The Sacred and the Profane in the Marketplace

  • Frederick F. Wherry
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


This chapter modifies Randall Collins’ interaction ritual chains theory in order to identify how individuals distinguish between what is sacred (off limits to competitive market rules) and what is profane. The empirical examples come from international trade shows in Thailand, home décor and handicraft markets in Thailand and Costa Rica as well as from small factories and artisans’ workshops. Interaction rituals enable individuals to embody moral codes and to revivify distinctions between the sacred and the profane. Individuals are not fully cognizant of the moral standards they have embodied, but these standards accomplished anew with each interaction and begin to crystallize when there is a focused interaction where most distractions are submerged. While each market situation regenerates normative principles, the concatenation of these normative principles throughout a chain of interactions gives rise to trans-situational values. Although, Durkheim theorized the clear separation of the sacred from the profane and thought about the machinations of the market as profane, Durkheim’s analysis of religious ritual can usefully be applied to such nonreligious realms as the marketplace. By taking a Durkheimian approach, one can identify various ritual ingredients that regenerate moral distinctions in the marketplace, and one can ask how the disabling or the removal of those ingredients might alter the regeneration of these distinctions.


Interactional ritual chains moral codes market norms handicrafts Thailand Costa Rica 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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