Sister Wives

by Chris

In 2010, TLC aired a new show called Sister Wives, a television series documenting the life of a polygamist family. The family consisted of one patriarch, Kody Brown, his four wives, and their seventeen children. Family as an institution is one of the oldest and most studied topics in anthropology. Although polygamy is a common practice in some parts of the world, it is neither a culturally normative or legally recognized institution in the United States. Because of this, the Brown family is especially unique. The show sparked a lot of controversy as it showed its American viewers an “unconventional type” of family. I will be using two anthropological theories to analyze the cultural phenomena of Sister Wives.

The first theory, functionalism, studies communities synchronically and how the individuals work together to form a whole to provide for mankind’s universal needs. Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn Brown are the four women in the polygamist family. Each woman has a specific role in the family. Janelle has a job and provides for the family financially. She leaves the childcare responsibilities to Christine, the stay-at-home wife. Meri is known for the love and support she has for her sister wives, and Robyn is regarded as the planner for the family. During one episode, Meri Brown stated that she “believed in living this lifestyle. It just [made] each of [them] better.”[1] Functionalism does not account for change and would not address how the family came to be the large polygamist family that they are now. Rather, what is important is that universal needs such as health, bodily comforts, and safety are met. The four wives work in separate ways but come together to support one family and provide for each other’s needs.

Another way to analyze the Brown family is through cultural evolution. It is a theory that places all cultures on a single evolutionary scale ranging from savagery to barbarianism to civilization. This type of theoretical argument utilizes armchair anthropology were no fieldwork is performed and information is simply gathered from second-hand reports. Under this theory, one can watch the television series and read its reviews to assess how much the Brown family has “evolved”. Against the context of the United States’ normative family institutions, an anthropologist could place this polygamist family on a lower status of civilization or even higher status of barbarianism. Although this type of thinking may not seem credible today, in the 19th century, it was considered revolutionary because it regarded all groups as humans. Clearly, however, as time has progressed, mankind has accepted that there are different cultures for different people and these stages of evolutionary development are not as relied upon.

Polygamist families in the United States go against the grain of the standard American view of family as an institution. Anthropologists do not try to change the way things are, but by analyzing families such as the Browns through different theoretical, they try to understand and explain it.

[1] Sister Wives, TLC Network, aired September 22, 2011, transcript, http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1109/22/ddhln.01.html

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37 Responses to Sister Wives

  1. What I think the most fascinating thing about the Brown family is and part of why the have captured the interest of the public and academics is that the are an American family. They are not an oddity that lives on another continent that you can dismiss as different because they have no similar traits, culture or experiences as us here in the USA, they are like us monogamist Americans in almost every other way. I agree with Chris and would go even farther to say that the family and it’s dynamic can be almost completely explained through the theory of functionalism. It seems that the family works so smoothly when the average American would think that it would not because each family member has their own special role that can not be taken or overshadowed by another doing the same thing only better. I think the Brown family has lasted so long living in a society that does not necessarily accept or understand them because they operate in such a smooth and smart way that works for them and eliminates almost all the factors that would seem to undermine their system and make it impossible to function.

  2. Victoria Prager says:

    I will admit I have watched a couple of episodes of this show and was honestly captivated by their interesting family dynamic. However, when I viewed it I was much more interested in the drama than the anthropological theories behind their family structure. I completely agree with both uses of your theories in relation to this reality tv show; I was especially impressed with your use of functionalism. The astute observation of their division of labor among their clan of sorts allows for everyone to live a happy and fulfilled life, such as Janelle doesn’t have to worry who is taking care of her children and Christine doesn’t have to fret about finances. I find it fascinating that these women perform such a perfect example of functionalism without even knowing it! I agree with your placement of polygamist marriage in the Cultural Evolution theory, but I would have been interested to see what your perspective on what type of marriage would be considered civilized and which type savage (though I totally understand with the limited word count how you would have had issues adding that). Because polygamist marriage is still frowned upon in most of America, it is easy to forget how much merit and practicality the practice actually serves for those involved.

    • Amber Williams says:

      I am responding to Victoria’s question about my personal perspective on what type of marriage and family institutions I would consider civilized or savage. If you would have asked me this question before taking this anthropology class, I could definitely give you certain examples of what I believe is less civilized and to some extent, what I find unacceptable in some marriage and family institutions. For example, I just watched a documentary where a 12-year-old girl was getting married to a 65-year-old man in Afghanistan. She was crying and begging her parents to call off the marriage, and it was a hard thing for me to stomach. However, I can know see how biased and unfair it is to impose my own beliefs on a culture completely different than my own, especially in less drastic examples. The Cultural Evolution theory is criticized similarly; anthropologists argue that it is ethnocentric, stating all cultures have the capacity to be on the same level as Western civilization. In my essay, I used this understanding and normative Western monogamous relationships to find a place on the evolutionary scale for the Brown family in the United States.

      • Nick Kelly says:

        “I can know [sic] see how biased and unfair it is to impose my own beliefs on a culture completely different than my own…”

        So, are you taking a moralistic view of this? And if so, are you saying that any practice is justified if it’s culturally accepted by some group? From what you’re saying, the girl clearly didn’t want to go through with the marriage-she was the one being “imposed” upon. But thanks to the moral relativism displayed here, she’s just gonna have to suck it up and deal, because, well, culture is God and there’s no morality beyond what a given society finds acceptable. Also, if we follow that logic, every practice in every society ever (slavery, cannibalism, torture) is acceptable because it was/is part of the culture. In our own country, slavery was a part of the culture. Was it therefore wrong to abolish it? Were the abolitionists forcing their own beliefs on the slaveholders (well, they obviously did) and was that wrong?

        And let’s take that even farther. What is culture, after all, but a group of people who have certain shared beliefs and practices? So, therefore, any culture or subculture is entitled to do whatever the hell they want, because it’s not our place to judge them. Say, gangs. Gangs form a subculture. They obviously have no problem with gang violence. Does that mean that gang violence is okay? Basically, this kind of thinking states that anything goes, and any barbarism is acceptable as long as people think it is. Think about the various injustices that used to go on in American society. I already mentioned slavery, but there’s the general bigotry that was often displayed toward minority races, the fact that women couldn’t vote, the exploitation of workers by businesses, the mistreatment of the Indian tribes, and so on. For a more recent example, remember segregation? We don’t see a lot of that anymore, do we? And do you think society got rid of it by NOT imposing their values on other cultures or subcultures?

        Seriously, cultural relativism is more of an observational method than a moral judgment. Or at least, it damn well ought to be.

      • Amber Williams says:

        I’m responding to Nick Kelly’s comment. I think you may have misunderstood what I was trying to say. My comment was in response to Victoria’s question about where I would place different marriage institutions on a Cultural Evolution scale. I was trying say that in the case of polygamy (the topic of my essay), I can’t just impose what I see as right or wrong simply because it’s unfamiliar to me. Polygamy is not legally practiced in the United States and it is a concept I do not understand, but that does not necessarily make it “savage” or “barbaric.”

        But despite trying to look at something from an emic point of view, I incorporated the case of the young girl in Afghanistan to show that there are some things that I do find unacceptable. You did not quote the sentence in its entirety. I was trying to acknowledge that it is unfair to impose my own beliefs on foreign cultures “ESPECIALLY IN LESS drastic situations.” In no way, shape, or form am I condoning moral relativism, the case of the girl in Afghanistan or even slavery.

        To answer your question: “Do you think society got rid of [those institutions] by NOT imposing their values on other cultures or subcultures?” I understand and agree with your question to a certain extent. There are some international laws and human rights that go beyond one’s specific culture. However, I think if you take this logic and apply it universally — imposing one’s Western values on other cultures because we simply believe it is better — then you are taking on a Culture Evolution perspective.

  3. Emma Gerona says:

    I think it is very interesting how you used cultural evolution to talk about polygamy in American Society. It is interesting to think about how a cultural evolutionist would think of different subcultures within american society as being on a different level on the scale of evolution. I wonder what would constitute the placement as a barbaric in this case, and if marriage traditions alone could do that to a culture in this theory. But you’re right, although this form of armchair anthropology is not regarded as true anymore, it was a very radical idea at the time. Placing all humans on the same scale of development was a big deal in seeing everyone as human. Not seeing “savages” or “barbarians” as subhuman anymore was extreme.

    • Faisal Lalani says:

      I agree – just because you have a polygamist family, culture evolution theory brands you as “barbaric.” This is definitely an odd generalization, especially because there are so many other factors involved in classifying a culture as lower on the development line. What’s also interesting is how this actually works in the sense of functionalism. Everyone has a role, and if you think about it, this is probably way more efficient for the whole family because of the division of roles across multiple wives, a husband, and children rather than just the usual four a family consists of. Sure, polygamy may be seen as unconventional by most people (and by cultural evolution), but that’s solely because it goes against the norm. It has its benefits.

  4. Zoe Frank says:

    What an interesting take on the family essay! I’ve seen this show on TLC, but never had an interest in it until now. I really enjoyed how you mentioned functionalism because a question that many people have is how exactly the many wives work together. It’s awesome that each of the four wives have taken on their own role to ensure that the family is fed for. Although you spent the majority of the essay focusing on the good parts of this kind of family I enjoyed the counterargument that you included by discussing cultural evolution. As someone who has lived in America their whole life, and hasn’t had much knowledge of this kind of family I thought your essay was even more intriguing.

  5. Natalia Sabadell says:

    I find the concept of polygamy incredibly interesting because it is such an oddity in the United States. I thought your essay was well written and intriguing with great points especially with functionalism. Universal needs are met but in a different way than most Western European societies believe they should be met, however it manages to work for the Browns. I kept thinking of the Haj while reading this essay because being of two different faiths both families practice polygamy. I wonder how similar the Browns’ family dynamics are to that of the Haj’s in “Veiled Sentiments”. And how would the Awlad Ali react to a “westernized” version of this practice?

    • Kaila Quinones says:

      I also think polygamy is a very interesting topic as well and the essay was easy to read and frankly fascinating. In regards to your question “how would the Awlad Ali react to a “westernized” version of this practice?” I think the Awlad Ali would in a sense relate to the fact that each wife has certain duties and they all chip in in a way. But I also think they would look down on the brown family or think of them as commoners because the women are not modest by no means they put their life on tv for the whole world to see. Also the marriage choice the man made were by far not as good as someone from the Awlad Ali would try to make because they try to marry within the family so to speak.

  6. Leah Hilleman says:

    I have always been interest how the Brown family operates in the contemporary United States considering the issue of polygamy being illegal. I am really glad that you included the statement, “Anthropologists do not try to change the way things are, but by analyzing families such as the Browns through different theoretical, they try to understand and explain it.’ A lot of times our personal culture is judgmental towards other cultures. We are almost biased. When we hear about someone having four wives we turn up our noses because we don’t agree with their practices. In different cultures they have figured out methods that make their culture work efficiently. Why is it so hard for us to accept other cultures practices, even though their way of doing things is not wrong in their eyes?

  7. Anna Bockhaus says:

    Nicely written essay! It was helpful how you related anthropological theories to something most Americans are aware of and have some knowledge about, a popular tv show. I’ve never seen the show, but I know of its existence and the basic premise. You explain how the different wives have different roles within the family, one provides financially, another take care the children, etc. Would polygamy look different, though, in a society and culture different from America? Although the Brown family is very different from the “traditional” American family, are the wives able to embody their own type of complimentary roles because of American society? How would the Brown family look different, from say, the Awlad ‘Ali? In reading “Veiled Sentiments” thus far, it seems as though wives to a particular husband are in charge of the same types of duties. How would the type of polygamy the Browns practice differ from the Awlad ‘Ali?

  8. Makayla Tierney says:

    I thought the topic you chose to write about was creative and controversial. I have seen this show, and from the way I grew up– it is very hard for me to understand that way of life and that type of family. My father has always taught my brothers to respect one women, and take care of her. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. She did her job as a mother and took care of us while my father provided. I think the way everyone partakes in family responsibilities in this type of family is respectable and productive, however, I think the males part is selfish, sexist, and just bizarre. I think the women each deserve a man who will devote all of his attention to them, not along with five other wives. In that type of culture women are looked at as peasants who do all the family upkeep, and the man is the king who just sleeps with all of his weak, dependent, insecure wives who have been taught this sad way of life as a norm.

  9. Antonio Gomez says:

    I found it really well timed and interesting that you chose to discuss this topic on polygamist families especially right now that we are reading Veiled Sentiments. In the Awlad Ali Bedouin communities polygamist families are really common, but this is not the case in the contemporary United States. I liked how you used the cultural evolution theory to present the fact that views on polygamist families have expanded and people are starting to accept this and other actions humans take against the norms we tend to regularly follow as humans. Also, many people ask themselves how this family can actually work out if a man doesn’t give his full attention to one women, like most cultures do. But through functionalism we can comprehend that if everyone has a labor and something to get done for the general progress of the family, everyone is happy and is in no need for further attention from the husband. Polygamist families are definitely opposing the standards of families in the United States, but through your anthropolgical theories it is evident how a culture like this can still function in nowaday’s society.

  10. Casey Wilson says:

    I really enjoy how the essay flowed in the beginning, and when you described each wife and their role in the family. This helps the reader to understand the structure and why polygamy is another form of a family, rather than an “unconventional type”. Next, the way you connected functionalism and how it related to this family was really helpful and allowed me to understand functionalism even better. I am confused, however when I get to your paragraph on cultural evolution because I fail to see how this family would be seen as a higher status of barbarianism rather than civilized. According to the anthrotheory website, civilization is reached “with the use of a phonetic alphabet”, after developing pottery, iron ore, bow and arrow, etc. therefore I would see this family as very civilized. I would love a closer examination of this connection you made in order to better understand cultural evolution. Overall, the essay flowed very well and I think it does an amazing job in showing the reader that polygamy is nothing out of the ordinary, even though the US’ legal system sees it in this way.

  11. Seaira Lee says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this essay, it flowed nicely from beginning to end and covered a very interesting topic! I too have seen episodes from the TV show and while I always found it very interesting I never gave it the depth of thought provided in this essay.I thought it was very helpful that the specific structure of the Brown’s was explained so that it was seen as a family and not just a “different way of life”. I was also better able to under functionalism with the connection to polygamy and how it applies to this family. Now that we are reading “Veiled Sentiments” I am curious, how the Awald Ali Bedouin society would respond to this type of family structure?Polygamy is normal in this community but the four wives of the Brown family don’t follow the norms or rules that Bedouin society have for men and women. Would they see the Brown’s as fitting their definition of family even though Kody is not necessarily the only independent since Janelle also provides financial means for the family? Or would they still see Kody as the main independent and the four wives as dependents because Kody is a man and in their minds a women can never be truly independent?

  12. I really liked that you addressed your analysis as an anthropological response. Obviously, it is an anthropology class but it was specific that the point was to analyze the sister wives relationship as opposed to looking into how they came together to be in that type of relationship when it is not normalized behavior across the United States. This essay was really interesting to me because I just read an article in Teen Vogue of all places, that was a young woman’s account of growing up in a polygamist society and how it was so normalized, she knew nothing different. Once she was able to escape and discovered google, she had to teach herself everything about modern society and learn what “normal” culture for the average American was. It makes me consider Practice theory, because it covers social roles and distinctions played out in practice and brought into everyday interaction. I wonder what you think of this comparison, and how you would relate this topic to practice theory especially after our readings in Veiled Sentiments?

  13. I like how your topic is something that is prevalent in my life. For a while I remember that every time I would go to the grocery store I would see magazine covers with this family all over them so it’s cool to have a topic I can visualize. In your analysis of functionalism I think it’ very interesting that you didn’t mention the role of the husband, Kody, to play an important role. I like that it insinuates that you do not need a traditional family to have the functional structure, it may be even more efficient (functionally) to have more than just two people to split the responsibilities of the home. Deviant the responsibilities allow them to give more attention to their assigned tasks, making the outcome better. Im not sure I agree with your argument that using armchair anthropology as an efficient way to analyze this family. Because it is a television show, many things are misconstrued. In typical armchair anthropology the second hand accounts are directly from the people experiencing these things. Armchair anthropology is a shaky concept in itself, often resulting in a misrepresentation of the culture. I think to understand this type of family you would need to fully be a part of it, be given responsibilities of a wife. Not only see but experience how the different gears turn to move the machine that is their large family. I think an armchair approach wouldn’t be a fair way to judge the family dynamics. It becomes to easy to label this family as “barbaric” when you haven’t experienced the functionality. Overall I really enjoyed this essay. I like that it pointed out the cultural explanation of why a family like this is beneficial when so many people have a preconceived idea that it is wrong and dysfunctional to have a family like this.

  14. Claudius Saalfeld says:

    This was an enjoyable read for several reasons: The essay flowed well from one topic to the next and is very clearly organized. It also raises some interesting questions, for example why some cultures find polygamy to be such a horrible thing, while others find it perfectly acceptable and socially normal. It is interesting to think about where people from different parts of the world would place the Brown family on the evolutionary scale, especially if we were able to compare today’s opinions with those from 100 years ago and see their perspectives.

  15. Meryl Balusek says:

    Polygamy has always interested me because since I was little I have gone skiing in Utah every year, which seems to be the only state in the United States to still have a Mormon presence. Although up in Little Cottonwood Canyon it is mostly filled with ski bums, I have always sensed a different vibe in Salt Lake City. My dad always gets frustrated when he can’t buy beer on Sundays, even at the base of the mountain, but when we do purchase beer, we always drink the Polygamy Porter.
    While America finds the whole idea of polygamy very odd and thought that following the Brown family by making a TV show would be comical and freakish, the way that Chris looks at functionalism in his essay actually changes my perspective on this family institution. The different roles each woman carries sounds very functional and almost easier than a normal monogamous marriage and family, besides the fact that the women share a spouse. While there are 17 children that must be cared for and financially supported, the system the Brown family has created seems to work well. My one question is: is one woman per role enough with such a large amount of family members?

  16. Ben Parsons says:

    I like how you chose an example of family that is not the norm for its society. I think that looking at this particular scenario through the lens of functionalism makes a lot of sense, because it does a very good job of explaining practical reasons for living in a polygamist family in the United States, even though it is not the norm, and is even looked down upon.

  17. Very Unique! The idea of twenty-first century polygamy in America can really create a dialogue, because of the contrasting elements of contemporary religious and social freedoms. America has been coined as “The Land of Opportunity” and a place free from persecution, so why is their family dynamic deemed “controversial?” Historically Americans have fought for individual rights in order to remove the white protestant patriarchal foundation leading to a separation of church and state, integration of black and white schools, women’s voting and reproductive rights, handicapped/disabled resource reforms, Native American repatriation, and most recently marriage equality for same sex couples to name a few. A progressive could say that this family unit is anti-feminist and sexually exploitative/perverted and encourages hetero normative paradigms with stereotypical gender roles, while someone more conservative could say that recognizing the multiple unions legally would be too difficult because of the pool of finances involving property and healthcare. Family is such a universal concept that connects all life forms on this planet, and although there may be a “popular” model (one male and one female to an offspring(s) ), we know that is not the only case. With younger generations, ideals of family are fading and a demand for individual rights have become a priority, allowing for a new family dynamic where members are not locked into a fixed role but one they choose. As a gay male who grew up with a father that cooked and took care of the house and a mother who went to work all day, I cannot relate to typical gender roles or expectations. Where is the line of a “correct” family unit. Am I to say that these polygamists are wrong? All I can say is that I hope everyone can find empowerment and be able to decide for themselves what they want for their own family if they choose to make one.

  18. Liam Kelly says:

    I thought it was interesting how you looked at polygamy through a more positive light rather than under a judgmental lens as american society tends to do. I liked how you related polygamy to functionalism, how many parts of the Brown family come together to make a whole. However I’m not sure that i agree with your comparison to Cultural Evolutionism, In todays society cultural evolutionism is not perticularly relevant. I did injoy your blog essay however, the essay was very fluid and i found it easy to fallow. I thought it was a great idea to talk about something culturally relevant today and this cultural relevance made the essay interesting to read.

  19. Kelsey Krutsinger says:

    I like how you write this. Because Sister Wives is a TV show and is therefore our Contemporary American society scandalizing the idea, but as you write about it, you write don’t let that cloud your writing. You seem to make what they say and feel towards their own situation of utmost importance and exclude the reactions of the larger American view/

  20. Jenna says:

    Polygamy is a very interesting topic to explore its fortuitous that we have an archive of documented footage of a modern interpretation of this ancient practice. Kelsey’s comment above notes that through programs such as these, American society scandalizes the idea of polygamy, but it could also be argued that the program Sister Wives might also familiarize Americans with an entirely different way of life and while we see it was taboo or unfamiliar, polygamy is practiced worldwide. In some communities and cultures it is even expected that a man would marry more than one women, such as in the article we read Shakespeare in the Bush toward the beginning of the semester when the elders were shocked that a man would have only one wife. It would be interesting to explore that other side of this, reverse gender polygamy, I would wonder how many, if any, cultures out there may accept or promote the practice of a woman taking more than one husband?

  21. meghan drummond says:

    I genuinely appreciated the fact that you took the time to explore a topic that is also currently being explored by the media. Every year, more and more reality shows are emerging that explore minorities, rare jobs, and “extreme” ways of life. I think such shows have not been investigated from a thorough anthropological perspective. Anthropologist explore and research a vast variety of different lifestyles, such as polygamist relationships, indigenous ways of life, and a plethora of unique cultures and societies. The media also explores, and often exploits, these unique ways of life, creating a fine line between information and entertainment.This is the main difference between anthropologists and the media, as anthropologists focus more on facts, whereas the media cares more about the entertainment factor. I think your essay does a good job at exploring this, without straying too far to one side. I also appreciated that you point out that polygamy is not viewed the same way around the world. In the United States, it is definitely not the “norm”, which is why both the polygamous lifestyle and the show were both met with such controversy. Even though time and space was limited during this essay, it might be interesting in the future to investigate if the reality show has helped increase people’s knowledge, understanding, or acceptance of polygamy.

  22. Hayley Bibbiani says:

    I really liked that you chose a topic that can be so widely controversial in today’s mindset. As gay marriage is now legal in the United States, and more people are talking about what qualifies as “love” or “real marriage” all around the world. I really liked the way you analyzed the sister wives in each of their “roles” to explain functionalism in their family. This made me think of how structural functionalism would work in their family, for example, maybe there is a certain social structure within the family, (one wife above or below others?) and how as a group they deal with changes in the family or outside family issues such as the controversy they receive because of how they live.

  23. Brian Streeter says:

    I have to admit I have never seen the show before, it does however sound from your summary as though the family members each have unique roles that help to provide for the needs of the family as a whole. Structuralism is affective at describing the family, in terms of the family functioning successfully. You do bring up an excellent point in that many, if not most in the U.S. would see this polygamous family through the lens of cultural evolution. From what I have heard about the controversy, second hand, I find it difficult not to judge the cultural practices of the husband in the show. From the lens of the perfectly non-ethno centrist anthropologist, their family is just as normal as all contemporary American families. I think what could be explored more in this topic is what other cultures practice similar polygamy, and what cultures did in the past. How we view this practice has strong roots in our own cultural history. It is easy to say that Americans culturally misunderstand this practice because it is not the “norm” in our culture, but where is it not weird, and in those places how is it culturally explained. I believe that this show probably is not the best example for understanding this phenomenon culturally just for the fact that the practice is almost universally considered taboo and perverse in the context of American culture, and physically within the boundaries of the United States. Studying polygamy within a culture where it is the common place would probably make it much easier to understand the practice not through the lens of cultural evolution.

  24. katemccort says:

    This is a super interesting take on one of America’s smallest minority of family types. Most people immediately criticized this family when the show came out, they were even kicked out of Utah. With all of those people jumping to judgements, it proves how much our society needs anthropology. Your anthropological perspective on this family is enlightening compared to the countless negative remarks which have been made about them and polygamy in general in the past few years. I really enjoyed how you incorporated the theories into the essay so seemingly easy, and well done. It is so crucial to see everyone’s side in this to be able to create our own judgements.

  25. From a cultural evolutionist’s perspective, your explanation is spot on in my opinion. Although it is not a theory that is widely studied anymore, looking back at the opinions of popular anthropologists who studied through this lens would indicate that this is probably the view they would’ve had about polygamy. I think it’s equally as important to point out that there is a possibility cultural anthropologist could see it from the opposite stand point: maybe this family dynamic of polygamy is more progressive than “barbaric” or “less-civilized”? I could see the possibility of an anthropologist with this perspective saying that polygamy is just a culturally evolved way of going about relationships. Also, your explanation of a functionalist’s opinion of polygamy was accurate in terms of what functionalists focus on in cultural phenomena like this one.

  26. Dylan Robinson-Ruet says:

    I like how you connected functionalism back to an individual family unit, as that family unit type is not at all accepted American society today. Like you said, this type of family unit is heavily looked down upon in our society today and is rarely looked at with such a non-judgmental lens. Although I have never seen the show, I assume that it looks at the family through more of a cultural evolution approach, as them being altogether less evolved than the viewer, which, as you said, is an antiquated way of looking at this. I found it interesting that each one of the wives takes care of one part of the family to provide for the family as a whole. I would like to see how one person can take care of 17 kids though!

  27. Marissa Marino says:

    Your theoretical analysis for Functionalism was spot on. From a functionalist point of view, Kody Brown’s family is ‘perfect’ on paper. They all work together to form this seemingly happy family. So where the question lies is, why does it aggravate our american society ? Why does Kody Brown find the need to accumulate more wives instead of being satisfied with one?
    Although I haven’t seen many episodes of the show, this makes us reflect on our cultural values and especially what should be defined as the nuclear family in the contemporary american culture. It’s commonly agreed upon marriage especially is something that is held with an almost divine status and should not be tainted within our societies mold for it. I thought also the way you were able to shed light on explain the evolution of the family was intriguing as well. Instinctually, especially as Americans, we believe any one who does not fit the frame for family and marriage is looked down upon unfortunately.

  28. Rebecca Goss says:

    I enjoyed that the article was written without personal bias, as marriage (especially plural marriage) can be a controversial topic. I found your analysis using cultural evolutionism was very precise. While I agree that a Cultural Evolutionist would put polygamy in America at a lower tier, its interesting to think about because it seems that having multiple parental figures may even be more efficient versus having one or two.

  29. Laurel Bloszies says:

    I enjoyed reading this because the idea of polygamy has always fascinated and somewhat frightened me. I always found the idea of sharing one man with several other women to be a baffling way to choose to live, despite knowing that countless cultures around the world practice it. I found the description of the wive’s different duties and responsibilities within the family intriguing because I never considered the immense benefits to having four mothers to multitask instead of one mother having to do all the combined work. Normally the four roles of the women would be combined into one, and this way they each feel like they have a purpose and they have more time to pursue their own family-related interests.

  30. Evan Nassano-Miller says:

    I find it pretty funny how much more positive Functionalism seems to view polygamy than Cultural Evolution. You’d think splitting the roles of the “typical” household among 4 different people could make things a lot easier around the house, with each wife focusing on their agreed duties, they could run a pretty efficient household I’d imagine. Though having 17 kids probably negates this.

    I wish you went into a bit more detail about whether or not the Browns seemed to be doing well for themselves or not in an American culture and what types of issues they’re facing, but this there is a word limit I suppose. Good writing!

  31. Alex Havlick says:

    I think its really always interesting for americans who believe they have a normal perception of what a family should be to see a different type of family living together harmoniously. almost nobody can truly perceive other families from a purely cultural relativistic perspective and thus we think that the most common or traditional way of doing something in a certain society is the only way to do it and are surprised when we are proven wrong in this respect. i thought it was interesting that cultural evolution was used as one of your theories. i think it is a ridiculous theory that inherently improperly uses the word “evolution”. evolution should simply be defined as change over time, not process in which organisms or things becomes more advanced (if you think about it, advanced is really an arbitrary way of thinking about things). so if you are attempting to see how evolved a family is, you should check for plesiomorphic characteristics rather than try to figure out a way to see how “advanced” it is.

  32. Watched just one show, decided subject matter is disgusting, ready to boycott all sponsors.
    How does he support all these people ? How long would a show on polyandry ( a woman has many ‘husbands’ ) last ? The Learning Channel – who’s learning about WHAT ??
    TLC should know American children don’t need to be exposed to this shyte.

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