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Polygamy. Polygamy is illegal in the United States and in European countries. However, it is legal --even preferred-- in many countries and in numerous local societies throughout the world.

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slide2

Polygamy is illegal in the United States and in European countries. However, it is legal --even preferred-- in many countries and in numerous local societies throughout the world.

Why is this the case? Why do some societies accept polygamy and even consider it an ideal, while others forbid it?

slide3

Polygamy occurs in two general forms: polygyny and polyandry. Polygyny is far more common.

  • Is there a rational explanation for the occurrence of polygamy vs. monogamy which would consistently explain:
    • Why polygamy occurs in some societies and monogamy in others;
    • Why some polygamous societies practice polygyny, while others practice polyandry;
    • Why some societies have changed their form of marriage --i.e., why societies that previously practiced polygamy have switched to monogamy (and vice versa), and why societies that practiced polygyny would change to polyandry (and vice versa)?
slide4

Many national governments, particularly in Africa, have attempted to outlaw polygamy. Christian missionary activities have also largely attempted to eradicate the practice. Have they been successful? If so, why; if not why not?

  • Moreover, if there has been a decline in polygamy in Africa and elsewhere, is it because of government policy and missionary activity, or might it have occurred for other reasons?
slide5

Many feminists view polygamy as the exploitation of women and the subordination of women to the dominance and sexual gratification of men. How well does this perspective describe the examples of polygamy you have read?

  • How does it reflect the actual interaction of men and women in polygamous households?
  • Is sex the reason for practicing polygamy?
  • How well does such a feminist perspective account for the practice of polyandry in Tibet, or polygyny among matrilocal and matrilineal Native American peoples, such as the Cheyenne?
  • Is there a simpler, more effective explanation for the practice of polygamy in its various forms than that provided by feminists? How does this relate to the principle of Occam's Razor?
slide6

Marital structure

Is it possible to generate a logically consistent etic explanation for why different forms of marriage are commonly practiced in various societies?

Consider the following questions:

  • Under what conditions is polygyny more likely to be practiced?
  • 2. Under what conditions is polyandry more likely to be practiced?
  • 3. Under what conditions is monogamy more likely to be practiced?
  • 4. Under what conditions is single-parenthood more likely to be practiced?
  • * * * * *
  • 5. What are the costs vs. benefits of having children in foraging societies?
  • 6. What are the costs vs. benefits of having children in subsistence based
  • horticultural and agricultural societies?
  • 7. What are the costs vs. benefits of having children in urban industrial
  • societies?
  • 8. What are the costs vs. benefits of having children in post-industrial
  • (hyperindustrial) societies?
slide7

Polygamy is particularly associated with intense agricultural societies where large families represent prosperity and future survival. These are also the societies in which prospective husbands are valued in terms of their potential ability to oversee large prosperous families while future wives are valued largely in terms of their fecundity and nurturing qualities. We see a dramatic shift in the ideal characteristics associated with potential mates with the evolution of industrial and post-industrial societies.

  • Why is this the case? How does this fit the principle of Infrastructural Determinism?
slide8

There has been a resurgence of polygamy in many parts of the world, including the United States. Polygamy was previously practiced by Mormons in the U.S. until it was outlawed by the United States Government and officially rejected by the Mormon Church during the late nineteenth century. However, there are several flourishing polygamous communities in the U.S. today, and their number is growing.

  • Why has this occurred?
  • Why would some people favor it, and why would others oppose it?
  • Many of those who oppose the practice of polygamy in the U.S. are the very same people who support gay and lesbian marriages?
  • Is it logically consistent to support gay and lesbian marriages, but to oppose polygamous unions? Does it make anthropological sense that one should be seen as good and the other as bad?
slide11

Mormon Temple

Salt Lake City

slide14

Modern Mormon

Polygamous Families

slide22

Polygamy is not limited to the human species. It is widespread among animal populations. Moreover, both forms of polygamy --polygyny and polyandry-- are practiced by other animals.

    • Why do these different mating systems occur in other species?
    • Are the reasons similar to why they occur among different human populations?
    • What can we learn from studying non-human polygamy about why polygamy occurs among humans?
    • Might we develop a rational explanation for the practice of polygamy vs. monogamy --as well as for the practice of polygyny vs. polyandry-- that applies equally to human and non-human populations? Wouldn’t such an approach be favored by Occam’s Razor?
    • If we can determine that similar theoretical explanations account for the variation in both human and non-human mating systems, then what does this say about claims regarding the moral superiority of monogamy over polygamy?