Where does the connected lives perspective take us? Stated com­pactly, the argument pivots on three main points: [7]

tions over appropriate transactions by type of relation draw on prevailing social relations outside the legal arena, but also influence how people deal with each other in rou­tine social life.

3. Hostile worlds ideas and practices emerge from the effort to mark and defend boundaries between categories of relations that contain some common elements, could be confused, and would threaten existing relations of trust if confused.

How do intimate relations and economic activities interact? Maintaining any sort of durable social relations depends on creating culturally meaningful institutional supports. Consider what hus­band-wife relations take for granted: among other things, an income tax code distinguishing between single and married people; busi­nesses that provide special perquisites for spouses; and couples’ memberships in health clubs. Those same sorts of culturally mean­ingful institutional supports underlie all intimate social relations. In fact, such relations only survive with institutional supports. This is also true for various forms of market relations. These relations like­wise depend on extensive, meaningful institutional supports, but of a different sort. Consider for instance auctions, which economists often proclaim as the purest type of impersonal process, efficiently matching individual preferences of buyers and sellers. Charles Smith’s observations (1989) of actual auctions have shown that a vast set of institutional connections and conventions come into play and actually undergird the price making.[8]

We need not deny the distinction between intimacy and imper­sonality. One dimension of variation in social relations does run from intimate to impersonal. The quality of transactions within those relations does vary significantly. But relations also vary in terms of their durability, scope, predominant activity, and risk. Here we concentrate on the continuum from intimate to impersonal, only occasionally examining the other dimensions. Within all such di­mensions, people take care to establish boundaries between signifi­cantly different relations, marking those boundaries by means of labels and symbolically potent practices. Those boundaries emerge from interpersonal negotiation. The boundaries change incremen­tally as people interact within and across them. For example, people establish, negotiate, and rework boundaries among friends, rela­tives, and neighbors.

We are, then, dealing with connections among four elements: relations, transactions, media, and boundaries. Relations consist of durable, named sets of understandings, practices, rights, and obliga­tions that link two or more persons. Transactions consist of bounded, short-term interactions between persons. Media consist of accounting systems and their tokens. Boundaries consist, in this case, of known perimeters drawn around distinctive combina­tions of relations, transactions, and media. Relational work involves creating viable matches among relations, transactions, media, and boundaries.

When it comes to economic activity—transactions involving pro­duction, distribution, and consumption of valuable goods and ser – vices—people mark relevant boundaries by identifying acceptable matches of relations, transactions, and media. (The same reasoning applies to transfers of titles to goods and services, such as inheri­tance). They distinguish different sorts of social relations, establish which sorts of transactions belong appropriately to each relation, employ appropriate media for those transactions, and mark off the combination by means of names, symbols, and practices. Following an old American tradition, for example, a boss sometimes awards a gold watch to a retiring employee. Media often include properly marked money, but they also range across various forms of barter, multiple systems of credit accounting, and tokens that bear only distant connections with legal tender.

Media and transactions often appear to transform relations. The spread of commercialized child care, in this view, necessarily reduces the quality of care, as compared with the attention previously pro­vided by relatives. This view gets things backwards. In fact, as they choose certain media and transactions, people actually choose rela­tions. Take the obvious symbolism of an unmarried man’s placing of a newly bought diamond ring on the third finger, left hand, of an unmarried woman. From that moment, in contemporary American culture, the couple become engaged to marry. The diamond does not cause the couple’s relationship to change. Instead, the couple announce their changed relationship by means of the diamond. Nevertheless, autonomous changes in media and transactions do sometimes affect the terms by which people conduct social relations. When governments impose legal tender, for example, gifts of money and government securities to intimates become more common. Similarly, when certain kinds of transactions become much more prevalent, they too transform relations by challenging previous dis­tinctions. For instance, widespread adoption through commercial services, expansion of commercial child care, and placement of fos­ter children by public agencies alter prevailing definitions of parent­hood. In such cases, people actually begin to renegotiate markers, boundaries, and relationships. They elaborate new distinctions among birth children, clients’ children, adopted children, foster children, children from previous relationships, and so on.