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The Purchase of Intimacy [Kindle Edition]

Viviana A. Zelizer
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews


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.

From the Back Cover

"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

"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 world's 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

Product Details

  • File Size: 1614 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 9, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WJM6JU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #848,283 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gem, and this is Just the Beginning... February 7, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"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.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can't Buy Me Love November 22, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Convincing, Dry, Tedious 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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Financial abuse March 26, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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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