MLAR 7133 Culture and the Politics of Marriage

Although today there are numerous ways to "construct" a family in America, marriage continues to be the "preferred" option. Nearly 100% of Americans routinely report a desire to marry at some point in their lives. Roughly 90% of them do marryat least once, and over half do it more than once. Yet soaring divorce rates point to a disconnect between what we expect marriage to be and what it actually is. As young children, we're told that marrying our prince/princess will ensure us a "happily ever after," as it did for Cinderella, and this cultural message only gets stronger as we grow up. We're so bombarded by these assurances that we take it for granted that we must marry our prince or princess just to be happy. For this reason, we rarely stop to consider that marriage is a social institution that creates, reinforces, and reflects power and hierarchy.

This is a masters' level seminar on the social institution of marriage. This course engages questions such as: What is marriage? Where does our notion of marriage come from? How does popular culture act to construct and reinforce that notion and make it part of our taken-for-granted stock of knowledge? How do our "idealized" notions of marriage differ from our "practice" of marriage? What "politics" are implicated in our idealized notions about marriage, and how do those politics play out in the practice of marriage? Drawing on class readings, discussions, and exercises, we engage these issues (and more) as part of the ongoing "family values" debate that questions whether marriage is "in crisis" or simply "in transition." The intent of this course is to make students aware of some of the hidden forces that shape our contemporary attitudes and ongoing cultural debates about marriage and family.