Professions of love : the discursive construction of love and romance in intimate heterosexual relationships

Burns, Angela Mary (2000). Professions of love : the discursive construction of love and romance in intimate heterosexual relationships. PhD thesis The Open University.



For this thesis, my aim was to deconstruct the notion of heterosexual love in order to question if and how current stories of love are involved in producing gender inequality. Using discourse analysis, informed by feminist theory, I analysed, in detail, qualitative interviews with eleven women and eleven men about their most important intimate heterosexual relationships and their experiences of love.

The traditional view of romantic love as a symbol of freedom and redemption has been challenged by feminist arguments that romantic love obscures male privilege in intimate heterosexual relationships. Mainstream social psychological research has tended to measure and categorize 'love' with little regard to wider historical and social contexts which means that the few in-depth explorations of the complex meanings of love are primarily sociological. Where some research has suggested that gender inequality may proceed from women's investment in romance and men's in emotional illiteracy (e.g. Jackson, 1993; Langford, 1999), others conceive that a wider democratization of social life is producing a shift to more rational and equitable intimate relationships (e.g. Giddens, 1992; Illouz, 1997).

My findings demonstrate that talk of love is extremely complex while also cliched and inchoate. I identified two broad and pervasive discourses, in tension with each other - the discourse of romantic love and the work discourse of love and intimacy. The romantic discourse was inextricably inscribed with discourses of emotion where the work discourse was associated with doing rather than feeling. The work discourse allowed the male interviewees, in particular, to construct relationships as contexts for their own personal growth work and exercise of expertise. The democratization of heterosexual love may not be well underway if a shift to rational intimacy involves a transformation of romantic feeling into a narcissistic discourse of personal success. I also identified how male privilege was instantiated in discourses of infidelity.

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