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Polygamy on the Web: an online community for an unconventional practice




Sweet-McFarling, Kristen, author
Kwiatkowski, Lynn, advisor
Griffin, Cindy, committee member
Hawthorne, Barbara, committee member

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This thesis is a virtual ethnographic study of a polygamy website consisting of one chat room, several discussion boards, and polygamy related information and links. The findings of this research are based on the interactions and activities of women and men on the polygamy website. The research addressed the following questions: 1) what are individuals using the website for? 2) What are website members communicating about? 3) How are individuals using the website to search for polygamous relationships? 4) Are website members forming connections and meeting people offline through the use of the website? 5) Do members of the website perceive the Internet to be affecting the contemporary practice of polygamy in the U.S.? This research focused more on the desire to create a polygamous relationship rather than established polygamous marriages and kinship networks. This study found that since the naturalization of monogamous heterosexual marriage and the nuclear family has occurred in the U.S., due to a number of historical, social, cultural, political, and economic factors, the Internet can provide a means to denaturalize these concepts and provide a space for the expression and support of counter discourses of marriage, like polygamy. The findings show that individuals who support polygamy, desire to practice polygamy, or who are in a polygamous relationship may use the online space provided by the Internet to make connections and develop social networks, whether those networks result in the creation of friendship, community, polygamous relationships, activism, or political involvement. My analysis is based on the observation of four main discussion boards on the polygamy website, participant observation conducted in the website's chat room, eight formal, semi-structured interviews with website members and administrators, a self-administered, non-random survey of 37 individuals in the Western U.S., review of primary and secondary historical documents, information from the Internet and media addressing polygamy, and government reports and laws regarding polygamy and marriage. I also reviewed the relevant literature published from anthropology and other fields of study examining polygamy and Internet relationships.


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