Classing Enchantment: rethinking social identities with the material culture of weddings in England, 1836-1914

  • Lucy Allen

Student thesis: Phd


Enchantment is an important category of analysis in social and cultural histories. Generally confined to histories of religion, scholars have extensively debated the limits of Weberian disenchantment: how industry, science, and capitalism dispelled the sublime, sacred, and divine forces and values that provided meaning, explanation, and moral frameworks for living in a world full of unexplained and unexplainable phenomena. Pushing against secularising impulses, this thesis argues for the continued relevance of enchantment for understanding experiences in modernity, albeit in altered and adapted forms. In particular, it asserts that a focus on enchantment offers fresh perspectives on class and social identities as industrial capitalism blurred social hierarchies and belonging. Methodologically, a focus on the material culture of weddings explores how the spiritual and moral qualities of objects illuminate the classed enchantments that shaped the boundaries of social inclusion and exclusion in Victorian and Edwardian England. As scholars increasingly reject class consciousness in favour of intersectional models, class analysis is often blind to the intangible, spiritual (religious and non-religious) dimensions of identity-formation and self- fashioning. Taking a cross-class perspective, this thesis explores contingent conceptualisations of the sublime, sacred, and divine and their importance for the ways that individuals understood and constructed their social worlds and relationships. In focusing on weddings, considerable attention is given to ideas of tradition in enchantment, how they supplied meaning, explanation, and moral guidance at transitional moments, and the significance of its constructed and ever-evolving nature for nuancing class identities. In focusing on objects, the study charts the growth of a commercial wedding market influenced by these classed enchantments and traditions: the implications of which underlie a wedding industry that comprises a vital part of UK economic, social, and cultural identity today.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorFrank Mort (Supervisor)


  • Victorian
  • Weddings
  • Material culture
  • Religion & belief
  • Social identities
  • Edwardian
  • Capital
  • Class
  • Enchantment
  • Emotions

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