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The Purchase of Intimacy

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | The Purchase of Intimacy.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Viviana A. Zelizer(Author)

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In their personal lives, people consider it essential to separate economics and intimacy. We have, for example, a long-standing taboo against workplace romance, while we see marital love as different from prostitution because it is not a fundamentally financial exchange. In The Purchase of Intimacy, Viviana Zelizer mounts a provocative challenge to this view. Getting to the heart of one of life's greatest taboos, she shows how we all use economic activity to create, maintain, and renegotiate important ties--especially intimate ties--to other people.


In everyday life, we invest intense effort and worry to strike the right balance. For example, when a wife's income equals or surpasses her husband's, how much more time should the man devote to household chores or child care? Sometimes legal disputes arise. Should the surviving partner in a same-sex relationship have received compensation for a partner's death as a result of 9/11?


Through a host of compelling examples, Zelizer shows us why price is central to three key areas of intimacy: sexually tinged relations; health care by family members, friends, and professionals; and household economics. She draws both on research and materials ranging from reports on compensation to survivors of 9/11 victims to financial management Web sites and advice books for same-sex couples.


From the bedroom to the courtroom, The Purchase of Intimacy opens a fascinating new window on the inner workings of the economic processes that pervade our private lives.

"Are sociologists today the best economic scientists? On the evidence of Viviana Zelizer's striking book on the mix of the sacred and profane in our lives, it seems so."--Deirdre McCloskey, The Times Higher Education Supplement"Zelizer's book does an excellent job in demystifying the intertwining of economic activity and intimacy."--Xiaoshuo Hou, Theory and Society"The theoretical importance of this book cannot be overstated, and it cannot fail to have a lasting impact on our understanding of a variety of intimate relationships, of the circulation of money, of care, of interest, and mostly of their inextricable intertwining. . . . [T]his book is a major contribution to sociology and . . . it provides a very significant challenge to the dichotomies on which sociology rests. The tight elegance of its prose and style will make it a joy to the undergraduate student, while the scope, ambition, and originality of its argument will make it indispensable to scholars."--Eva Illouz, American Journal of Sociology"Zelizer offers a perspective that focuses attention on incomplete commensurability, an essential task where markets and supposedly non market realms intersect. In doing so, Zelizer's approach gives judges, academics, lawyers, and lay people a vantage point on markets and intimacy that reflects how people actually live their lives."--Martha M. Ertman, Law & Social Inquiry "The interactions of our private lives consist of subtle blends of acts of intimacy and economic exchange, which the legal system awkwardly deconstructs when things go wrong. This beautiful book will gently guide you through the many ironies of intimate exchange."--Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University, and Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences"Do you think that the realm of money and the realm of intimacy are separate spheres? Viviana Zelizer will make you think again. A fascinating demonstration that romantic relationships are pervaded by transactions of multiple sorts--and that we ignore those transactions at our peril."--Cass Sunstein, author of Republic.com"Zelizer demolishes the idea that caring and commerce inhabit two separate and mutually exclusive realms. As she shows in a wide range of examples drawn from marriage, the sex trade, and the caring professions, love and money have always been intimately intertwined. A fascinating and even liberating book."--Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood and If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything"Viviana Zelizer has long been known as the worlds most astute, discerning, and original cultural analyst of economic processes. Here, she brings together the two streams of her work in a mighty river of a book. The Purchase of Intimacy will be read for years to come."--Charles Tilly, Joseph L. Buttenweiser Professor of Social Science, Columbia University, author of Roads from Past to Future"Author of the classic The Social Meaning of Money, Viviana Zelizer here draws many examples from the law and from studies of everyday life to illuminate the wondrous variety of ways money and intimacy continuously mix. Carefully researched and clearly argued, The Purchase of Intimacy is an important and challenging read for scholars and nonscholars alike."--Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of The Commercialization of Intimate Life and coeditor of Global Woman"Here, Viviana Zelizer explores the fascinating interplay of intimate relationships and economic interest, using legal cases as her raw material. Rejecting simplistic interpretations that privilege either economics or culture, she charts a middle course of 'connected lives' that reveals the complexity and richness of her subject matter. Zelizer provides an exhaustively researched, original, and carefully argued analysis that, like her previous classics, is sure to transform the way scholars think about economics and social relations."--Juliet Schor, Boston College, author of Born to Buy and The Overworked American"This terrific book establishes the commodification of intimacy as something that now cannot be ignored."--Carol Sanger, Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law, Columbia University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Book details

  • PDF | 368 pages
  • Viviana A. Zelizer(Author)
  • Princeton University Press (April 15, 2007)
  • English
  • 7
  • Self-Help

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Review Text

  • By Herbert Gintis on February 7, 2009

    "The Purchase of Intimacy," says Zelizer, "deals with how people and the law manage the mingling of what sometimes seem to be incompatible activities: the maintenance of intimate personal relations and the conduct of economic activity." (p. 1) "You will find the coexistence of economy and intimacy hard to understand," she continues, "if you think that economic self-interest determines all social relations, if you imagine that the world splits sharply into separate spheres of rationality and sentiment." (pp. 1-2). Using almost exclusively legal cases, almost exclusively from United States courts, Zelizer hammers home her point. The evidence she presents is anecdotal rather than statistical, but it is overwhelmingly convincing. Moreover, I doubt that the reader will not have encountered situations similar to those described in the book in their daily lives or by reading the newspaper. Zelizer has a minimal goal, that of illustrating the ineluctable commingling of money and intimacy, and she accomplishes this convincingly.Since there are several approaches to social theory that categorically deny Zelizer's minimal assertion, she goes to some length to address other theories and illustrate their shortcomings. This is very useful, because most of us harbor in our souls, implicitly and tacitly, elements of such alternative theories, which include some of the most prominent in modern social theory. One of these is the Dual Spheres paradigm common in socialist theory, according to which money corrupts and markets are evil unconditionally. Another is the Economic Reductionist theory that intimacy is a set of services that can be analyzed in the same manner as the provisioning of traditional marketable goods and services.Zelizer provides a critique of her own book, implicitly, by virtue of her success in proving her minimal thesis. If Dual Spheres and Economic Reductionist theories are wrong, what is the right theory? Zelizer does not even attempt an answer. Moreover, is there not evidence for a theory of intimacy beyond United States law? What about intimacy in other societies, such as would be studied by anthropologists? I could imagine a hundred studies of intimacy and economics in hunter-gatherer, small-scale agricultural, fishing, and herding societies. Indeed, what about intimacy and exchange of goods in non-human societies? Would such phenomena not shed light on the purchase of intimacy in human society?Almost as important for a general socio-economics of intimacy is an exploration of related themes in the arts, especially literature. There are truly masterful renderings of the structure of moral issues surrounding the purchase of intimacy in the English novel. Jane Austin and Emily Bronte surely come to mind, though my favorite exploration of this theme is Henry James' novel Washington Square, in which the intelligent and affluent Dr. Austin Sloper has a life-long relationship with his daughter Catherine, whom he resents for being the cause of his wife's death in childbirth. The doctor goes to great lengths to prevent his daughter's happiness, and she is too weak-willed to defend her interests. Nevertheless, Catherine remains loyal to her father, caring for him slavishly in his dotage, and making a decent life for herself out of the scraps afforded to her by her imperious father.Of course, stories like this abound, even in our own families, however far from Washington Square. It is most pressing to link intimacy with social theory in a way that brings the phenomenon into concordance with fundamental principles. In principle, it is not that hard to see how that might be done. First, we note that "intimate relationships" may be considered long-term interactions between pairs of individuals. This excludes many forms of prostitution as well as many forms of medical care. This is reasonable, since the equation of intimacy with caring for bodily functions is not plausible. There is, then, a standard economic/biological analysis of such long-term dyadic interactions, often summarized by "reciprocal altruism," as developed by biologists Robert Trivers and William Hamilton, and many economists, including Robert Axelrod. The basic idea is that there is some sort of tit-for-tat relationship that benefits both parties over time. The long-term, repeated, nature of the interaction is thus central to its constitution. In the case of some forms of human intimacy, the "pro quo" may come long after the execution of many "quids" (e.g., I care for my wife for many years, and she rewards me in her will upon death), thus complicating the relationship. But the basic nature of the interaction is well captured by reciprocal altruism.Economists used to argue, implicitly or explicitly, that all economic transactions could be codified in explicit contractual form, but we have long known that this is not the case. Moreover, there is contemporary evidence from behavioral game theory (e.g., Martin Brown, Armin Falk and Ernst Fehr, "Relational Contracts and the Nature of Market Interactions," Econometrica 72,3 [may] (2004):747-780) that when the reciprocal obligations are complex and difficult to measure, informal relationships based on trust and moral obligation work more equitably and efficiently than explicit, court-enforceable contracts. The sorts of complex reciprocal relationships documented by Zelizer involving both material exchange and intimacy can be seen as instances of such informal contracts.The next stage, theoretically speaking, is to recognize that long-term interactions, especially when they involve intimacy, often pass from individual motives of rational self-interest to affective identification with one's exchange partner, so the well-being of the other becomes incorporated into each agent's objective function is some, often complex and even contradictory, way. Thus, relationships that begin in fairly utilitarian ways (this can even include marriage) are transformed over time into deeply affective relationships (love/esteem/hate). These affective, other-regarding, aspects of a relationship are present in most strategic interactions, as we know from contemporary experimental economics, but they can become greatly heighted with the increase of intimacy and the passage of time.The gain from embedding long-term intimacy relationships in a traditional economic model with other-regarding preferences is that this allows for large-scale aggregate analysis of relationships and their dependence on such economic variables as the interest rate, the supply of certain kinds of services, the impact of various sorts of insurance, pensions, and the like. It would be hard to conceive of social planning for the economics of care-giving, for instance, without the benefit of such analytical models.

  • By Etienne RP on November 22, 2007

    The Purchase of Intimacy deals with how people and the law manage the mingling of what sometimes seem to be incompatible activities: the maintenance of intimate personal relations and the conduct of economic activity.Contrary to the common view of separate spheres or conflicting realms, people often mingle economic activity with intimacy. Across a wide range of intimate relations, people manage to integrate monetary transfers into large webs of mutual obligations without destroying the social ties involved. Intimate relations not only incorporate economic activity, but depend on it and organize it. Money cohabits regularly with intimacy, and even sustains it.Then why is it that people worry so much about mixing intimacy and economic transactions, fearing for example that introducing money into friendship, marriage, or parent-child relations will corrupt them, or stating emphatically that sentiments have no place in a commercial relationship?The idea that economic claims and human relationships belong to hostile worlds emerge from the effort to mark and defend boundaries between categories of social ties that contain some common elements and that, if confused, would threaten existing relations of trust. Looking meticulously at caring relations reveals that participants themselves do not contend over whether those relations should involve economic transactions. They contend instead over the appropriate matches among relations, media, and transactions. For participants, the secret is to match the right sort of monetary payment with the social transaction at hand. The matching depends strongly on the definition of the social ties among the parties. People therefore adopt symbols, rituals, practices and physically distinguishable forms of money to mark distinct social relations.In Viviana Zelizer's words, people perform "relational work" by creating viable matches between personal ties, transactions, media, and boundaries. Economic practices such as major purchases, household budgets, provision of health care, and ceremonial gifts engage participants in selecting appropriate media for payment, matching that media with transactions, assigning meaning to their relationships, and marking boundaries that separate intimate relationships from other relationships with which they might easily and dangerously be confused. Relational work includes the establishment of differentiated social ties, their maintenance, their reshaping, their distinction from other relations, and sometimes their termination.What happens when participants in intimate social relations bring their disputes to court? Courts also perform a variety of relational work. They consult a matrix of possible relations among the parties involved, locate the relationship at hand within that matrix, establish distinctions from other relationships, and within the relationship insist on the proper matching of relations, transactions, and media. In their reasoning, courts strongly invoke separate spheres and hostile worlds arguments. They defend the principle that the home should be protected from market influences, and that business should not mix with pleasure, since contamination runs in both directions. But in practice courts engage in a complex matching of certain forms of intimacy to particular types of economic transactions. They discriminate strongly between appropriate and inappropriate matchings. In fact, both ordinary practice and legal doctrine accept and even encourage the mingling of intimate care with economic transactions, just so long as the proper matching of relationship, transaction, and medium occurs.Viviana Zelizer brings a wide variety of sociological studies and legal cases to illustrate her point. Readers will discover the world of taxi dancing, when a ten-cent ticket could buy you sixty seconds of dancing with a young woman. They will learn about the power plays that occur between children and their grandparents who depend on the remittances sent by Dominican immigrants. They will seize the crucial distinctions that people make to characterize a social relationship and to distinguish it from similar relations. Is the person hired to provide care for children a babysitter, someone sitting in, a day mother, a nanny, a caregiver, a special friend, or the neighbors' daughter? Are people going on a date together hooking up, going out, hanging around, going steady, seeing a "friend with benefits" or simply dating? And who gets to pay the bill?This book also offers a glimpse into the social meaning of money. Money is gendered: "when his money pays for certain essential expenses, they are necessary; when her money does, they are extras". It is non-fungible: far from treating lump payments from the earned income tax credit as simply more income of the same old kind, households typically distinguish "tax money" from "paycheck money", often earmarking windfall money for exceptional commitments, such as down payments on houses, buying cars, consumer durables, school tuition, family celebrations, and liquidation of major debts. The type of payment system matters for the relation: in fact, even in the economic world, we have extensive evidence of how much the form of compensation matters for CEOs of large companies, who ordinarily receive a wide range of perquisites in addition to straight monetary payments.The legal case studies in the book also introduce many arcane legal categories: prenuptial agreement, conditional gifts, exchange of considerations, breach of promise, alienation of affection, lost marital consortium, undue influence, the law of coverture or the legal doctrine of meretricious consideration. Each of these terms brings its own set of further understandings and legal practices.One motivation behind the study is to open the space for arguments that are silenced by the strict separation between intimacy and economic exchange. Feminist legal scholars, for instance, claim that separation of spheres fundamentally undermines women's interest.Turning traditional women's work exclusively into a matter of sentiment dangerously obscures its economic value. "Women's key problem has been too little commodification, not too much". The assumption that family work is an expression of love disregards that family work is also labor. The principle that money cannot buy love may have the unintended and perverse consequence of perpetuating low pay for face-to-face service work.As the author concludes, "we should stop agonizing over whether or not money corrupts, but instead analyze what combinations of economic activity and intimate relations produce happier, more just, and more productive lives."

  • By Peter McCluskey on May 31, 2007

    This book provides a convincing argument that even though many people talk as if intimacy and the exchange of money belong in separate spheres that would contaminate each other if mixed, most people regularly behave in ways that mix them. She provides an alternate view under which a more narrow set of restrictions on the use of money helps prevent specific types of relationships from being transformed into some less desired category of relationship.The arguments are phrased to appeal to a wide range of ideologies (but probably not the religious right). But the style is dry, and the numerous legal cases and other examples quickly become tedious and often unneeded. It's hard to imagine what kind of person would want to read more than the first 100 pages plus the final chapter.She uses a broader definition of intimacy than I expected, but provides plenty of hints as to why that is appropriate.One nice example of her evidence is the fact that buying a pet doesn't prevent people from loving the pet.One strange passage which raises a few doubts about the otherwise apparently good research behind the book is the definition of "the unfamiliar term polyamory" which makes no reference to love and hints that it typically refers to non-romantic relationships.

  • By Jenny on October 3, 2016

    such a great book! thank you!

  • By Benjamin Johnson on March 12, 2016

    Viviana just makes a history book more interesting to read

  • By Nancy Zalusky Berg on March 26, 2013

    Money is the last frontier to investigate intimacy. Highly readable and worthwhile discourse on the ways in which the use and abuse of money affects relationships


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