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David H. J. Morgan

Subject Gender Studies
Sociology of Family and Friendships » Sociology of Family

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Dictionary definitions of marriage usually begin with something like “the legal union of a man and a woman in order to live together and often to have children.” Even in such a simple and limited definition, some key elements and some potential complexities are highlighted. First, we are dealing with a definition referring to legal criteria. However, since legal definitions differ, we can reasonably expect practices and understandings of marriage to differ. This dictionary definition is consequently a highly ethnocentric one, shaped by the cultural and historical conditions under which it is produced. Next, marriage is a way of identifying some particular kinds of ties between two, or sometimes more, people such that marriage is always something more than the characteristics of the individuals who compose it. There is also a suggestion of functionality; marriage exists in order to achieve something else. Marriage is important to the individuals concerned, the others to whom they are connected, and to the society within which the marriage is recognized. Marriage will not necessarily be important in the same way across different societies or to the different individuals within these societies. Recognizing this qualification, the list here outlines some of the key ways in which sociologists have described the importance of marriage: •  Marriage is seen as a key element within a wider ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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