What does it mean to talk of the ‘transformation of intimacy’? How can it be understood?
Sexual revolution, a highly reminiscent word, but what meaning does it have today and how can the phrase ‘transformation of intimacy’ be understood in the modern day? To determine this, Giddens (1992) seems to suggest that intimacy and its transformation is linked to sexuality, by examining how sexuality came about and how it is connected to the changes that have affected personal life at a general plane. In determining what it means to talk of ‘transformation of intimacy’, this essay will explore various themes namely: the practice of intimacy so as to broaden the understanding of the word as practiced in the modern world; conceptual relativities to intimacy; intimacy, subjectivity, and social integration; parental authority and the practice of intimacy; and intimacy and gender inequality. The paper will be developed through reference of material published previously by researchers and authors on the topic. In doing this, the paper will not delve into original research data other than the writers opinion.
The practice of intimacy
The practice of intimacy refers to the practices that all together allows for the creation and sustenance of a close and special quality of relationship among a people. In psychology closeness has been operationalized in interpersonal relationships through measuring interdependence or mutual influence (Berscheid, Schneider and Omoto 2008). In sociology, there are a number of practices of intimacy that can be derived from research findings that analyze how people conduct themselves within families, relationships between couples, child-parent relationship, friendships and sexual relationships as well as other relationships that experience and are recognized socially to have a specially close connection feature.
Research findings from a number of researchers especially from the Euro-North American literature indicate that the practice of intimacy is not solely or primarily practiced through self disclosure but it is a as a result of a variety of practices (Jamieson, 1999; Giddens 1992; Morgan 1996). The component practices that include include sharing with, giving to, spending time with, feeling attached to, practically caring for, know, expressing affection for, etc are not exclusively about intimacy. Even though these tend to ultimately produce intimacy, they are not sufficient conditions for intimacy. According to Morgan (2011), practice can include innovative behavior and institutionalized or habitual actions in line with pre-existing scripts. With regard to family practices, persons will ascribe to practices that are partially formed through legal requirements, cultural conditions, and economic constraints.
It can be expected that many family practices are process that maintain the conventional arrangements of parenting and partnering for legal, cultural and economic support. Family practices bear the potential to fit with and reproduce conventional scripts, and so doesn’t practices of intimacy. The possibilities of intimacy development are also determined by institutionalized modes that recognize and protect particular types of relationships as being legal partnerships, kinships, and parentage (Jankowiak 2008). For example, in north America and Europe, the diversity of how people live their personal lives hasn’t depleted institutional arrangements that favor married heterosexual couples and two-parent family parenting relationships and often these types of families are considered the proper forms.
It is factual that intimacy is built through practices that are not limited to intimacy, which explains the fuzziness around the concept and the potential overlap with other emotional constellations and predispositions that have the same practices like empathy, respect, and trust. Research suggests that components of practice of intimacy are transposable thus; one component can at times stand for others (Jankowiak 2008; Berscheid et al. 2008). For example, expression of love in among heterosexual couples can at times stand in for giving care even in couples who believe in and even practice greater equality. A demonstration of this is where couples even when believing that both mother and father should be involved equality in bringing up their children will revert to the conventional speciation based on gender, with fathers giving through provision being considered to stand in for their expression of love.
Conceptual relatives of intimacy
Intimacy embroiders relationships, which at an analytical category; this will be distinct from or overlap with relatives, family and kin. Relatives, family and kin are often defined through legal or traditional confines that recognize and protect specific partnerships, households, inheritance and parenting arrangement (Carsten 2004; Smart 2007). In practice, intimacy maps more or less onto ‘relatedness’ and having ‘connected lives’. Currently, an expectation of love and intimacy forms part of the normative conceptualization of family and friends in the North American and European cultures (Smart 2007). Anthropologists have documented experiences at a global scale, that are described as intimacy and love (Jankowiak 2008; Roseneil and Budgeon 2004; Yan 2003). There is almost a universal assertion of romantic passionate love relationships between heterosexual couples (Jankowiak 2008) but the universality of friendship relationships being a form of intimacy is contested often and by many. Roseneil and Budgeon (2004) have suggested that, especially in the British context, friendship relationships are replacing couple friendships as the main intimate relationship in adulthood. In addition, friendship relationship has been described as being the purest form of intimacy, especially in light of the western description of this type of relationship; a freely chosen relationship between equal partners by mutual pleasure in quality of the relationship (Carrier 1999).
Under conceptual lenses ‘intimacy’ and ‘love’ are very close and their uses and classification even academically will often interchange. However, love is often conceptualized as an emotion, embodied affect and therefore, in this context loves becomes an attribute of a person and not a quality that connects people (Evans 2003). Love feeling can happen without reciprocity and in the absence of any relationship with the loved person. On the other hand, intimacy refers to a form of interpersonal connections but is characterized by patterns of interactions that are durable and both the parties acknowledge of a relationship. Thus, an expression of love is an intimate practice and declarations of love build intimacy. But in several texts of practical development of a coupe relationship, declarations of love need be accompanied by other practices of intimacy for the feelings being expressed to be heard authentic and not suspect.
The significance of intimacy to love is shown in instance of their separation especially the relationship between clients and service providers or professional carers will involve, in its typical setup, intimacy practices without love. Case examples include self-disclose in counselor-client relationships, practical care and physical contact in paid carers-client relationships, and sexual contact in sex worker-client relationship. The absence of love is often obfuscated, subverted or experienced as a problem. Case example is in professional care where reports indicate the most loved as being those who act as friends or family (Clayden & Stein 2005; Philip 2008). Across cultures, anthropologists have utilized similarities in practices to critique the assumptions that link specific forms of intimacy and love to ‘western’ social conditionality and which is referred to as western understanding of self (Cole and Thomas 2009). For example, there is limited research on love practices in Africa, an aspect which is to be linked to this conceptual that love and intimacy is a western feature.
Documentation of intimacy in marriage arrangement where the partners are chosen by parents or other kin for example, among the Makassar people of Indonesia (Rottger-Rossler 2008) shows that, the procedures involved allowed for culturally supported love and intimacy for young persons who led a gender separated live until their arranged marriage. Even though these traditional have been much degraded in the modern day, Rottger-Rossler (2008) findings indicate that in this type of marriage just as in modern day free chosen marriages, the partners reported ‘being always in the thoughts of each other’. This traditional Makassar intimacy style eventually resulted to a form of intimacy similar to the form among western couple relationships.
Intimacy, subjectivity, and social integration
In the early 20th century, sociological accounts for social construct of self and the social environment and the expression of these two, personal close relationships were given central place. From the theoretical tradition of symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, Parsonian functionalism, or from the psychoanalytic traditional physically and emotional close shape intimacy in childhood and grounds an adult person in their social environment (Morgan 1996). Over time, these traditional insights have been used and reworked and as Giddens (1992) argues, intimates are important for example, in child-parent relationship as they help in fostering a subjective orientation of confidence, ensuring continuity of self, and a requirement for persons to collectively maintain social order. This social order promotes a sense of ontological security which helps to erode constant anxiety and the sense of chaos and disorder from an individual.
However, Michael Foucault minimizes the function of intimacy in construction of social worlds and the self (1978). Even though Foucault account acknowledges family relationships in shaping self and the social result of persons with self-discipline, his analysis of power, knowledge and discourse in the western culture has been adopted widely by various social scientists. Some of the critics to this account have argued that this is a teleological account of social change because it utilizes the objectives served by the disclosure as an explanation and not providing a historical identification for causes (Thornton, 2005). Nevertheless, the account by Foucault proclaimed persuasively that persons are more profoundly shaped by discourse than by personal relationships. Based on this account, the notion of individuals being inhabited by an inner psychology that explains people’s conduct and their effort to self-realization, self-fulfillment, and self-esteem is connected to the development of psychiatry, psychology, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and the application of such expertise in democratic nations.
In the latter section of the 20th century, several researchers had adopted the major metaphor of connections and flows in the work of Castells (1997). Placement of the self in social worlds though the networks concept overshadowed the importance of the distinction between connections to unseen and unknown others and the connection to embroidered known close others. Network individualism was used to signify a shift from the long standing loyalties to kin, friends, and localized communities to the wide and dynamic social networks. Those who strongly regard power of discourse are often disinclined to challenge research evince showing everyday interactions of personal intimate lives for confirmation of counter examples. Research that initiates with intimate lives usually confirms the influence of popular discourses on intimacy. Such discourses like mass media e.g. Hollywood and Bollywood cut across boundaries and therefore create images as people show their romance, but as scripts that a person can draw on, sometimes subvert, and modify (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002; Illouz 2007)
There is no point in denying the significance of intimate relationships so as to confirm the effect on identities and subjectivity of various forms of discourses for example, repeated stereotypes, scripts of popular culture, and pervasive popularizations of the so called expert information through social media platforms (Illouz 2007). Full exploration and analysis of the consequences of intimate relationships on the self and social world needs to be expressed through theory of (sexual, gendered, embodied) self/identities. This should then bring in focus what human beings require under social recognition and parenting considered as being good-enough. Lastly, such a theory should acknowledge the interactions with various factors that shape an individual self among them culture, politics, economy, and natural fields.
Parental authority and practices of intimacy
There has been a radical shift from the traditional disciplinary authority of patents over children to the modern indulgent and intimate relationships between children and parents especially in the western and Asian contexts (Yan 2003; Roseneil and Budgeon 2004; Carsten 2004). Contemporary discussions in Asia and African on the parent-child relationships foregrounds the concerns that globalization and western values undermine filial piety as well as loyalty to family and respects to elderly. The shift to a more intimate parenting doesn’t translate to a relinquishing of parental authority, as there are many ways for parents to control their children. Parents will often attempt to do the best for their children, and though the children bring good to the family, but in doing this, parents make radical changes to their and their children’s lives. For example, in china, mothers opt to move to Singapore so as to optimize the education prospects of their children. This decision results to removals of the mother from her partnership relationships, loses selfhood by prioritizing the child and the family, and the child is subjected to alien environment with no friend with the mothers love as the only source of support (Huang and Yeoh 2005).
In the western context, parents become more of equals with their children as they seek friendship (Giddens 1992). This has been contested as an underestimation of the persistence of age inequalities and the power of a parent. Studies have shown that, what parents consider to be primary practices of intimacy on their children is considered as being primarily surveillance practices by the children (Kurz 2006). In addition, literature on western parent-child relationship shows that there is high variation in intimacy practices among ethnicities and social classes. Among the working class, children are taught that they cannot always get what they want while among the middle-class and ruling-class, emphasis are on the use of negotiations and ultimatums.
As a result, the practice of parent-child intimacy bears the potential to overshadow and finally be processes of reproduction of generational power. In the same light, such can be argued as being the source of class inequalities. For the privileged parents, they use praise to communicate a sense of privilege to their children and in the other hand, the relatively disadvantaged communicate the need for the value of being helpful and fitting in and avoiding standing out which results to creation of trouble (Gillies 2007)
Intimacy and gender inequality
Intimacy, especially the practice of intimacy stressed by Giddens (1992) of a dialogue of self-disclosure is highly sought in cultures and it is less clear that this has a negative effect of putting men and women on an equal footing that was predicted by Giddens. Padilla et al. (2007) describes the global trend on intimacy as one that is moving away from the traditional notions of family and lay emphasis on the functions of social obligation in the reproduction of kinship systems and globalized models that increase chosen love, that is deeply felt and profoundly personal in families. This shift echoes emphasizes from institution to relationship that has been used to depict the change in the western family setup since the 1940s in the US (Kurz 2006). In this sense, effort to realize intimacy is staking a claim to modernity and part of social change thus annexing global into the modernity practices.
Variations at both local and international gender difference in the conduct of personal life and family and the degree of institutionalized support for men’s authority persist and are re-institutionalized and subverted through intimacy practices. For example, for Pakistan families in Britain, there still is closer supervision for young women than young men and this persists alongside equal education support by the parents (Shaw 2000). In addition, even though there are instances of love marriage which are conducted contrary to parental wishes, though British Pakistanis say that they are pleased to have parental support in finding a the suitable partner an happy-ever after relationship (Shaw 2000). This is an indication of a desire to promote and sustain a sense of close link between children and patents, between children, and between couples that is well balanced under the considerations of kinship even in the construction of a marriage.
Intimacy practices are not independently automatically democratizing or dismantling f the patriarchal setup. Research suggests that equality of couple relationship has been more readily achieved in same sex relationships where there are no pre-established patterns to channel practices of intimacy (Rosenfeld 2007). The feminist adage that it starts when you sink into his arms and ends with your arms in his sink’ is a warning that heterosexual love basically accepts patriarchal structures. Even in dual earner heterosexual-couples of the western households, the patriarchal structure still remains life with the woman doing more of the work despite widespread acceptance of gender equality.
There are a number of practices of intimacy that can be derived from research findings that analyze how people conduct themselves within families, relationships between couples, child-parent relationship, friendships and sexual relationships as well as other relationships that experience and are recognized socially to have a specially close connection feature. Intimacy embroiders relationships, which at an analytical category; this will be distinct from or overlap with relatives, family and kin. Under conceptual lenses ‘intimacy’ and ‘love’ are very close and their uses and classification even academically will often interchange. From the theoretical tradition of symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, Parsonian functionalism, or from the psychoanalytic traditional physically and emotional close shape intimacy in childhood and grounds an adult person in their social environment. There has been a radical shift from the traditional disciplinary authority of patents over children to the modern indulgent and intimate relationships between children and parents especially in the western and Asian contexts. Variations at both local and international gender difference in the conduct of personal life and family and the degree of institutionalized support for men’s authority persist and are re-institutionalized and subverted through intimacy practices. Intimacy practices are not independently automatically democratizing or dismantling f the patriarchal setup. The areas addressed above are key to as they point towards the effect of transformation of intimacy not only through theoretical underpinning, but also as practiced in the society, thus broadening the understanding of what really the concept is understood to mean. Nevertheless, and in the advent of legalization of same sex marriages in the US, it is uncertain on how this affects the concept of transformation of intimacy which is recommended as a potential research subject.
- Beck U, and Beck-Gernsheim E, (2002), Individualization, London: Sage.
- Berscheid E, Schneider M, and Omoto AM, (2008) “Measuring Closeness: The Relationship Closeness Inventory (RCI) Revisited”. In Mashek, D. and Aron, A. (Eds.) Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy. London: Taylor and Francis.
- Carrier J, (1999) “People who can be friends: selves and social relationships.” In Bell, S. and Coleman, S. (Eds.) The Anthropology of Friendship. Oxford: Berg.
- Carsten J, (2004) After Kinship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Castells M, (1997), The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Clayden J, & Stein J, (2005) Mentoring young people leaving care: someone for me. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
- Cole J, & Thomas LM, (2009) Love in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Evans M, (2003) Love An Unromantic Discussion. Cambridge: Polity.
- Foucault M, (1978), The History of Sexuality Vol 1. London: Penguin.
- Giddens A, (1992). The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Cambridge, Polity.
- Gillies V, (2007), Marginalised Mothers: Exploring Working-Class Experiences of Parenting. London: Routledge.
- Huang S, & Yeoh BSA, (2005) Transnational families and their children’s education: China’s ‘study mothers’ in Singapore. Global Networks, 5, 379-400.
- Illouz E, (2007) Cold Intimacies: the making of emotional capitalism, Cambridge: Polity.
- Jamieson L, (1999), Intimacy Transformed? A Critical Look At The ‘Pure Relationship’, Sociology 33:477-494
- Jankowiak WR, (Ed) (2008). Intimacies: Love and Sex across Cultures. Columbia University Press.
- Kurz D, (2006) “Keeping tabs on teenagers.” In Gubrium and Holstein (Eds) Couples, Kids and Family Life, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Morgan D, (1996), Family Connections: An Introduction to Family Studies. Cambridge, Polity.
- Morgan D, (2011) Rethinking Family Practices. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Padilla MB, Hirsch J S, Munoz-Laboy M, Sember R E, & Parker R G, (2007) Love and Globalization: Transformations of Intimacy in the Contemporary World. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
- Philip K, (2008). She’s My Second Mum: Young People Building Relationships in Uncertain Circumstances, Child Care in Practice, 14, 19-33.
- Roseneil S, and Budgeon S, (2004) Cultures of Intimacy and Care Beyond the Family: Personal Life and Social Change in the Early Twenty-First Century, Current Sociology, Vol. 52(2): 135-159
- Rosenfeld M J, (2007). The Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same Sex Unions, and the Changing American Family. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
- Rottger-Rossler B, (2008) “Voiced Intimacies: Verbalized Experiences of Love and Sexuality in an Indonesian Society.” In Jankowiak, W.R. (Ed.) Intimacies: Love + Sex Across Cultures. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Shaw A, (2000) Kinship and Continuity: Pakistani Families in Britain. London: Routledge.
- Smart C, (2007) Personal Life: New Directions In Sociological Thinking, Cambridge: Polity.
- Thornton A, (2005) Reading History Sideways: The Fallacy and Enduring Impact of the Developmental Paradigm on Family Life, Chicago: Chicago University Press.
- Yan Y, (2003). Private Life under Socialism: Love, Intimacy, and Family Change in a Chinese Village, 1949-1999. Stanford University Press.