Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China

304 pages

May, 2011

ISBN: 9780814783825



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Judith Stacey is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and Sociology at NYU. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including In the Name of the Family: Rethinking Family Values in the Postmodern Age (1996), Brave New Families: Stories of Domestic Upheaval in Late Twentieth-Century America (1990) and Patriarchy and Socialist Revolution in China (1983).

All books by Judith Stacey

Judith Stacey, 2012 winner of the Simon and Gagnon Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the American Sociological Association.
A leading expert on the family, Judith Stacey is known for her provocative research on mainstream issues. Finding herself impatient with increasingly calcified positions taken in the interminable wars over same-sex marriage, divorce, fatherlessness, marital fidelity, and the like, she struck out to profile unfamiliar cultures of contemporary love, marriage, and family values from around the world.
Built on bracing original research that spans gay men’s intimacies and parenting in America to plural and non-marital forms of family in South Africa and China, Unhitched decouples the taken for granted relationships between love, marriage, and parenthood. Countering the one-size-fits-all vision of family values, Stacey offers readers a lively, in-person introduction to these less familiar varieties of intimacy and family and to the social, political, and economic conditions that buttress and batter them.
Through compelling stories of real families navigating inescapable personal and political trade-offs between desire and domesticity, the book undermines popular convictions about family, gender, and sexuality held on the left, right, and center. Taking on prejudices of both conservatives and feminists, Unhitched poses a powerful empirical challenge to the belief that the nuclear family—whether straight or gay—is the single, best way to meet our needs for intimacy and care. Stacey calls on citizens and policy-makers to make their peace with the fact that family diversity is here to stay.


  • “An engagingly written and highly readable book that deals with a crucial and controversial related set of issues: the nature of contemporary family life, kinship, love, parenting, intimacy, and how to live with diversity. No one is better qualified to take this on than Judith Stacey. She manages to combine the commitment of the serious ethnographer with the enthusiasm and insight of the eager traveler. This is an essential book.”

    —Jeffrey Weeks, author of The World We Have Won

  • Unhitched will enrage some readers and delight others, but anyone interested in contemporary debates about marriage, sexuality, and family life must read this richly detailed, rigorously argued book.”

    —Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage

  • Unhitched is Judith Stacey's richest and most provocative work to date. Tirelessly championing diverse varieties of intimate life, she has long refused to succumb to simplistic, homogenizing notions of ‘the family.’ Unhitched continues in this vein, bringing together a fascinating mix of ethnographic research on same-sex intimacies in this country, and plural and non-marital family forms in South Africa and China. It poses a powerful empirical challenge to the belief that the nuclear family—in both its hetero and homo variants—best fulfills our needs for intimacy and security."

    —Arlene Stein, author of The Stranger Next Door

  • Unhitched is a wild ride through the political and emotional worlds of family life. With a sociologist’s skill, Judith Stacey uncovers the very diverse shapes of human families; with a novelist’s skill, she tells us how they are lived. The disappointing options available to many women in a world of inequality appear; so do the creative responses. A lively and important book.”

    —Raewyn Connell, author of Gender: In World Perspective and Southern Theory

  • “Throughout her travels and exhaustive research, Stacey pokes and prods, and eagerly calls into question everything we think we know about love, marriage, and the baby in the baby carriage.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • "The book will fuel the ongoing family values/marriage discourse by challenging conservatives, feminists, and proponents of same-sex marriage."

    —Marge Kappanadze, Library Journal

  • "Judith Stacey is a great writer, whose clear style and provocative arguments make her one of the most compelling and most engaging feminist writers of our time."

    Social Forces

  • "Unhitched thoughtfully explains how unconventional relationships can thrive across cultures with some intention and practice...The book says it's about love and marriage, but it's actually about parenthood and the myriad of ways a family can look to support raising children well." 

    Bitch Magazine

  • “With clear-cut, modern prose, (Stacey) infuses her commentary and details her investigation from all sides of the aisle with well-researched facts and figures… Clever and practical blend of research, history and anecdote.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • "It doesn't simply offer a mind-bending cross-cultural perspective--you can find that in any Anthropology 101 textbook. Instead, Stacey uses her observations to underscore just how stifling and unstable the Western romantic ideal of marital monogamy can be for some people, as well as the vast array of romantic arrangements that are already out here in the world."


  • "In her new book, Unhitched, Judith Stacey, a sociologist at NYU, surveys a variety of unconventional arrangements, from gay parenthood to polygamy to—in a mesmerizing case study—the Mosuo people of southwest China, who eschew marriage and visit their lovers only under cover of night."

    —Kate Bolick, The Atlantic

  • "Judith Stacey's Unhitched...successfully demystif[ies] aspects of modern marriage and its attendant real and imagined crises...[she] is a senior scholar on top of her game...her book makes you want to discuss her ideas with others."

    —Kristin Celello, Women's Review of Books

  • "It's admittedly hard to stop reading...if you're a people-watcher, are interested in culture and its changes, or have a deep interest in marriage rights one way or the other, this is one can't-miss book."

    —Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The richness of data, the detective-like quality of the prose, and its social and political relevance are sure to make Unhitched a provocative and invaluable contribution to the study of family and intimacy."

    —Kimberly D. Richman, American Journal of Sociology

  • "The book is openly taking a strong normative stance against attempts at regulating the family."

    —Anca Gheaus, Metapsychology

  • "The book is thought provoking, engaging, and makes important contributions to the study of families."

    —Joya Misra, International Journal of Comparative Sociology

  • "Stacey certainly makes a passionate case with a surprising amount of information on her side."

    Anthropology Review Database