Troubling Relationships: Towards a New Language of Personal Life

Thursday, 14 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 41 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Julia CARTER, Canterbury Christ Church University, United Kingdom
Simon DUNCAN, University of Bradford, United Kingdom
Despite recent moves in family sociology in the UK towards alternative and more inclusive notions of family and family relationships (intimacy, personal life, relationality and so on), there remains a pervasive appeal to the notion of ‘family’ in British public, political and policy discourse. What Gilding (2010) has noted is that the writing out of ‘family’ has also resulted in a writing out of convention as a central part of relationships and family life. What we hope to demonstrate in this paper is both that family is still an important notion for individuals in varying circumstances, and that notions of convention and tradition are pivotal in the constructions of family life. We demonstrate the pervasiveness of ‘family’, ‘families’ and ‘tradition’ through two examples: LAT (living apart together- a potentially ‘troubling’ concept in itself) and marriage. While LAT relationships have been heralded by some as a mark of transformed, individualised lives where individuals can live in relationships free from the conventions that previously restricted them, what we found instead is that LAT is often used as a precursor to more traditional cohabitation or marriage or that LAT is used as a protection or defensive relationship state after bad previous experiences. Neither state suggests individualised lives free from constraints and convention. Similar findings were revealed when talking to young women about marriage who were, on the whole, extremely keen to conform to the traditional norms and conventions of gendered marital roles. What we conclude is that a new discourse is required to talk about the nature of family and personal relationships and we suggest that family relationships and personal life are constructed and reconstructed and invented and re-invented through choice, agency, convention and tradition- of which the appeal to ‘family’ is clearly a part.