Archive for January, 2011

The meaning of money in relationships, as explained by sociologist Viviana Zelizer

Friday, January 7th, 2011

As some people know, Burning Man has a gift economy. The only cash transactions possible during the event are purchasing coffee/tea at the Central Camp Cafe and ice to cool drinks and to keep the food in coolers from spoiling.

While some may believe that cash transactions lack meaning or emotion, one sociologist has devoted her career to disputing that division with historical evidence. In today’s NYTimes, sociologist Viviana Zelizer has an op-ed about the evolution of cash as a gift. Zelizer has written several academic press books about people’s complicated relationship with money. She shows how people have infused cash transactions among loved ones with meaning and emotion. For example, her book Pricing the Priceless Child (1994, Princeton University Press) shows how once economically “useless” children became “priceless” by tracing the development of life insurance. The Purchase of Intimacy (2005, Princeton University Press) examines the intertwining of familial and romantic relationships with money. You can hear a podcast about that particular book here.