Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Book Reviews -- Rites of Marrying: The Wedding Industry in Scotland by Simon R. Charsley

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Book Reviews -- Rites of Marrying: The Wedding Industry in Scotland by Simon R. Charsley

Article excerpt

Charsley, Simon R., Rites of Marrying: The Wedding Industry in Scotland. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1991 227 pp., $59.95 hardcover.

The research for this book is a blending of the standard ethnographic approach with the ethnomethodological techniques necessary to render the familiar as problematic. The main body of the book is a collage of the experiences of 40 prospective married couples in Glasgow as they prepared for and celebrated their marriage. It appears that all 40 couples were interviewed at least once (probably together) while the remaining 76 interviews represent more intensive study with some couples and interviews with the professionals and merchants involved in staging the event. The chapters are liberally sprinkled with quotations and anecdotes which document variations in the different stages leading to marriage, beginning with the engagement. The author's original intention, to accumulate a series of case studies based on snowball sampling, ran against a wall of privacy norms which kept out researchers from the preparations for this most public of family events. It is difficult to know where the resulting gaps in the information available on each couple's experience might have been filled in by the author's own personal and cultural knowledge of weddings.

The major strength of this book lies in the insights and questions contained in its final chapter to which only faint allusion is given in the first chapter. It is in the concluding chapter that the author declares his aim to have been no less than a questioning of the whole of the standard anthropological view of ritual as intrinsically meaningful. While it is possible to retrospectively see that he has, indeed, found instances in which participants only blindly follow the ritual or have subjective interpretations, his main point is sometimes obscured by the welter of details and other issues raised. His effort to catch the diversity of practices contained in each step of the process often dominates although it is not clear how representative any of them are. A more systematic approach might have been to organize the book on the varieties of meanings available to different types of actors. As it stands, Charsley provides the basis for a critique of a purely objective approach to the study of symbols but it is not clear that his study of a complex industrialized society can necessarily shed light on the cultural meanings attached to rituals in lesser industrialized societies. …

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