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CAPDEVILLE-Zeng, Catherine, and Delphine ORTIS (eds.). 2018. Les institutions de l’amour. Cour, amour, mariage. Enquêtes anthropologiques en Asie et dans l’océan Indien. (Institutions of Love: Court, Love, Marriage. Anthropological Surveys in Asia and in the Indian Ocean). Paris: Presses de l’Inalco.

Pascale-Marie Milan
Translated by Peter Brown
p. 76-77

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1Marriage is one of the social institutions that is still playing an important role in many Asian countries. At least, that is what is shown in the work co-edited by Catherine Capdeville-Zeng and Delphine Ortis, which brings together ten case studies around the topics of “choice of partner,” “individual expressions of feelings,” and “marriage rituals.” Love is an area that is “not easy to talk about,” often running into the sociological hurdle of telling (p. 11), but this work succeeds in its aim of providing a comparative study of the contemporary configurations of the institutions of love in China, Korea, Japan, India, and Madagascar. At the outset, Catherine Capdeville-Zeng and Delphine Ortis emphasise that the very notion of love cannot simply be projected onto different local conceptions. It is about a set of culturally situated ideas justifying a preference for the expression “feelings of love” or an interest in studies on the institutions of love (ibid.). As one of the motivations of social relations to which individuals commit themselves, this subject offers the advantage of being a vehicle for exploring a society in action and exploring its values, hierarchical relationships, and social relations of sex. The work thus looks at the reconfigurations of intimacy without reducing them to the vagaries of Western-style romantic love, and by providing analyses that consider the weight of tradition, the family, and the state.

2The opening four chapters exploring the “choice of partner” bring out very clearly the important role played by the family and the state. The cases presented therefore show that individual expressions fall within the frameworks of configured social frameworks under the collective social order beyond the family and the state. In South Korea, or between statutory groups among the Mérina in Tananarive, particular sociohistorical contexts have fashioned the categorisations and representations that go into making marital choices. In both cases, a quasi-biologising essentialism turns “ethnic consanguineous purity” (Kim’s Chapter) or the criterion of genealogy (Rakotomalala’s Chapter) into ideologies stigmatising exogamy. At the China-Vietnam border, as in China itself, the idealised representations of one’s partner and compromises fully contribute in determining the pathways to matrimony, for which the traditional social relations of sex remain intact, whether in the case of mixed marriages between Vietnamese women and Chinese men (Grillot’s Chapter) or in order to preserve “the harmony” of the family (Zavoretti’s Chapter).

3The second part of the work looks into the social construct of feelings of love, showing that this is not simply about the formulations of individuals. In China, the analysis of the place of feelings of love in the “organised search for a partner” (xiangqin 相親) by Chinese bachelors or their parents draws out the tensions between a status ideal to which the Chinese aspire and the new centrality of “romantic desire” in the choice of a marriage partner (Pettier’s Chapter, p. 174). In the Indian state of Kerala, the Mohiniyattam, a danced theatrical practice presenting the feminine world, shows “how an embodiment of the imaginary is intimately linked to the vicissitudes of daily life” (Mathou’s Chapter, p. 204). The hierarchy of values and affects makes devotion “a form of love that is superior to love as desire” peculiar to the Indian world (p. 32). The analysis of deuḍā, a ritualistic poetic tradition in Nepal, and of the fate of two brothers who are enthusiasts of this art form, enables a comparative reading of different conceptions of love and marriage (Bordes’s Chapter). Accordingly, the “realm of thought” (p. 248) brings out the centrality of marriage and conjugal life. A desire for emancipation from control by the family still exists, however, as demonstrated by pre-marital relations and the new modalities of daily life.

4The third part examines the feelings of love in marriage rituals. It clearly sets out the development of this institution, notably towards the ideal of a conjugal relationship between two people rather than the union of two families. The various authors point out how the tradition of heterosexual relations remains sturdy. The study of a ritual from a wedding ceremony between a Muslim martyr and a young Hindu woman broaches, for example, the question of mixed marriages and the place given to love as desire in a “multi-confessional” society subject to numerous tensions and where traditional devotional love remains expected (Ortis’s Chapter). In Japan, changes to the part played by feelings of love are presented through the analysis of a wedding scene during which the final lines from Takasago, a traditional Noh play, enable the writer to explain “a discourse [that has become] more popular that highlights a moral tale about couples” (Butel’s Chapter, p. 303). The innovations and developments of marriage rituals that appeared at the same time as “the affirmation of the ideal of family and modern couple” (p. 311) do not, however, prevent these vignettes of discourses on love from being channelled in particular ways. Based on an analysis of DVDs of weddings, Catherine Capdeville-Zeng sets out to identify how this ritual is being reconfigured, using both Chinese and Western elements (p. 325) and “traditional and modern values” (p. 351), to show that the weight of tradition persists. The open expression of love between partners is still a taboo subject, and is only possible through the intervention of third parties or as a message delivered in the context of the wedding ceremony itself (p. 342-3).

5The tension between the insertion of individuals into larger social orders such as the family and the state, and the growth of sexual "freedoms" and "dreams" of romantic love explored in this part of the world underlines specificities that a conclusive synthesis would have had the advantage of highlighting. Indeed, this work presents a dual interest. It offers insights into new modes of relations that are singular to Asia and Madagascar, based on nuanced ethnographies of the institutions of love, enabling the authors to get beyond a reading based simply on individuals (Yan 2003). It also provides a thoroughgoing documentation that allows us to have an understanding of the capacity for the social to reconfigure itself, and in doing so it attests to the need for a dialogue with Western approaches in order to give a renewed approach to the study of the transformations of intimacy (Bauman 2004; Giddens 2004; Illouz 2012).

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Bibliography

Bauman, Zygmunt. 2004. L'amour liquide. De la fragilité des liens entre les hommes (Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds). Rodez: La Rouergue/Chambon.

Giddens, Anthony. 2004. La transformation de l'intimité. Sexualité, amour et érotisme dans les sociétés modernes (The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies). Rodez: La Rouergue/Chambon.

Illouz, Eva. 2012. Pourquoi l’amour fait mal. L’expérience amoureuse dans la modernité (Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation). Paris: Seuil.

YAN, Yunxiang. 2003. Private Life under Socialism: Love, Intimacy, and Family Change in a Chinese Village, 1949-1999. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

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References

Bibliographical reference

Pascale-Marie Milan, « CAPDEVILLE-Zeng, Catherine, and Delphine ORTIS (eds.). 2018. Les institutions de l’amour. Cour, amour, mariage. Enquêtes anthropologiques en Asie et dans l’océan Indien. (Institutions of Love: Court, Love, Marriage. Anthropological Surveys in Asia and in the Indian Ocean). Paris: Presses de l’Inalco. », China Perspectives, 2021/3 | 2021, 76-77.

Electronic reference

Pascale-Marie Milan, « CAPDEVILLE-Zeng, Catherine, and Delphine ORTIS (eds.). 2018. Les institutions de l’amour. Cour, amour, mariage. Enquêtes anthropologiques en Asie et dans l’océan Indien. (Institutions of Love: Court, Love, Marriage. Anthropological Surveys in Asia and in the Indian Ocean). Paris: Presses de l’Inalco. », China Perspectives [Online], 2021/3 | 2021, Online since 01 September 2021, connection on 20 January 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/12383 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.12383

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About the author

Pascale-Marie Milan

Pascale-Marie Milan is an anthropologist, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the EFEO (École française d’Extrême-Orient) and Associate Scholar in the LARHA (Laboratoire de Recherche Historique Rhône-Alpes), 14 avenue Berthelot, 69007 Lyon, France (pascalemariemilan@gmail.com).

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