The second wife: Ambivalences towards state regulation of polygamy in Indonesia

Theresia Dyah Wirastri, Stijn Cornelis van Huis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores how legal and value pluralism creates or constrains space for second wives to express ambivalences towards negative aspects of their unregistered polygamous marriages. It analyses two types of ambivalence toward dominant Muslim family law norms: first, ambivalence toward dominant norms pertaining to the second wives’ status and roles within a polygamous marriage; and, second, ambivalence toward state regulation of Muslim marriage as exhibited within the Indonesian Islamic courts and Offices of Religious Affairs. The three case studies will show how second wives express ambivalence towards their inequal social position to the first wife, lack of support by their husband, social stigma, and lacking marital status. In expressing these ambivalences, they do not engage in oppositional discourses, or “hidden transcripts”, yet show their discontent towards certain aspects of their polygamous marriage while referring to alternative norms. This paper links this ambivalence toward social practice of polygamy to ambivalence on the state level, as exhibited through lenience, accommodation, and facilitation of unregistered polygamous marriage. We believe that an investigation of ambivalence from these two different perspectives is an apt way to uncover the loci where the clash of norm in the context of unregistered polygamy are the most profound.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-268
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • ambivalence
  • Indonesia
  • Islamic law
  • legal pluralism
  • marriage law
  • polygamy


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