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Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AGATM (A Global Anthropology of Transforming Marriage)


This comparative project will create a new theoretical vision of the importance of marriage as an agent of transformation in human sociality. The research will investigate marriage ethnographically as a transforming and transformative social institution. Work on five...


This comparative project will create a new theoretical vision of the importance of marriage as an agent of transformation in human sociality. The research will investigate marriage ethnographically as a transforming and transformative social institution. Work on five sub-projects will be structured through the themes of care, property, and ritual forms. The overarching analytic of temporality will frame the theoretical vision of the research and connect the themes. Together these will produce a new synthesis of the moral, practical, political, and imaginative significance of marriage over time. The research will be organised as five contrastive and complementary sub-projects carried out in different locations: Malaysia and Singapore; the U.S; Greece; Botswana; Taiwan and China. These sub-projects will be linked through the themes of care, property, and ritual forms, which will structure the collection of ethnographic material and analysis. The encompassing frame of temporality will strengthen the connections between the sub-projects and themes, and will create an overall theoretical vision for the project.

AGATM will forge synergies between the new kinship studies and work on intimacy, consumption, class, and demography - fields that have taken insufficient account of each other. Our sub-projects of marriage in the economic crisis of Greece, emerging forms of middle class marriage in Malaysia, increasing rates of nonmarriage in Singapore, contestations around same-sex marriage in the US, marriage in the context of the HIV/Aids epidemic in Botswana, and under contrastive politico-economic regimes in China have been selected to illuminate the transformative force of marriage as well as its capacity to ensure resilience, its imaginative salience and its practical importance. They will make possible a comparative theorisation of local manifestations of change, such as new patterns of delayed marriage or non-marriage, changes in ritualisation and consumption patterns, or the availability of discourses of choice and romance.

AGATM has two main objectives:

• To collect new empirical data with a strong comparative focus on emerging forms of marriage
• To build a new theoretical vision of the long-term transformative significance of marriage in human sociality.

To achieve these objectives, AGATM will examine marriage ethnographically and comparatively in order to understand how marriages are constituted in practice, and in what ways marriage is currently changing. The research objectives will be operationalised through the following specific questions:
1. What new forms of marriage are emerging in contemporary societies?
2. What social tensions or contestations do these articulate or give rise to?
3. What kinds of social transformation might these new forms of marriage enable?
4. What cultural media enable these transformations to be imagined, absorbed, or resisted?

Work performed

The preparatory phase of reading and planning of fieldwork was completed in months 1-7. PI began work on 1st January 2017, and the Research Fellows joined the project between end January and 1st April 2017 (on time or ahead of schedule). The PI conducted preparatory reading for all projects, and each researcher worked on reading for and planning their own individual projects from the time they joined the AGATM team. Full team meetings for the entire AGATM team were held over 3 days in April 2017 and again in May 2017 (months 4 and 5) for detailed planning and discussion of the research, and to foster collaboration between researchers. A planning workshop was held over 2 days, 25th-26th May 2017, involving the whole team and the Advisory Committee. This allowed the AGATM team to present research plans to a wider audience for consultation and feedback. The AGATM team held further full discussions over two days immediately after the workshop to consolidate plans and take on board the workshop discussion and feedback. All researchers began their field research in July-August 2017 (months 7-8). Modes of working and organisation of fieldwork has varied for the different researchers but overall, months 7-18 were focussed on carrying out field research for all projects, broadly as described in Annex 1. By the end of month 18, Carsten had completed 5 months’ fieldwork in Penang; Reece had completed 4 months’ fieldwork in Botswana; Magee had completed 6 months’ fieldwork in Virginia; Papadaki and Chiu had completed 11 months’ of fieldwork each in Athens and Taiwan respectively. Further fieldwork visits are ongoing and/or planned for Carsten, Magee, and Reece. Breaks in fieldwork for Carsten, Magee and Reece have been used for transcription of interview material; preliminary analysis of field-notes; the identification of key themes and the structuring of chapters/papers; extra reading to take account of unforeseen topics that arose during fieldwork; collection and analysis of relevant government policies, news media and social media posts online; AGATM team meetings and discussions to identify shared themes; planning for further of fieldwork to address gaps in data and to offer preliminary feedback to local audiences. The comparative framework and discussions of the AGATM programme have been fostered through the visits of the PI to three of the projects: PI’s visit to Virginia in November 2017 (month 11); visit to Taiwan March 2018 (month 15) and visit to Athens in May 2018 (month 17). PI’s visit to Botswana project will take place in November 2018 to coincide with fieldwork timetable of Koreen Reece. PI’s visits Taiwan and Athens have also been used as early opportunities for presenting preliminary research finding to local academic audiences, and this will also be undertaken during visit to Botswana in November 2018. Local dissemination and feedback for project in Virginia will take place at a later juncture. A full team meeting (with one member present on Skype) was held over 3 days in June 2018 (month 18) to discuss consolidation of final phases of fieldwork for all researchers and preliminary discussion of writing up and dissemination plans, including conference and exhibition.

Final results

The original analytic approach and innovative methods of this research will fundamentally reconfigure social science understandings of the importance of marriage as a transforming and transformative social institution. In so doing, AGATM will not only reshape kinship studies in anthropology, but will also provide new insights for economists and social policy experts in the field of social care in relation to family institutions, resources, and residential arrangements.

Website & more info

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