Ribbon Culture: Charity, Compassion and Public Awareness

April 10, 2008

This is a timely and very welcome book that critically examines the trend in the wearing of charity ribbons. Sarah Moore charts the development of awareness ribbon campaigns through a well-researched historical timeline that concentrates on early 20th-century flag days, the Armistice Day poppy, the 1979 Iranian hostage yellow ribbon campaign, the Aids red ribbon and the pink ribbon of Breast Cancer Care.

Later chapters discuss the symbolic use of ribbon-wearing as a counterculture and assess how various charities appear to have become commercialised through attempts to commodify compassion (as symbolised through the purchase and wearing of ribbons).

Moore uses a series of in-depth interviews to gather information on aspects of ribbon wearers' behaviour and beliefs, supplemented by observations of Manchester Gay Pride and the Pink Aerobics event, as well as a questionnaire. She then details interesting findings in what she terms "a post-emotional world".

A central tenet of her analysis appears to be that the ribbon has become more of a product than a symbol of protest or a meaningful statement of belief. It has become a fashion statement and more likely to be bought from a high-street store, rather than directly from charities or collectors. Indeed, some people change ribbons to match the clothes they wear on a particular day. "The awareness ribbon is as susceptible to shifts in trends as women's bags and hairstyles," says Moore. When the ribbon is worn to remember or celebrate a specific family member, it becomes an object of consumption and a means of exhibiting the wearer's emotions.

Moore also suggests that while the ribbon may have become little more than a fashion statement, in some circumstances, as was mostly the case with the Breast Cancer Care pink ribbon in her survey, it is used as a sort of insurance policy to guard against the onset or development of life-threatening disease. Interviewees who wore the ribbon were worried about the possibility of developing cancer and hoped their donations could provide a cure before they needed help. Many females spoke of being given a pink ribbon by their mothers and viewed it as something they needed to do as a means of gaining access to femininity.

Moore highlights how some of the main charities now subscribe to the orthodox view that women are morally obliged to care about their health as a means to develop commercial enterprises that extend ribbon-wearing into a growing range of branded goods.

This is an easy-to-read book that is well signposted and that offers interesting data to support the key points. It will appeal to many subdisciplines within sociology and I will be adding it to my reading lists for undergraduate students.

Ribbon Culture: Charity, Compassion and Public Awareness

By Sarah E. H. Moore
Palgrave Macmillan
ISBN 9780230549210
Published 17 January 2008

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