Michael Yarbrough

Michael Yarbrough

Michael Yarbrough
Assistant Professor
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PhD, Yale University (Sociology)

JD, Yale Law School

AB, University of Chicago (Sociology)



Michael W. Yarbrough is an interdisciplinary social scientist who studies the intersection of law, culture, and family. He is especially interested in how people define their relationships to each other, and the ways these definitions both reflect and shape struggles for power.

His current book manuscript pursues these questions through comparative ethnographic research among two groups recently incorporated into South African marriage law: people living in communities that observe African customary law; and people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. As the world's only jurisdiction that has recently extended its marriage laws to multiple social groups, South Africa makes possible a novel comparison Yarbrough uses to re-theorize how the official law of marriage translates--or doesn't--into daily practices and understandings. Articles from this project have been published in Social PoliticsLaw & Social Inquiry, and Sexualities. In its dissertation form, this project was awarded the Marvin B. Sussman Dissertation Prize from the Yale Sociology Department and a Fulbright-Hays fellowship. Yarbrough has published other work on South African marriage and family in the South African Review of Sociology and the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism.

Yarbrough also conceived and co-organized the major conference, "After Marriage: The Future of LGBTQ Politics and Scholarship," held at John Jay on October 1-2, 2016. Organized through CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies during Yarbrough's time on their Board of Directors, this conference convened 450 scholars, activists, artists, and community members to examine how LGBTQ communities and movements are changing after the legalization of same-sex marriage, and to chart future directions for research and activism. Together with Angela Jones and Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis, Yarbrough co-edited three volumes of material based on the conference, focusing on queer relationships, activism, and political priorities after marriage. All three volumes will be published by July 2018.

At John Jay, Yarbrough's teaching focuses on the Law & Society major and was recognized with a Distinguished Teaching Award in 2015. His formal training is in sociology and law, and his work also draws on anthropology, history, political science, cultural studies, and LGBTQ and feminist studies. Outside of John Jay, Yarbrough serves as a Senior Research Associate of the Department of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg.


Edited Volumes
Angela Jones, Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis, and Michael W. Yarbrough, eds. 2018. The Unfinished Queer Agenda After Marriage Equality. New York: Routledge.
Michael W. Yarbrough, Angela Jones, and Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis, eds. In press. Queer Families and Relationships After Marriage Equality. New York: Routledge (forthcoming July 2018)
Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis, Michael W. Yarbrough, and Angela Jones, eds. Under contract. Queer Activism After Marriage Equality. New York: Routledge (forthcoming June 2018).
In press. Something Old, Something New: Historicizing Same-Sex Marriage in Ongoing Struggles over African Marriage in South Africa. Sexualities. Version of record published online September 12, 2017. DOI: 10.1177/1363460717718507
In press. “Very Long Engagements: The Persistent Authority of Bridewealth in a Post-Apartheid South African Community.” Law & Social Inquiry (forthcoming). Version of record published online January 19, 2017: DOI: 10.1111/lsi.12275.
2015. “South African Marriage in Policy and Practice: A Dynamic Story.” South African Review of Sociology 46(4): 5-23. DOI: 10.1080/21528586.2015.1100095.
2015. “Toward a Political Sociology of Conjugal-Recognition Regimes: Gendered Multiculturalism in South African Marriage Law.” Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society 22(3): 456-94. DOI: 10.1093/sp/jxv016.
2012. “When Symbolic Action Fails: Illustrations from Small-Claims Court.” Qualitative Sociology Review 8(3): 44-57.
2007. “South Africa’s Wedding Jitters: Consolidation, Abolition, or Proliferation?” Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 18(2): 497-521. Available at http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlf/vol18/iss2/5/.
Chinese translation forthcoming:
Michael W. Yarbrough. 南非的婚姻震动:巩固、废除或再生. Yang Junfei, trans. Review on Law, Shanghai International Studies University (in press).
Book Chapter
In press. “Introduction: For Better or for Worse? Relational Landscapes in the Time of Same-Sex Marriage.” In Michael W. Yarbrough, Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis, and Angela Jones, eds. Queer Families and Relationships After Marriage Equality. New York: Routledge. (forthcoming July 2018)
Book Reviews
2012. Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa by Ashley Currier (2012). American Journal of Sociology 119(1): 286-88.
2011. Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China by Judith Stacey (2011). Gender & Society 27(1): 123-25.
2005. Overcoming Apartheid: Can Truth Reconcile a Divided Nation? by James L. Gibson (2004). Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal 8: 237-39.
Manuscripts in Preparation
“‘We Want a Good Relationship’: Queering Bridewealth in Same- and Different-Sex Marriage in Contemporary South Africa” (article manuscript)
“‘I Now Pronounce You...’: Marital Status and the Everyday Life of Law in Post-Apartheid South Africa” (book manuscript)
Publications for the General Public
2015. “Clearing a Path to Liberation?” contexts.org, July 7. Available at: https://contexts.org/blog/clearing-a-path-to-liberation/.


marriage and family; gender, sexuality, and race; LGBTQ communities and politics; law in everyday life; post-colonial law and society; political and cultural sociology; South Africa; the United States

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Course taught

LWS 200: Introduction to Law & Society

LWS 225: Introduction to Research in Law & Society

LWS 425: Colloquium for Research in Law & Society