As a former Mormon, the history of Polygamy has always been quit fascinating to me. Polygamy is important to study because historically, it was much more prominent, but currently common in many different cultures for various reasons. Polygamy relates to sociology because it involves many different households in different cultures. It is currently (and has been for some time) illegal in the United States, but is praised in other places.
Richard Schaefer, a known writer and sociologist, describes a Polygamist as “an individual having several husbands or wives simultaneously” (Schaefer, 2012:215). Family is defined by Schaefer as “a set of people who are related by blood, marriage (or some other agreed-upon relationship), or adoption, who share the primary responsibility for reproduction and caring for members of society (Schaefer,2012:213).
A functionalist might explain Polygamy by pointing out the reproductive purposes; which, many years ago, in order to keep the populations growing during times of battle or sickness, a man may need to have multiple wives. Or, the purposes of protection: In order to maintain a functional family while having several children in one home, they might need more than one wife or more than one working husband. Or status: A man or woman who has multiple spouses might be seen as important, or Godly, even. Moreover, this phenomenon has manifest and latent functions. A manifest function may be that in order to obtain a sense of structure and order around a household, more parents when the father is off at war (or something similar) may make things work better. As a latent function, they may end up fighting for time and attention with the wife/husband. However, functionalists would have a hard time explaining the rarity in Polyandry – where a woman has several husbands – and how it decreases their status in certain places.
A Conflict Theorist would explain Polygamy by pointing out the prominence in male-dominated societies almost everywhere. This is likely the main reason for the “rarity” in women marrying multiple men at once. A family who has more than two spouses may be seen as more privileged and powerful to a conflict theorist, too. Moreover, different groups have different levels of power. A family that practiced Polygamy would likely have far more connections with people in everyday society, and much more money coming from more than just two family’s in-laws. Due to the fact that Polygamy is illegal in the USA, we can all agree that those are people that likely pay very little taxes due to the vastly different lifestyle. This, in turn, would increase the influence that the family has on the community, which would likely make them much harder to tear down into poverty. The conflict of the law is a driving factor in many polygamist households moving into secluded areas, also. However, conflict theorists would have a hard time explaining how families could stay powerful and influential (whether good or bad), depending on the backgrounds of each family and the number of children they have to nurture at once.
The interactionist perspective would explain Polygamy by pointing out the importance of multiple mother or father figures to care for the children in the household, so that the children are less likely to have behavioral problems, get along better with others, and are more responsible. The constant flow of supervision and insight through more than two people would be viewed as a positive thing for the children. Analyzing Polygamy, I can see various ways people use nonverbal symbols to communicate about the practice of Polygamy. Often, people abbreviate and refer to themselves as “Poly”. There are a few symbols that are used to identify a Polygamy family, as well. However, the interactionist perspective would have a hard time explaining how it would have any effect if different “mothers” or “fathers” lived in different homes. Some polygamist families may find it too overwhelming or crowded to all live under a single roof.
The feminist perspective would explain Polygamy by pointing out that with the lack of a father, or fathers, a household’s quality might lessen. They also say, though, that a single parent household is as resilient as “nuclear” families, regardless of the economic stress that they may be under. It is also said (Schaefer,2012:220) that in 11 percent of marriages, the women often make more money than the husband. To have multiple wives could be very economically beneficial in a household that has several children to care and provide for. Analyzing Polygamy, I can see power differences between gender groups. Historically, men have been the breadwinners, but today, women sometimes make more money and are likely to be more empathetic with children in the home. However, the feminist perspective might be difficult to explain how it may or may not be like in a household with two fathers. It also fails to shed any comparable light to Polygamy.
In closing, I believe that the Conflict Theory explains Polygamy the best. In a household run by more than two parents, there is a constant desire by most to control whatever is going on in the home. In a Polygamy household, that is neither stable, nor wise. There must be an equitable form of power that binds into one goal. In order for a Polygamy household to flourish, the people must all be 100% in it for the long-haul, and that is often not the case. Examining Polygamy through various perspectives is important, because people should know about the good, bad, and the ugly before judging a lifestyle as evil or wrong. It may be good for you, or bad, but the overall answer is usually much deeper than that, and is handled on a case by case basis. When people use their sociological imagination, it helps us to solve this problem by seeing the economic and emotional value to a household like this in some – not all – cultures.
Schaefer, R , 2008, Sociology Matters. New York New York 6th ed , Vol . . McGraw Hill
Bitton, D , “Mormon Polygamy : A Review Article”. RetrievedDecember , 2013 Available: jstor.org