Constraints in Cultural Engineering, Exotopic Observation, and Truth

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Anthropology book series (BRIEFSANTHRO, volume 2)


If marriage is defined in the British sense, polygyny and polyandry cannot be prohibited without giving a bastard status to any child born from a second or third concomitant sexual partner. Even free unions in the French sense cannot be made monogamous without making the child of a second concomitant lover a bastard. Limited polygyny also needs the bastard status. Islam offers a good example. It conditionally allows for up to four wives. If a man sires a child to an additional fifth woman, that child is by law deprived of full birth-status rights. When such constraints prevail, historical change is extremely slow. How to choose between monogamy inescapably entwined with the bastard institution and no bastard institution necessarily entangled with polygyny and polyandry? Several pages recapitulate the concubinage/polygyny/monogamy deliberations of the last 2,000 years, first among Jews, Jewish-Christians, Gentile-Christians, and Romans, then within the Christian church alone. They end with the recent bastard child status debate that emancipated all illegitimate children but that also established a new form of polygamy—that which was to be eradicated at the beginning of the cycle. What would happen if alliance instead of descent theory was applied? In the French context no polygamy could be proven to exist because in a free union one’s lover’s relatives are not one’s in-laws even if they now are one’s children’s blood relatives. What is then the value of theories that give opposed results? The last pages provide a Bakhtinian answer. In some cases truth has to be polyphonic: a composition in mutually related, equally important different parts.


Female Partner Marital Union Cultural Universe Illegitimate Child Alliance Theory 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Concordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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