Academic journal article Ethnology

Marriage Regulation and the Rhetoric of Alliance in Northwestern Turkey

Academic journal article Ethnology

Marriage Regulation and the Rhetoric of Alliance in Northwestern Turkey

Article excerpt

Research on Turkish marriage practices emphasizes the importance of endogamy (i.e., marriage within the same clan or lineage, sect, community, group, village, or neighborhood) to protect common assets, preserve household alliances, or lessen frictions (e.g., Kagitcibasi(2) 1982:6-7; Meeker 1976; Magnarella and Turkdogan 1973; Magnarella 1974, 1979; Keyser 1974; Stirling 1965). In a study of a northwestem Turkish community (Sakli, pseudonym), I found little support for the prevalence or incidence of endogamy claimed in other studies. In this article I argue that while marriage practices in Sakli are organized around the ideals of maintaining the unity and security of the endogamous group, this endogamous discourse(3) conceals the fact that matrimonial relations are regimes of regulating women's behavior, mobility, and social status. Behind the veil of endogamy lie authoritarian relations that aim to exert control over the productive and reproductive labor of in-marrying spouses, especially daughters-in-law. Endogamy, as a discursive fact, is a strategy for governing social relationships and disciplining household members. I emphasize here the interplay between marriage and power relations and the manner in which gender and age relations figure prominently in these processes.

I conducted extensive field research in Sakli for a year. Information on marriage arrangements for each married couple living in the village was collected as part of a villagewide household survey. To obtain a record of previous marriage patterns, an account of all marriages from 1979 to 1989 was drawn from official records and verified by informal interviews and group discussions. Oral histories on village marriage customs and traditions provided useful information on the intricacies of marriage negotiations, the people involved, and on concerns underscoring or emerging from these alliances.


Marriage is generally viewed as a mechanism of reproduction and as a way to reinforce family ties and interests, preserve family property through inheritance, transmit cultural norms and values to following generations, and to attain other goals that transcend the individual in society. Within the Middle Eastern context, marriages are often viewed as a family or communal affair and as a time of ritual celebration, feasting, music, and when kin members join together and confer donations and religious blessings upon the couple. These festive occasions, however, frequently conceal family pressure, reluctant brides and unwilling grooms, and strategies of social regulation; they also obscure the profound implications marriage has on the organization of households and on the economic and social shifts women and men undergo (Bossen 1988: 127).

A common way to classify Middle Eastern marriages in terms of rules centers around the preference for endogamy, especially patrilateral parallel cousin marriages (Kressel 1986; Eickelman 1976, 1981; Davis 1977; Keyser 1974; Meeker 1976; Stirling 1965; Murphy and Kasdan 1959; Barth 1954). In Middle Eastern cultures, spouse selection and all aspects of the arrangements are generally undertaken and controlled by certain members of the household. Couples generally have little to do with the process. Many argue, therefore, that marriage serves the needs of the household, strengthens the resilience of social systems, or maintains solidarity and kin alliance (Abu-Lughod 1988:59-60; Barakat 1985:39; Delaney 1984, 1991; Magnarella and Turkdogan 1973: 1628; Murphy and Kasdan 1959). If this were the case, pre-existing connections between groups of kin-associated households or members of residential alliances would constitute the group from which a spouse would be selected. The impetus and reason for endogamy is that such corporate groups retain things in common and have a collective interest in perpetuating property holdings.

Endogamous marriage strategies in rural Turkish culture support the notion that marriages function to maintain the integrity of the kin or the close residential enclosure (kin or residential endogamy), and that patrilateral parallel cousin marriages are the standard by which marriage alliances are measured (Magnarella and Turkdogan 1973; Meeker 1976; Kagitcibasi 1982). …

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