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A Global Anthropology of Transforming Marriage

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - AGATM (A Global Anthropology of Transforming Marriage)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-06-30

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?
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. A planning workshop was held over 2 days in May 2017, involving the team and the Advisory Committee. This allowed the AGATM team to present research plans to a wider audience for consultation and feedback. All researchers began their field research in July-August 2017 (months 7-8). Months 7-18 were focussed on carrying out field research for all projects, broadly as described in Annex 1. 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; 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 took place in November 2018. PI’s visits Taiwan and Athens have been used as opportunities for presenting preliminary research finding to local academic audiences.

In months 19-36 (July 2018-December 2019), work has mainly focused on analysis of research materials, writing, planning and carrying out dissemination activities, as well as further periods of fieldwork for Carsten, Magee and Reece. PI visited Botswana project for 1 week in November 2018. Periods after and/or between fieldwork have been used for continuing transcription of interview materials; preliminary analysis of field-notes, as above, and writing of draft chapters/papers. Full team meetings to foster the comparative framework of AGATM work, and for consolidation, discussion and planning of ongoing writing and dissemination events have been held approximately every month over two days.
Dissemination and writing: 1 joint article was drafted and written by team and published in Anthropology of this Century May 2019. Magee delivered a paper on the Virginia project at the Association of Social Anthropologists of UK and Commonwealth annual conference in Oxford in September 2018; Chiu and Carsten delivered presentations at workshop on ‘The Invisible Within’ at University of Central Lancashire in Nov 2018; Carsten and Reece participated in round table discussion of Botswana project at University of Cape Town in Nov 2018; Carsten, Chiu, Papadaki, and Reece presented papers on all AGATM projects in May 2019 at a workshop at the Dept of Anthropology and History, University of Aegean. Reece organised panel on ‘Intimacy, marriage and social change’ at the European Conference for African Studies in Edinburgh in June 2019, and delivered a paper. Carsten delivered a seminar on Penang project at Monash University, Kuala Lumpur in March 2019, and a training event for students and staff at University Sains Malaysia in April 2019, and a seminar on her Penang project at UCL in October 2019. Writing of papers and organisation for our main workshop/conference’ was completed and held in Edinburgh Sept 2019. Work for planned exhibition and associated catalogue and website, ‘An Anthropology of Weddings: 5 places, 50 Objects’, was completed, and exhibition displayed in Edinburgh Central Library during September 2019 with an associated catalogue and on-line Panel on AGATM research was presented by AGATM team at American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings in Vancouver in Nov 2019.
The original analytic approach and innovative methods of this research will 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.