Toward a Political Sociology of Conjugal-Recognition Regimes: Gendered Multiculturalism in South African Marriage Law

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While conjugal-recognition policies are often a subject of political debate, scholars rarely attempt to explain the causal roots of such policies. When they do, their methods typically focus on discrete policies in isolation—same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, etc.—with comparatively little investigation of potential connections among policies. This article begins to develop a more holistic approach focused on identifying and explaining what I call conjugal-recognition regimes. Adapting the concept from the existing literature on welfare regimes, I argue that conjugal-recognition regimes exist when an identifiable pattern or principle organizes an institution’s conjugal-recognition policies. Such regimes shape social relations at multiple levels, both between the individuals in conjugal relationships and among the multiple institutions (state, religious, and so on) that confer official conjugal recognition. I argue that these organizing patterns or principles emerge out of historically specific, institutionally situated, and discursively constructed political debates on specific conjugal issues and, to the extent a regime in fact exists, go on to shape subsequent conjugal-policy controversies. I demonstrate these ideas through an extended analysis of post-apartheid South African marriage law, which has recently incorporated numerous previously excluded conjugal formations but has also assigned each new form to its own statutory and administrative structure or, as I call it, “silo.” I argue that these silos entrench a principle of “gendered multiculturalism” that officially defines cultures in terms of their supposedly characteristic gender relations. This principle increasingly tends to embed religious and cultural elites’ understandings of their respective traditions into the state’s marriage laws.

Yarbrough, M. W. (2019, May 4). Toward a Political Sociology of Conjugal-Recognition Regimes: Gendered Multiculturalism in South African Marriage Law. https://doi.org/10.1093/sp/jxv016


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