Illegitimacy and Social Structures: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Nonmarital Birth

Illegitimacy and Social Structures: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Nonmarital Birth

Illegitimacy and Social Structures: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Nonmarital Birth

Illegitimacy and Social Structures: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Nonmarital Birth

Synopsis

Sanctions for illegitimacy vary enormously across cultures and are linked to social structure. Some societies handle non-marital births in a relaxed way; others use restitutive sanctions; and others repressive sanctions. This study of 122 non-industrial societies shows that the regulation of illegitimacy is more varied than any particular theory suggests (and there are many, including Marxism, functionalism, sociobiology, and feminism). The work aims to test a variety of theoretical ideas about the possible factors involved in social regulation of illegitimacy -- social hierarchy, fraternal interest groups, female power, extended family structure, affection for children, and father involvement with infants -- and to examine combinations of these factors for predictive power. This study will be of interest to scholars and students in sociology, family studies, and cultural anthropology.

Excerpt

In my discipline of sociology, attention often shifts to new theories before older frameworks are fully tested. Scholarship on illegitimate birth is a prime example. As new approaches have appeared, we have cast aside older theories without carefully testing them. To conduct such a test, I have dug through numerous ethnographies to find 122 minimally useful descriptions of illegitimacy sanctions and matched these with other published data codes for these same societies. My cross-cultural research shows that these older theories are no less valid than newer ones: each set has its strengths and weaknesses. The findings suggest also that we need more complex, multifactor accounts of how societies deal with illegitmate birth.

The bibliography for the ethnographic descriptions used in the research is located in Appendix B. Works are organized according to their number in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample and their use in coding. References to these works in the chapters give the author, date of publication, and the Standard Sample number. This may cause confusion for some, but many readers will want to see which ethnographic sources were consulted and which were used in the actual coding of information for the research.

I am grateful to many people who have contributed to this research or helped me prepare for it. My university has provided release time and graduate assistance. The people who have assisted, cajoled, critiqued, inspired, and prodded me include Shaheen Ahmed, John Alessio, Bridget Austiguy-Preschel, Joel Best, Neal Blackburn, Grant Bogue, Tom Burger, Mindy Diltz, William Douglass, Mel Ember, Jerry Gaston, Ben Gorman, Marleigh Herr, Zakir Hossain, Cathie Hutcheson, Mary Hutchinson, Suzanne Keller, David Johnson, Marion Levy, Jr., H. A. Nimmo, Charles Speck, Clarence Storla, Tracy Thibodeau, and Margaret Winter.

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