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.

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Why have a wedding? A summary of our project findings.

Emily Garbutt and Julia Carter

 

Our research project aimed to ask: can weddings help us understand the nature of agency in people’s lives? With a sizeable minority now choosing to “live apart together” or cohabit, marriage is no longer a legal or social necessity, yet many people still choose to marry and have a wedding; the questions remain why marriage is still so popular and why weddings have taken on the cultural significance they have. This research was specifically concerned with the form and process of the wedding and understanding better how these are imagined and lived by individuals. By asking why people choose to have weddings and how they experience these, we uncovered some of the central elements involved, including the roles of agency, tradition and imagination. Continue reading

Sociology Summer Internships: research and supporting students

This summer four of the sociology team will be employing a student intern for six to ten weeks to assist with the on-going research projects. The aim will be for the sociology to team to share their research process with the students as well as foster material for publications, research reports and further work in the future.

For our students this is an excellent opportunity for them to gain research experience for their up-coming dissertations or masters studies. We hope that the students will be able to use this to also further their academic interests in fields of sociological inquiry while working with an active researcher in the field.

Harshad Keval will be working on his research in ethnicity and health. His research will be on diabetes within the UK South Asian population. Diabetes is a key priority in national and international government health discourses and policy. Notably, the last 30 years has seen ethnicity as a ‘high priority’. The central aim for this research is to systematically identify and review the literature on this policy discourse and establish the core discourses risk. The result aims to further sociology’s understanding of the intersectionality of race/ethnicity and health in the UK.

Julia Carter will be conducting a pilot study on weddings and decisions surrounding them among young couples. She aims to find out more about why people decide to get married, what influences their decisions about their weddings, and to what extent people are guided by social scripts for behaviour or by individual choice.  Marriage and weddings are assumed to be behaviours that are largely guided by individual choice and yet when asked, people can rarely articulate why they chose to marry – the response most often being ‘why not get married?’ While weddings are supposedly unique and personal to a couple (or individual), the events often look remarkably similar to one another and they follow very prescribed patterns and rituals: this suggests that there is a strong degree of conformity to social norms of practice rather than independent choice in the style of wedding. The fundamental contradiction that the project will aim to explore is that between creative agency and conformity. To what extent are marriages and the wedding guided by free choice and how far do people recognise conformity in their behaviours?

Matthew Ogilvie will be conducting a research project focusing on community mobilisation against proposed fracking (hydraulic fracturing) infrastructure. The project involves analysis of community contention as local citizens seek to resist the building and operation of fracking infrastructure within their localities. A key focus of the project will be a descriptive and explanatory analysis of the collective action frames (interpretive frameworks relating to: grievances, diagnoses of problems, prognoses, motivations for action and collective identities), strategies, tactics, networks and resource use of key stakeholders (local communities, developers, environmental groups, political parties, local planners etc.) involved in conflict over the siting of fracking infrastructure.

Daniel Smith will be working on his research into YouTube video-blogging and filmmaking. The cultural impact of YouTube, with its tagline ‘Broadcast Yourself’, has been considerable. The website has democratised film-making and spawned its own culture of video-making, sharing and collaborating beyond mainstream traditional media outlets. The research sets out to investigate the phenomenon of video-blogging on YouTube. The focus will be around a selection of video-bloggers from the YouTube community and develops a case study of their video-making, content and narratives. Ostensibly a video blog is a diary entry which is logged on the users account and available to view by anyone and everyone. From this simple definition, the cultural and historical context of video-blogging requires more exploration: How is it related to questions of performance of self; cultures of story-telling, authenticity, authority and representations; points of view and truth? The case studies of video-bloggers allow the researchers to identify the elements of video-blogging in relation to YouTube’s tagline ‘Broadcast Yourself’ and answer the question: how are people broadcasting themselves?