Accepted Paper:

Wedding "GIFTS": entrance-Fee or generosity? Interests, sentiments and mutuality  


Orit Abuhav (Beit berl College)

Paper short abstract:

Trends within Israeli society toward privatization, individualism and materialism have transformed the form of wedding gifts from material articles into presents of money. This evolving strategy weakens the gift's social identity and its cultural capital, but display generosity by yielding the power of the giver's taste and enabling the liberty of choice.

Paper long abstract:

Transformations in gift-giving practices at Israeli secular middle-class weddings can throw light on both contemporary Israeli society and on the known paradox embodied in the "gift". Within anthropological literature material gift-objects negate money-gifts, and are related to exchange patterns, barter, the market economy, capitalism etc. Transformation of the gift pattern from object to money is affected by processes that are moving Israeli society toward privatization, individualism and materialism. While thirty years ago, wedding gifts were material objects, today most gifts are cash money or checks, whose value is calculated in correspondence to the status of both guests and hosts: the type of relationship and degree of closeness to the married couple; the history of mutual gift-exchange between them in the past; but mostly in respect to the wedding venue, timing, and the number of guests who share a gift. Objects contain the spirit, social identity, cultural capital and taste of the giver. Money nullifies the object's social identity.

In that sense, wedding gifts can be seen as a mere entrance fee to an obligatory celebration, whose timing, menu, aesthetic character and ceremonial form is dictated by the host, but wedding gifts obey to the general moral obligation to give, and to specific and precise exchange values in the past of the giver and the receiver. Nevertheless, money gifts display generosity by forfeiting the power of the giver's taste and enabling the receiver to exercise liberty of choice.

Panel W042
Relations that money can buy: negotiating mutualities and asymmetries in local and translocal social fields