Research interests:Michael Yarbrough researches how law shapes the ways people understand and live out their intimate relationships. Why does a legally recognized marriage often feel more “real” than one not recognized by law? Why do some marriage-policy reforms become pitched proxy wars over matters such as national identity, while others take hold more quietly? Do marriage policies actually transform people’s daily ideas and choices about family, or do they just codify into law what has already changed in practice?
Yarbrough develops new approaches to these questions with his dissertation, “Homemaking: Marriage Law Reform and the Construction of Family in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” South Africa is the world’s only jurisdiction that has recently incorporated not one but multiple social groups into its marriage-recognition laws: those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT); and those living in communities governed by indigenous or “customary” law. Through comparative ethnographic work among these two groups, Yarbrough documents that law’s relevance to everyday understandings of marriage varies more than existing accounts would predict. He argues that these differences reflect complex interactions between law and other institutions involved in marriage—churches, traditional practices, and so on—and that these variable institutional constellations should form the starting point of marriage scholarship.
A Fulbright-Hays Fellow and a J.D. graduate of Yale Law School, Yarbrough has also published ethnographic work on family disputes in small-claims court and, with Vicki Schultz, is co-writing an article suggesting legal marriage rights might lead same-sex couples to divide housework less equally. He teaches in the areas of law and society; family; race, gender, and sexuality; comparative political and cultural sociology; theory; qualitative methods; and African studies.
Education: A.B. Sociology with honors (University of Chicago, 2001); M.A. Sociology (Yale University, 2007); M.Phil. Sociology (Yale University, 2009); J.D. (Yale Law School, 2009)