Troubling Convention and Reflexivity: The Continuing Significance of Family

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 41 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Brian HEAPHY, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
Against the backdrop of debates about the ways in which legally formalised same-sex relationships reflexively trouble or bolster conventional family meanings and practices, this paper draws on a study of same-sex partners who were aged up 35 when they entered into civil partnerships in the UK to suggest the need to trouble how both ‘reflexivity’ and ‘convention’ are conceived in socioliological debates on family.

By analyzing the ways in which civil partners and their close associates constructed their relationships as ‘marriages’ the paper illuminates the continuing significance of marriage to family as a social institution.  Understanding the more general implications of this for contemporary family relationships requires reconsideration of sociological debates about whether contemporary relationships are defined by ‘reflexivity’ or by ‘convention’. Rather, it requires paying attention to how, through ‘reflexive convention’, family as a social institution is maintained and invested in by people in their everyday lives.

The first section of the paper links theoretical arguments about the significance of civil partnership and same-sex marriage to broader sociological arguments about the contemporary nature of  family relationships, highlighting the debate about whether sociologists tend to overemphasise ‘reflexivity’ or ‘convention’ in their analyses of these. The second section considers younger civil partners’ claims about being ‘married’, and their reflexive deployment of family conventions to support these claims. It also considers how partners displayed fairly conventional (as opposed to radical) forms of reflexivity, in accounting for their investments in being ‘married’.

The concluding section of the paper, draws on ethnometholodolically influenced ideas about the ways in which reflexivity and convention mediate each other to argue that claims about civil partnership as marriage illuminate the continuing significance of family as a social institution.