chinese Families in the 21st century. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press. (Selected Chapters)

Course co-ordinator and teachers