Accepted paper:

The commercialization of wedding ritual: countering uncertainty through festive spending?


Hilde Schäffler (University Berne)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic field research on professional wedding planning and the wedding industry in Austria this presentation argues that the longing for security and control in and outside ritual is a driving force of “ritual business”.

Paper long abstract:

Euro-American style weddings and the US wedding industry are probably the most prominent examples of market economies drawing intensively on ritual in the promotion of consumption and festive spending (see e.g. Ingraham 1999, Otnes/Pleck 2003). A huge number of products and services have to be purchased in order to celebrate in the hegemonic way of the "white wedding", which is intensively promoted by media (Egström 2008). This festive spending differs strongly from the various forms of gift exchange often connected to weddings. Furthermore it is accompanied by the rise of new ritual specialists, conveying economy deeply into the planning and performance of ritual: wedding planners. Being fairly common in the US, they are progressively establishing their services in European countries and worldwide. Based on ethnographic field research on the wedding industry and professional wedding planning in Austria, this presentation will explore the interrelations of a market, which used to call itself "recession proof", uncertainty and the organisation and modification of wedding ritual. What is happening, if "the market", as professionals to be paid for, intervenes in ritual organisation, formerly being part of women's unpaid family work? Is efficiency-seeking of professionalism eliminating ritual characteristics of weddings? And which forms of social relations are created, fostered and performed? Is kinship (still) important and what role does friendship play? The "outsourcing" of wedding work is not only connected to a new ordering of social relations in ritual, as I will argue, but first and foremost a way of handling uncertainty in and outside ritual.

panel W120
Economy and ritual