Call for Papers: Multiple Materialities of Muslim Marriages

This workshop is organized as part of the ERC-funded research project on ‘Problematizing “Muslim Marriages”: Ambiguities and Contestations’ hosted by the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam (PI: Annelies Moors, see

Venue and date: University of Amsterdam, 13-14 June 2019
Abstract submission: 15 February 2019
Draft paper submission (after notification of acceptance): 29 May 2019

Multiple Materialities of Muslim Marriages

This international workshop brings together researchers who are engaged in empirical, ethnographically grounded research about the multiple materialities involved in Muslim marriages. We employ the term ‘Muslim marriages’ in a broad sense, referring to marriages with at least one of the partners of Muslim background. We are, in particular, interested in the kinds of marriages that have been subject to public debate and controversy both in Muslim-majority countries and in settings where Muslims are a minority, be it in Europe or elsewhere. We recognize that whether particular marriages are deemed more or less controversial is highly context-depended. It makes a difference, for instance, which parties are involved and whose point of view one adopts. Also, temporality matters. While new practices may become normalized and accepted, long-existing practices may become marginalized and rejected. Examples of contemporary controversies include unregistered marriages, polygamous marriage, marriages with parties deemed too young or too old, temporary marriage, and mixed marriages (be it interfaith, interethnic, interracial, interclass, or transnational), and this list if far from exhaustive.

With multiple materialities we revisit and bring together two fields of anthropological research. On the one hand, we engage with a research tradition that investigates the conclusion of marriages as part of processes of production and reproduction. On the other hand, we include how artifacts function as the tangible materialization of concepts, values, ethics, aesthetics, desires and aspirations. In other words, we address both practices people engage in and the work things do. The focus of this workshop is on three enactments of materiality: the provider (nafaqa; and inheritance, mirath), the dower (mahr) and marriage festivities (haflat).

The provider (and inheritance): The concept of the male provider is embedded in the Muslim marriage contract, with consequences for gendered authority and responsibility (for a critical approach see Mir-Hosseini, Al-Sharmani and Rumminger 2015). This invites both a reflection on the historical relation of ‘the male provider’ with women’s labour in subsistence production (unpaid labour) and in reproduction (the labour of care). It also evokes a discussion of the impact of contemporary transformations, such as the figure of ‘the female provider’, in some parts of the world a more recent phenomenon, but elsewhere with a far longer history. As the notion of the male provide is intimately connected with inheritance rules and practices, we are also interested in papers that engage with how transformations in ‘providing’ intersect with inheritance. This includes both older debates about how Muslims engage with inheritance in matrilineal contexts, with present-day proposals for transformations of Muslim inheritance regimes and with changing practices in everyday life.

The dower: There is a solid anthropological tradition of engaging with marriage prestations. This has, however, largely focused on dowry and brideprice systems, rather than on the dower/mahr systems common in Muslim societies (and Goody’s indirect dowry is not a helpful alternative, see Moors 1995). Also, the focus in this field has largely been on structural and functional aspects of reproduction, rather than on controversies and struggles that include a consideration of the desires and aspirations of the various parties involved in these marriages, including differences on the basis of generation and gender. Another issue at stake is that much of the literature is framed through an Islamic legal discourse, with little attention paid to social (non-textual) practices nor to the kinds of things – be it money, gold, items of dress etc. – that matter, or of the broader context in which this gifting operates. We are interested in papers that carefully investigate whether and how valuations of the dower have been subject to change, both in terms of the practices of the various parties involved, as well as in the kinds of items changing hands and their effects. .

Wedding celebrations: Wedding celebrations are important as a means to make the conclusion of a marriage publicly knowns. We investigate these celebrations as public rituals with often very substantial material ramifications situated at the production-consumption nexus. We are interested in the transformations of the very materialities involved in the organization of weddings, such as the kinds of service-providers providing support services (‘the political economy of the wedding industry’), as well as in the kinds of celebrations (be it in terms of rituals or gifts) that differently positioned individuals (the bride and groom, their kin and friends, religious authority figures) desire and aspire.

Focusing on these multiple materialities, our focus in on the ways in which the more controversial forms of marriage interrelate with less conventional marriage materialities, such as female rather than male providers, a very high or low dower (and particular kinds of gifts, such as the ‘wrong’ kind of jewelry or no jewelry), and the nature of wedding festivities (too flashy, too simple). Whereas relevant contexts are always case-specific, we are interested in how shifting valuations of these multiple materialities are entangled in economic, political, social and cultural transformations. Examples of questions we are interested in include:

* How has the emergence of new forms of wealth and precarity, influencing gender and generational relations, affected marriage materialities, in particular the notion of ‘the provider’ and the dower? What has been the effect of both processes of individualization and of increased material dependency on the conclusion of more controversial marriage forms and vice versa? How have growing or declining spatial (including transnational) forms of mobility and the often related forms of social mobility affected marriage materialities? How are these processes gendered, and how does that affect the concept and practices of the male provider?

* What are the effects of increased state surveillance, such as the bureaucratization of marriages, of changes of the political climate (oscillations between hope and despair), of the insecurity of war and war-like conditions on more controversial types of marriage and the materialities involved? How have new forms of identity politics both ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ impacted on the materialities of marriage? What senses of belonging are waning and emerging in opting for a marital partner? How does this intersect with a growth or decline (or a shift in meaning) of religiosity or (ethno-)nationalism?

* How have emergent youth cultures, new aesthetic styles and forms of consumption, processes of commodification and commercialization affected the materialities of marriages, such as dating practices, the nature of dower payments and gifts, and the celebration of weddings? What kinds of non-mainstream or alternative ethical notions and aesthetic forms have developed, individually and collectively?

In short, we are interested in papers grounded in solid ethnographic fieldwork, that focus on how the more and less controversial forms of Muslim marriages affect, and are affected by, the multiple materialities of marriage. We invite abstract that are informed by debates about materiality, production and reproduction and engage with the different valuations of the (male) breadwinner, the dower and wedding festivities in particular settings.

Format of the workshop:

This is an international workshop, aiming at a thorough discussion of individual papers. Full draft papers will be circulated in advance. Please note that participants will not present their own paper. Instead, each paper will be presented either by another participant or by an external referent with the author of the paper present to answer questions and make further comments. We expect this framework to stimulate in-depth discussions of the papers presented. Hence, participation is only possible if the draft paper is submitted in time. The organizers aim to publish (a selection of) the papers either as an edited volume or as a special issue of an academic journal.

Abstract submission: Deadline 1 February 2019

Abstracts of 300-400 words need to specify the empirical research (sources and methods) the paper is based on and the broader questions addressed. We also need a short bio of up to 200 words. For the participants that are selected we cover all catering during the workshop. For a limited number of scholars without resources we will also cover (part of) the hotel and travel costs. Researchers without resources who would like to be considered for funding need to indicate this when submitting the abstract.

In order to help us organizing this event, we kindly ask you to use the abstract submission form from HERE. Please send it to: , with your last name in the subject heading.


1 February 2019: Deadline for abstract submission
7 February 2019: Notification of acceptance
29 May 2019: Deadline complete draft paper of between 5000 – 8000 words, including notes and a list of references
13-14 June 2019: Workshop

The workshop is organized as part of the ERC-funded research project on ‘Problematizing “Muslim Marriages”: Ambiguities and Contestations’ hosted by the University of Amsterdam, see

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