chapter  7
19 Pages

Gendering the spiritual marketplace

Public, private, and in-between
WithLaurel Zwissler

In North American public space hard-policed tensions between secularity and religion in the public sphere nonetheless allow a third category of “spirituality” to flourish. The category of spirituality highlights the fuzziness of the public/private split and ambivalences about where religion is supposed to fall in the divide. In the West, the division historically relegated all non-economic transactions to the private, the traditionally feminine domain. Yet the market also intervenes in intimacies, with domestic consumption symbolizing care-taking and affective attachment to family, that is, women’s moral value. The double-edged messages of domestic consumption as a moral virtue and as frivolous, even corrupting in its required engagement with the outside world, create a historically familiar problem for women, caught in the middle as conduits between the public, in this case the market, and the private, in this case home and heart. This chapter brings analysis of these historical trends together with fieldwork on a major fair-trade organization that works with volunteers, predominantly women.