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The Table Gift as a Social Fact: unwrapping the practice of giving bomboniere in Italy via participatory ethnography

“Some cultural resources do not operate as forms of capital - hence are not exchangeable but do have value for those who use and make them”.

Beverley Skeggs, Class, Self, Culture 1


'Decoration', according to the Oxford English Dictionary definition, refers both to a product (“thing that serves as an ornament”) and a process (“the art of decorating something”). This article draws on participatory ethnography to explore how ostensibly trivial table ornaments involve important processes of meaning-making on the part of both giver and recipient, via the example of bomboniere, a gift that is given according to Italian tradition on special occasions, such as a wedding or a first communion. The custom of giving a bomboniera and the stories of specific bomboniere are used here to reflect upon the wider meaning and value of decorative objects within the domestic sphere; to highlight how affective ties and issues of obligation, but also the promise of connection, are creatively intertwined in their seemingly frivolous folds. A focus on 'use-value' rather than capital seeks to shed light upon the bomboniere’s contemporary role in the construction and maintenance of social bonds between female kin.

An enduring legend of personal family lore is that of Coralie's Party Bag. The details of the actual contents of the little plastic carrier bag that our middle sister brought home after attending Coralie's birthday party are now disputed, but a rare consensus remains between all of us: Coralie's Party Bag was, as our mother says with an embarrassed and occasionally conspiratorial smile, probably better than Coralie's present. My mother was - is - a stalwart of sibling equality, and that afternoon she meticulously managed the distribution of various sweets, stickers and Beauty-and-the-Beast paraphernalia between three giddy sisters. “There's more?” she exclaimed with each extraction, deliberately stoking our incredulous enthusiasm, “Anne must have spent a fortune on these party bags. I hope you remembered to say 'Thank-you for having me'”.

The physical symbol of a celebration shared, the novelty of surprise contents, the pleasure of receiving a gift as a guest: I revisited the experience of receiving a party bag as an adult when I received my first bomboniera, a tiny satin bag filled with sugared almonds, sealed with a flourish of cream silk ribbon and a silver butterfly brooch. “Don't you give bomboniere in England?” my host laughed, surprised at my delight and apparently exaggerated gratitude. Not quite like in Italy. Although the practice of placing small gifts or 'favours' on tables for guests is now commonplace at weddings in England, the Italian tradition is much more well-established and is preserved not only as a part of nuptial rituals but in a variety of celebrations. The birth of a child, a christening or first communion in the Catholic church, a graduation or the achievement of a high-level professional award (qualifying as a consultant medic, for example), particular wedding anniversaries, and even funerals are all occasions in which it is customary to present guests with these tokens. Deriving their name from the French bonbon and the seventeenth-century French aristocratic practice of gifting elaborate keepsake boxes filled with sweet delicacies, bomboniere in Italy today are still often some form of box, parcel or bundle. A brief note inscribing the date and occasion is usually nestled amongst sugared almonds, reflecting the festive connotation of almonds that dates back to the early Roman Empire.2 Depending on the occasion celebrated, use of a particular colour and specific number of sugared almonds, confetti, is prescribed. Five white confetti are considered auspicious for a wedding, with the odd number reflecting the indivisibility of the union created; red are for a degree ceremony, pink for the birth of a baby girl, blue for a boy. Though this rich folklore is yet to be critically explored and would be of interest in its own right, my concern here is the implicit sense of these token gifts. How do they serve to create and perpetuate meaning in everyday life?

Anthropological, sociological and psychological approaches have long conceived of the giving of gifts in terms of exchange. 3 Though a gift should not establish obligations for exchange, as John Sherry states in his comprehensive anthropological overview, “inferentially or implicitly attached strings are a connotative aspect of the gift, social bonds being thereby forged and reciprocation encouraged.”4 The expectation of reciprocation in gift giving, Sherry goes on to suggest, “is greater than in other forms of reciprocal exchange”, particularly amongst Western donors who “violate the 'basic etiquette' of reciprocal exchange by calling attention to their generosity”.5 Since Marcel Mauss's essay collection The Gift, the giving and exchanging of materials and services in both 'archaic' and industrial societies has been critically problematised as a practice which is “apparently free and disinterested but nevertheless constrained and self-interested”.6 Bomboniere as a Western practice are noteworthy in this regard in that they ostensibly preclude material reciprocation as far as it is possible to do so. They are tokens of gratitude; grown-up party bags, if you will, and therefore unlike other forms of gift-giving which represent “confirmation of the donor's 'sincere participation' in the recipient's tribulations and joys” 7bomboniere acknowledge recipient participation in the tribulations and joys of the donor. They can be understood in two ways: as a standalone memento of a celebration and as a fragment of a wider tradition of kin networks taking part in each other's celebrations. Consequently, these objects are a useful departure point from which we can develop alternative conceptualizations of the notion of the gift, going beyond the meaning with which a gift is imbued by the recipient, and promoting consideration of the significance that the selection, preparation, and act of giving holds for the giver.

In order to stage this inquiry, the present article responds to Beverley Skeggs call for the development of interpretative modes that privilege readings of 'use-value', i.e. the worth of an asset for the individual who produces and uses it.8 Skeggs argues that this way:

it is possible to see people's dispositions, characteristics, culture and artefacts as having use-value only to themselves, both beyond exchange but also becoming an object exchange the moment another person becomes interested in it/them.

Skeggs9 is interested in exchange as one of the processes that work to “make class”. In her review of the critical approaches to economic, symbolic, cultural and moral exchange, she follows Kopytoff in underlining how the colonialist distinction between “individualized persons” and “commodified things” forced the separation of “use from exchange-value, but also, significantly, served to associate certain forms of personhood with use and exchange-values”[10. Thus, she explains, the “'civilized' exercised a relationship to things based on a specific perspective on value; value was always about exchange”. A fixation upon material objects stood in contrast to that of the modern European; it was, to use Mauss's terms, proper to “archaic” and “primitive” societies.11 And yet, introducing his seminal study that focused on the “clan-based” societies Polynesia, Melanesia and the American Northwest, Mauss wrote:12

As we shall note that this morality and organization still function in our own societies, in unchanging fashion and, so to speak, hidden, below the surface, and as we believe that in this we have found one of the human foundations on which our societies are built, we shall be able to deduce a few moral conclusions.

Accepting the overly simplistic and exaggerated binary opposition between primitive and modern forms of personhood as a social and historical construct, my concern is to highlight how gift traditions that are viewed as trivial, outdated, and proper to pre-industrial cultures exist contemporarily and transculturally as meaningful social practices.  By drawing on the stories of bomboniere that I have received and those recounted to me in informal exchanges during the course of a wider participatory ethnography, I offer a practical example from contemporary Italy and suggest these supposedly quaint, inconsequential and “hidden” practices continue to be socially relevant and to play a significant and specific role in negotiations of subject-hood. 13

“Participatory ethnography” is defined according to Margaret Hills de Zarate and Ditty Dokter as:14

not a specific data collection technique but rather a multiple technique approach, by which the ethnographer can adapt and draw upon a mix of methods appropriate to a situation. Research and data collection takes the form of diverse experiences, workshops, encounters, relationships, observations, as opposed to closely structured interviews as it is only as the conversations and interviews progress that the next question emerges.

The bomboniere emerged as a theme in conversations with female participants and collaborators in my research on contemporary Italian mobility. Though this was often stimulated by my own interest in domestic and amateur craft practices or a specific question regarding objects in the homes of participants, they were also referred to spontaneously. On each occasion, the narratives they led to can be seen to implicate broader issues of social connectivity and self-understanding, as I will further explore.

Obligations and connections

“Love as a practice is quite compatible with feelings of obligation and responsibility”,writes Daniel Miller.15 This statement in the miniature bottles of maple syrup my friend Sara will offer as bomboniere at her approaching wedding. As an Italo-Canadian Muslim resident in Italy, she explains that she has found the process of preparing for the marriage celebration a meaningful way of maintaining bonds with her existing family, from whom she is geographically separated, and of developing the relationship with the new Italian family she will acquire through marriage. The bomboniere are not only a symbolic acknowledgement of her Canadian identity; procuring and personalizing the bottles of syrup for each guest is a practical, collaborative task which assists in the preservation, across significant physical distance, of the close ties that she values with her parents and siblings. Yet, the “bomboniere saga was pretty much a me-vs-'mamma' situation,” she comments. For “mamma”, her future mother-in-law, there are other issues at stake in the giving of bomboniere. Sherry's reflection on the identity processes related to gift-giving behaviour in the personal domain can offer a productive insight at this point:

Self-identity may be confirmed by presenting it to others in the objectified form of a gift, or by conspicuous presentation of gifts [...]. We give, receive, and reject gifts strategically, thereby symbolically predicating identity. Objects become containers for the being of the donor, who gives a portion of that being to the recipient. This metaphoric conception of gift exchange alludes to the symbolic encoding of the gift with connotative meaning.16

Whilst for Sara, the preparation and presentation of the bomboniere represent a creative opportunity to affirm existing connections with Canadian family and friends in a context that is predominantly Italian, for her mother-in-law, the bomboniere are signifiers of cultural capital, in a Bourdieusian17 sense, and reflect self-conceptions of family identity. To give bottles of syrup would be inappropriate as the economic and cultural value of this gift undermines, as she sees it, the gratitude it seeks to express and the family's middle-class status. Sara explained, “it was not only the monetary value that was inadequate, but there was a sense of not being good enough because 'qua così si fa' ('it's done this way here')”. It is a breach of etiquette, both in terms of polite conduct; but also quite literally, if we consider that etichetta in Italian has retained the practical meaning of 'label' or 'tag', to which the English term owes its origins:

etiquette n. [mass noun] the customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group. <ORIGIN> mid 18th century: from French étiquette “list of ceremonial observances of a court”, also “label, etiquette”, from Old French estiquette (from estiquier “to fix”). [OED defintion]

The perceived inadequacy of the gift represents a failure to meet the customary code of social decorum, but also a public misrepresentation of the family. It does not, in Sherry's terms, predicate an identity that reflects her own sense of subjecthood: it gives her family the wrong 'label'. This more anxious approach to the bomboniere and the table they will adorn echoes older middle-class insecurities regarding festive dining occasions. Rachel Rich, analysing advice literature on dining in the second half of the nineteenth century, finds 18

A dinner party was as much an opportunity for display as it was a risk of social embarrassment. The setting for the meal was judged by the guests and if found lacking could have an effect on that most highly valued of bourgeois possessions: reputation.

The anxiety Rich identifies is reflected in Sara's summary of her mother-in-law's attitiude:

Very important in this whole 'saga' was the notion of 'bella figura' ['the right/good impression'] that is completely foreign to me. My future mother-in-law kept saying that she personally doesn't care about these things (not sure I believe that) but she HAS [original emphasis] to do it to please her guests, otherwise she'll be judged and criticised, possibly for years to come.

Whereas for Sara, then, the value contained within the bomboniere is not exchangeable, but arises from its collaborative creation (use-value), her mother-in-law is reading it as a form of capital (exchange-value). To resolve these conflictual readings of the bomboniere, they will offer guests attending the traditional Italian ricevimento, a smaller ceremony held prior to the wedding, a more conventional bomboniera - a perfume diffuser, with the customary five confetti. The little phials of syrup and the elegant perfume bottle form bomboniera gifts which neatly embody Brett Williams's reminder that “women’s” work at gathering and obligating or binding relatives is neither trivial nor merely a matter of sentiment”.19 The bomboniera encapsulates the sense of obligation experienced by Sara with regard to the beliefs of her mother-in-law, as well as the achievement of establishing a further connection between herself and her new husband's family despite adhering to different moral value systems; “we're friends”, she now concludes. Notwithstanding their apparent frivolousness, these bomboniere can be read in this way as part of a wider project of homemaking. They are one of the many tiny concrete symbols that assist in the creation of a space in which larger tensions between existing, fluid self-identifications (Italo-Canadian, Muslim) and family relationships, and obligations towards new ones (Italian, Catholic, and/or atheist; new in-laws), can be negotiated.

Though participants emphasized the choice and preparation of bomboniere as a free and creative process, implying the resistance Sara experienced was unreasonable (if not exceptional), they all conceded that there exists within Italy a tacit expectation for nuptial bomboniere of some form, even of negligible economic value. We might therefore conceive of the act of giving bomboniere itself as a ritual of obligation, an act of duty prescribed by Italian etiquette. Entwined within this duty, however, we can trace the possibility of a new or enriched awareness of connectivity and sense of one's place in the world.

This appears to be true not only of situations in which the giver is clearly positioned in a dialogue with alternative and potentially conflicting cultural values and moral codes, but also applies to the more 'internal' re-configurations of subjecthood that must be negotiated throughout the life course. In this sense, bomboniere may most productively be understood as “threshold gifts”, in Lewis Hyde's terms; gifts that 19

mark the time of, or act as the actual agents of, individual transformation.

A friend Federica's comments on the preparation of bomboniere in the final stages of her pregnancy lend further evidence to the idea that the heart of this decorative practice is the promise of both interpersonal connections and opportunities for self-reflection. As we shared a journey home after spending the Christmas period with respective extended family, we chatted idly about the mundane tasks that awaited. The imposing mountains flanking our route were rendered particularly suggestive by the dim afternoon light that characterises early January, which perhaps led her to observe reflectively that it was now the year in which that she would meet her son. She animated the conversation by turning to the topic of preparing the bomboniere that were to mark the celebration of the baby’s arrival. These bomboniere, or ciuffetti (bundles) as she referred to them, were small fabric pockets that had been made by an aunt, and the task remained for her to place the blue confetti in each one. Her aunt, Anna Maria, had hand-made over seventy cross-stitch and crochet lace bundles which were offered together with blue confetti.

Federica Bomboniere 2 Image 1

Federica's Bomboniere, photographed by Georgia Wall.

She shared images of the ciuffetti that had already been made; tiny white linen and lace envelopes, delicately embellished with a hand-stitched design. The initial of her unborn son, a heart, a pram, a train, a bottle; each handcrafted package bespoke affection, skill, and devotion. Federica explained she had never felt particularly close to Anna Maria and that the hand-made bomboniere were an entirely unexpected contribution. As she scrolled through the messages they had exchanged in search of more images, it was evident to me that these ostensibly inconsequential decorations were not only a significant source of mutual pleasure, but had also crafted a closer bond between the two women. When, on another occasion, she showed me the finished product and I asked her directly how she felt about these hand-made gifts, she ran one of the ribbons through her fingers and commented, “It's like they see you're not a child any more”. In this statement, and in Federica's ready reference to the bomboniere in the context of imminent motherhood (they were one of the first things she mentioned when contemplating the arrival of her baby), we can interpret the significance of bomboniere as tangible tokens that symbolise and commemorate rites of passage, but also assist in the negotiation of developments and changes in the life course, and the new self-conceptions they promote. Hyde states:21

It might be said that the gifts we give at times of   transformation are meant to make visible the giving up we do invisibly. And of course we hope that there will be an exchange that something will come toward us if we abandon our old lives. So we might say the tokens we receive at times of change are meant to make visible life's reciprocation.

The key point here is that the reciprocity is set in motion even before the bomboniere are actually given as gifts. It seems fair to surmise that the establishment of a more intimate relationship with her niece, and enhanced sense of participation in a family narrative, is a source of gratification for Federica's aunt. Federica's expression of profound gratitude and respect for a person who had previously been only a peripheral figure in her family life, but also, crucially, her explicit recognition and appreciation of the time and craft skills (hand sewing, crochet, and bobbin lace-making) invested in each package undermine framings of these decorative practices as “backward” or “marginalized” in contemporary life.22 On the contrary, the production and giving of bomboniere for Federica, as for Sara, can be seen as substantial elements in the development of intergenerational female kin networks. Sara recounted her husband's perception of bomboniere as follows:

He also brought up ‘qua così si fa' and 'bella figura' (which drove me to the point of madness), and got quite upset with me when I once referred to them as 'pointless' [...]. He loved the idea of the maple syrup bottles, and it was when his mother got involved that his idea changed. I think this still shows the cross-generational ties and how some traditions are maintained because they represent something that has always been done. 

Alongside the clear sense of frustration Sara expresses here, we can observe that the articulation of tolerance and respect in her decision to offer a more traditional gift ultimately rests upon the intergenerational connections she reads within the practice. The recurring refrain of a thing that “has always been done” which Sara rejects as leaving “little room for creativity and thinking outside the southern Italian box”, is rehabilitated; her interpretation of the value of “cross-generational ties” and “maintained traditions” is conciliatory.

Hyde calls gifts “social facts”, suggesting that their distribution “creates a community out of individual expressions of goodwill”.23 Both these examples indicate the social significance of these tokens: the importance of the bomboniere cannot be meaningfully decrypted in terms of capital exchange. In order to be productively interpreted, these seemingly trifling decorations must be considered instead in light of their use-value; via a model that focalizes the ways in which their worth, in Skeggs's words, “does not depend on exchange and has a value beyond it.”24

Fig 2 Margherita Collection

Margherita's Collection photographed by Georgia Wall.

The elaboration of the bomboniere is but one stage. In order to understand the bomboniere as a “social fact”, we must also look to the function that they perform once given; what they mean for the recipient. Here, too, we need to read these objects in terms of use-value.  The bomboniera I received from Federica following the safe arrival of her son now will now sit in the collection of assorted trinkets congregating on my kitchen shelves. Every time I move home, it seems that the practical items I rely on daily (towels, cutlery, a saucepan) are also the first to be left behind. As once again I ask to borrow basic kitchen utensils from my mother, my father will mock the ever-increasing quantity of removal boxes containing what he unashamedly dubs “more knick-knacks knocked out for a bob”. 

Federica's bomboniera is in my mind a gracefully aesthetic piece of craftsmanship, but it stakes its proud place alongside a mass-produced plastic car and a host of other small objects that I admittedly might never have chosen to display. Nevertheless, these decorative curios resist confiscation simply by merit of the people they evoke. When visiting the home of one participant, Margherita, I commented on her impressive collection of bomboniere. “I keep them all,” she said proudly. Decades' worth of memories of births, communions, marriages, and degree ceremonies of friends and family are activated as she offers a story of how she came to own a package, carefully handling it and passing it me. During the celebration proper, the bomboniere are mere props, and will perhaps pass unnoticed amongst the general dining mise en scène, the parade of excessive courses and array of luxurious foodstuffs. Once the dirty plates have been removed and linen table-cloths cleared, guests vacate the dining space and smaller bomboniere are swept distractedly into handbags. It is the next morning, once the celebration is over, that they will be 'animated' as a souvenir of what has been. The sugared almonds, like the wedding feast itself, will be consumed, but the package in which they are enclosed or the gift they form part of remains as a material marker of an occasion shared and people known.

Extending a convincing argument for the theorising of quotidian consumption as a means of deciphering the role of material culture in arbitrating social relationships, Annemarie Money asserts:25

domestically situated objects, either purchased anonymously or acquired as gifts, are appropriated in a ritualistic and routine fashion within the home and can be understood in terms of notions of familial obligation, love and the maintenance of important social connections between people.

Money follows De Certeau in emphasizing the role of individuals as active “producers of meaning” rather than “passive consumers of goods”, highlighting how the sentiments of obligation and connectivity I have identified in the bomboniere implicate also the recipient. 26 The meaning of the gift is in this sense bestowed upon it by the guest who conserves the keepsake. Money discusses the display of gifts within the home explicitly in terms of “obligation” and “memorial potential”. The conclusion of her empirical study captures precisely my own relationship with some elements in the eclectic compendium of bomboniere I have received: “objects themselves are quite often disliked by owners,” she finds,27

yet are coveted intensely precisely because they operate to maintain a connection between people, and on occasions, connections to places.

The evaluation Money offers of the commemorative qualities of domestically situated objects is worth contemplating more closely:28

[they] tend to bear important commemorative qualities, so much so that it appears at times that the objects themselves almost lose their assigned identities as clocks or paintings or trinkets, and instead become signifiers for special occasions such as a birthday, wedding or anniversary.

Money is speaking about domestically situated objects in general, bought or gifted. What of those objects which are perhaps best described as intrinsically commemorative; of gifts like the bomboniere, whose primary function is that of a souvenir? If we consider how the practical identity of some bomboniere cooperates with memory function, the social role of these objects is further evidenced.  On the occasions I have commented on conspicuous useful objects in the homes of participants, they usually have been explained in terms of people: “that's the bomboniera from Gaia”s communion”, is the sense of yellow canvas shopping-bag, or “oh, I was given that at Michela's wedding”, of a neat little re-sealable jar. A dainty hand-painted ceramic pot and spoon for peperoncino (chilli-pepper), given at the marriage ceremony of my former employer, is dependently present at mealtimes. What was an engraved wooden place-name at a friend's wedding now serves as a personalized key-ring.  Encased, at times dormant, within the quotidian use of these objects is the memory of person, and an occasion shared. It strikes me that in the decision to give bomboniere of practical value, we can read a desire on the on the part of the donor to further enshrine the commemorative quality of the token. “I wanted to give something useful, not an ornament that just sits there” is a common explanation. I wanted to give you something that you will use, we might infer; I wanted to give you something that you will keep, which will continue to signify your participation in my own “joys and tribulations”; I want to - or at least, I feel I ought to - continue to mean something to you.

Creativity, gratification, and the social qualities of decorative objects

Perhaps you are tempted to cynically envisage circles of joyful Italian housewives embarked in the collective crafting of trinkets and charms. I hope not, as your scepticism would be justified, and my objective is not to suggest that making and giving bomboniere are acts universally experienced as a process of meaning-making. I have heard ornamental bomboniere disparagingly referred to as prendi-polvere or soprammobile (literally, 'dust-collectors' or 'furniture-toppers') by givers and recipients alike. Although it was not the case for any of my participants, I am sure that for many women the responsibility of selecting, sourcing and preparing these tokens will be simply yet another task to be crammed into a long list of mundane domestic obligations. Neither do I intend to imply that the multiple meanings of the bomboniere explored above are exclusively confined to this Italian tradition. Rather, it seems to me that significance interpreted in these specific instances have a much wider relevance; that they can, and should, be read in enduring decorative customs as well as the newer interests in decoration that are found in diverse contexts and cultures.

Lending further weight to the relevance of decoration as a meaningful creative process that spans across cultures, and remaining round the table, one thought-provoking example from a very different context is Anne Allison's anthropological analysis of the preparation and consumption of Japanese nursery school children's lunch boxes, obento. Allison describes how the elaborate preparation these packed lunches involve - highly aesthetic arrangements of oppositional colour and texture, often with food carved into decorative shapes and embellished with non-food items - means that for a Japanese mother, the creative experience of making obento “becomes part of her and a statement, in some sense, of who she is”. 29 Upholding a Marxist interpretation of labour-products as “the encapsulation of us and therefore our productivity”, Allison concludes that whilst obento are connected to manipulative gendered ideologies, they must also be recognised as representation of the women that make them as well as a potential site of gratification:30

In the role that females in Japan are highly pressured and encouraged to assume as domestic manager, mother, and wife, there is, beside the endless and onerous responsibilities, also an opportunity for play. Significantly, women find play and creativity not outside their social roles but within them.

This celebratory approach to domestic decorative practices, championed by certain strains of feminism and post modernism,31 can be discerned clearly in the individual narratives I draw upon here, and is echoed across the large number of websites and blogs related to bomboniere fai-da-te ('D.I.Y.' bomboniere). Even the most cursory glance reveals the resonance of the phenomenon within the UK, with a comparable abundance of online platforms offering ideas, advice, and products for hand-crafted wedding favours and similar commemorative gifts, and the success of chains like 'Hobbycraft' attesting to the vitality of the amateur craft market. Far from being “archaic customs”, or a “minor appendage” to contemporary life,32 decorative tokens can thus be seen as a highly pertinent mode of facilitating, even activating, intimate identity processes, and establishing and maintaining social networks in today's world.

The elaboration and giving of bomboniere as analysed here is evidence of the continued contemporary significant of gift traditions in female kin networks. For the donor, these tokens mark the negotiation of subjecthood at key points across the life course. Even before they are given, their production offers the promise of new or affirmed social connections and in the cases considered here was recounted as a gratifying creative process for those involved. For the recipient who retains these keepsakes, they are a tangible sign of friendship and community, an enduring commemoration of shared celebration. To dismiss them as 'just' decoration is to disregard the social bonds and sense of self that these objects enact, and to overlook the insightful node of subjectivity, creativity and community that they encase.

End Notes

Go to footnote reference 1.

Beverley Skeggs, Class, Self, Culture. Routledge: London and New York, 2004, p.17.

Go to footnote reference 2.

Carol Wilson, 'Wedding Cake: A Slice of History', Gastronomica, Vol. 5, No. 2, (2005) .

Go to footnote reference 3.

See, for example, Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The form and reason for exchange in archaic societies. London: Routledge, 1990 (first published in 1925 as Essai sur la don, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France); Claude Lévi-Strauss, Les Structures Élémentaires de la Parenté. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1949; Arjun Appadurai, The Social Life of Things. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Go to footnote reference 4.

John F. Sherry, 'Gift Giving in Anthropological Perspective', Journal of Consumer Research vol. 10 no. 2, 1983, 157-168, (p.158).

Go to footnote reference 5.

Ibid., p.159, cf. Marvin Harris, “Bah Humbug”, Natural History vol. 81 no.10, (1972), 21-25.

Go to footnote reference 6. Mauss, p.4. Go to footnote reference 7.

Sherry, p.158, cf. Jan van Baal, Reciprocity and the Position of Women. Assen: van Gorcum, 1975.

Go to footnote reference 8.

Skeggs, p.11.

Go to footnote reference 9.

Ibid, p.8

Go to footnote reference 10.

Ibid, p.8, cf. Mauss.

Go to footnote reference 11.

Mauss, p.5.

Go to footnote reference 12.


Go to footnote reference 13.

This article arises from on-going ethnographic research undertaken as part of the 'Transnationalizing Modern Languages' project ('TML'). TML is one of three large grants funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council under the “Translating Cultures” theme, which promotes investigation of cultural exchange between communities and individuals across time and space via the study of translation in its broadest sense. Involving researches at the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Queen Mary, St. Andrew's, and Warwick, together with several international academic and community partners, TML focuses on modern Italy and the experiences of mobility that are embedded in its recent history to critically reflect upon instances of linguistic and cultural translation. For a detailed project outline (including references to public policy statements and reports) see <>.

Go to footnote reference 14.

Ditty Dokter, and Margaret Hills de Zarate, Intercultural Research in Arts Therapies. Oxford: Routledge, forthcoming (2016).

Go to footnote reference 15.

Daniel Miller, A Theory of Shopping. London: Polity Press, 1998, p.19.

Go to footnote reference 16. Sherry, p.159. Go to footnote reference 17.

Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London: Routledge, 1986.

Go to footnote reference 18.

Rachel Rich, 'Designing the Dinner Party: Advice on Dining and Décor in London and Paris, 1860-1914', Journal of Design History vol. 16 no. 1, (2003), pp.49-61, (p.49).

Go to footnote reference 19.

Brett Williams, 'Why Migrant Women Feed Their Husbands Tamales: Foodways as a Basis for a Revisionist View of Tejano Family Life', Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity, ed. by Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussell. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984, pp.113-126 (p.15).

Go to footnote reference 20.

Lewis Hyde, The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World. London and Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2012, p.42.

Go to footnote reference 21.

Ibid., p.45.

Go to footnote reference 22.

Julie Wolfram Cox, and Stella Minahan, 'Organization, Decoration', in Organization vol. 12 no. 4, 2005, 529-549 [DOI: 10.1177/1350508405052758] (p. 529, and p.531). “Decoration is a subject that has been variously trivialized, discounted and admired, and we discuss its status, particularly in relation to craft activities which are themselves often marginalized within aesthetic debates” (p. 539). See also their reading of Nelson on disdain related to “craft's association with traditions from the past which, under modernism, are identified with a backward commitment to outmoded precepts.” (p. 531), [cf. Robert Nelson, Ornament: An Essay Concerning the Meaning of Decorative Design. Fitzroy, Victoria: Craft Victoria, 1993, p. 12]. Wolfram Cox and Minahan provide an informative and critical review of the notion of decoration, contextualized with a case study of “decorative debates” at the Bauhaus in early 20th century Germany. Their focus is on the validity of studying the decorative in relation to aesthetic and organization theory, rather than in individual practice and the domestic sphere, so the article is not quoted at length here.

Go to footnote reference 23.

Hyde, p.38.

Go to footnote reference 24.

Skeggs, p.11.

Go to footnote reference 25.

Annemarie Money, 'Material Culture and the Living Room: The appropriation and use of goods in everyday life', Journal of Consumer Culture, vol. 7 no.3, (2007), pp.355-377 (p.362).

Go to footnote reference 26.

Ibid, p.356, cf. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall. California: University of California Press, 1984; first published as L”Invention du Quotidien. Vol. 1, Arts de Faire, Union générale d'éditions 10-18, (1980).

Go to footnote reference 27.

Ibid., p.376

Go to footnote reference 28.

Ibid., p.372.

Go to footnote reference 29.

Anne Allison, 'Japanese Mothers and Obentos: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus', in Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik ed. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York and London: Routledge, 3rd Edition 2013, pp.154 - 172 (p.165).

Go to footnote reference 30.

Ibid., p.165, cf. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Economic and philosophic manuscripts, ed. by C. J. Arthur. New York: International Publishers, 1970, pp.71-76.

Go to footnote reference 31.

Cox and Minahan, p.533, cf. Sylvia Kleinert, 'Deconstructing "The Decorative": The Impact of Euro-American Artistic Traditions on the Reception of Aboriginal Art and Craft' in Craft in Society, ed. by N. Iaonnou. South Fremantle, Western Australia: Freemantle Arts Centre Press, 1992, pp. 115-30,

Go to footnote reference 32.

 Money, p.361.


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Annemarie Money, 'Material Culture and the Living Room: The appropriation and use of goods in everyday life', Journal of Consumer Culture, vol. 7 no.3, (2007), pp.355-377 

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Beverley Skeggs, Class, Self, Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.

Brett Williams, 'Why Migrant Women Feed Their Husbands Tamales: Foodways as a Basis for a Revisionist View of Tejano Family Life', Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity, ed. by Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussell. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.

Julie Wolfram Cox and Stella Minahan, 'Organization, Decoration', in Organization vol. 12 no.4, (2005), 529-549

Georgia Wall

Georgia Wall is a PhD student on the AHRC funded project Transnationalizing  Modern Languages: Mobility, Identity and Translation in Modern Italian Culture, which investigates cultural exchange within communities and individuals acrros time and space. Her research is concerned with notions of heritage, class, and cultural 'authenticity' in stereotypes and spaces identified as Italian in London. She also works as a freelance translator and is developing a collaborative project exploring the use of translation in language-learning methodologies for adults and children