Infrastructures of legitimacy: The political lives of marriage contracts in Jordan

by Geoffrey Hughes

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By Geoffrey HughesFull

Documentary practices legitimizing marriage in what is now Jordan have taken different forms from the late Ottoman period to the present. I analyze the formal characteristics and materiality of these practices to show how initiatives to standardize, aggregate, and circulate information about marriage introduce new notions of personhood, state, and society. Such legitimizing infrastructures entail new forms of accountability that go beyond and even challenge the intentions of those who promulgate such initiatives. The shift in emphasis in Jordan from oral to written contracts and the subsequent aggregation and circulation of those records reifies categories of individual, state, and society while drawing them into a wide array of gendered, generational, and political conflicts. Ironically, the state’s legitimation of marriage may even draw its own legitimacy into question.