Wedding paradoxes: individualized conformity and the ‘perfect day’

By Julia Carter.

Marriage rates in twenty-first-century Britain are historically low, divorce and separation are historically high, and marriage is no longer generally seen as necessary for legitimate sexual relationships, long-term partnership or even parenting. Yet at the same time weddings have become more prominent, both as social aspiration and as popular culture.

But why have a wedding, especially an ornate, expensive and time consuming wedding, when there appears to be little social need to do so? Similarly, weddings have never been more free from cultural norms and official control – so why do these supposedly unique and deeply personal events usually replay the same assumed traditions?

In our article for The Sociological Review, Simon Duncan and I argue that weddings involve celebrants necessarily adapting from, and re-serving, tradition as a process of bricolage. At the same time many couples did not want to be distinctively unique, but rather distinctively normal. This is what we call ‘individualized conformity’.

I discussed this research with Laurie Taylor on Radio Four’s Thinking Allowed on 4 May. You can listen to the discussion here.