The Marital Project: Beyond the Exchange of Men in Minangkabau Marriage



Previous discussions of Minangkabau marriage focus on how the "exchange of men" poses an exception to Lévi-Strauss's theory that marriage can be universally described as the exchange of women, whom he views as the most supreme of social and natural valuables in all societies (1969:65). In keeping with these discussions, I show that in some cases of Minangkabau marriage it appears that men are exchanged as bearers of social value. I also move beyond the focus on marriage as the transaction and subjugation of value. Instead, I describe marriage as a process of social production in which husbands and wives engage in strategic projects to secure social value over time—in the form of claims to rank. Viewing marriage as a project or ongoing process of production leads to a reappraisal of both Minangkabau gender relations and anthropological notions about the nature and role of exchange. Minangkabau husbands are not objects of value but empowered agents who, along with their wives, struggle to create and manage rank differentiation within their wives lineages. Rather than enhancing lineage cohesion, as Lévi-Strauss's exchange theory would suggest, the exchange of men and the production of value in Minangkabau marriage lead to lineage fragmentation. [marriage, exchange, matriliny, gender, Minangkabau]