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Friday Forum: Jennifer Estes – “A High Price to Pay: Weddings and Economic Anxiety in Cambodia”
May 3, 2019 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
A High Price to Pay:
Weddings and Economic Anxiety in Cambodia
Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology
University of Wisconsin-Madison
This paper examines how the cost of Cambodian weddings has increased in recent decades, and how rural young men and their families are experiencing this change. Weddings have transformed from relatively “simple” affairs to complex productions that require the services of professionals. As wedding expenses rise, so too does the associated amount of bridewealth—the money the groom must pay to the bride’s family prior to marriage. Based on ethnographic research, I argue that people are highly anxious over the high price of bridewealth because it has destabilized the traditional life course, leading to intergenerational and gendered tensions. Some young men delay marriage and the responsibilities of adulthood because they cannot raise sufficient funds for bridewealth while working in a deeply precious labor market. Yet members of the older generation are frustrated by young men’s inability to save money, when it seems like they have many more opportunities for work than youth did in the past. Young men are also concerned that even if they can afford bridewealth, they may not be able to achieve the kind of marriage and family life that they desire. Their worries are due to changing expectations about masculinity, and what constitutes “success.” The concerns of young men and their families represent larger anxieties about navigating the financial and social dimensions of Cambodia’s changing economy, in which access to money plays an increasingly important role in shaping the life course and in determining social status.