For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Care of the Self: Volume 3 of the history of sexuality

by Foucault, Michel (1986)

Key Passage

In its ancient form, marriage held no interest, had no reason for being, except insofar as, although a private act, it had legal effects or at least effects relative to status: handing down a name, instituting heirs, organizing a system of alliances, joining fortunes. This meant something only to those who were capable of developing strategies in such domains. As Paul Veyne says: "In pagan society, everyone did not marry, far from it. . . . Marriage, when one did marry, corresponded to a private objective: to transmit the estate to one's descendants, rather than to other members of the family or to the sons of friends; and it corresponded to a politics of castes: to perpetuate the caste of citizens."6 As John Boswell puts it, this was a kind of marriage which "for the upper classes was largely dynastic, political, and economic."7 As for the lower classes,as little informed as we are concerning their marital practice, we may suppose with S. B. Pomeroy that two contradictory factors were able to play a part, both of which were connected with the economic functions of marriage: the wife and children could form a useful source of labor for a free man who was poor. On the other hand, "there is an economic level below which a man may not hope to support a wife and family."8The economico-political imperatives that governed marriage (making it necessary in some cases, and in others, useless) must have lost some of their importance when, in the privileged classes, status and fortune came to depend on proximity to the prince, on a civil or military "career, " on success in "business," more than simply on the alliance between family  groups. Less encumbered with various strategies, marriagebecame "freer" : free in the choice of a wife; free, too, in the decision to marry and in the personal reasons for doing so. It could be, too, that in the underprivileged classes, marriage became-beyond the economic motives that could make it attractive-a form of tie that owed its value to the fact that it established and maintained strong personal relationships, implying the sharing of life, mutual aid, and moral support. In any case, the study of tomb inscriptions has been able to show the relative frequency and stability of marriages in milieusthat were not those of the aristocracy,9 and we have statements attesting to the marriage of slaves. (p.74)


Foucault, Foucauldian, Pleasure, Dreaming, Pleasure, Marriage, Home, House, Family


History of Sexuality, Foucault Citations



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