Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Negotiated Familism: Intimate Life and Individualization among Young Female Professionals from Mexico City

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Negotiated Familism: Intimate Life and Individualization among Young Female Professionals from Mexico City

Article excerpt

This article explores cultural meanings of couple relationships, love, and marriage among young, university-educated female professionals from Mexico City. Research on contemporary transformations of intimacies in Mexico has pointed to both a trend toward companionate, love-based couple relationships and a diversity of locally specific experiences and practices of intimate life, which may simultaneously transcend and reaffirm historically established patriarchal arrangements (e.g., Hirsch 2003; Gonzalez-Lopez 2005). However, the consequences of these shifts for young, middle-class women's culturally situated understandings of couple relationships remain poorly understood. I attend to this problematic through three questions. First, what are the cultural meanings of couple relationships, love, and marriage among young, university-educated, professional women in contemporary Mexico? Second, what do the findings of the case study suggest about a possible individualization of intimate life in urban Mexico? Finally, what do the findings reveal about the scope and limitations of intimate citizenship in Mexican society?

My argument is based on a case study on cultural dynamics of intimate life among young professionals in Mexico City. As part of this case study, I conducted 21 life story interviews with young women aged 25 to 34 and employed in a variety of white-collar occupations. During these interviews, we explored the role that family, couple relationships, and marriage played in their everyday experiences of intimacy, as well as in their overall life plans. These life stories consistently highlight the centrality of a "negotiated familism" to my participants' lives. The notion of family as essential source of social and individual stability and happiness constituted a pervasive source of meaning in their accounts. However, as a result of complex and sometimes conflictive negotiations with their families, the young women in the study viewed themselves as free from direct paternalistic control over their personal lives. This autonomy enabled them to pursue reflexive life plans built around notions of self-actualization, love, and self-fulfillment. My findings point to a partial individualization of intimate life among my participants, the persistence of familism as a significant meaning-constitutive tradition, and a waning of the regulative elements of familism.

This analysis addresses several knowledge gaps in the existing literature. First, the analytic perspectives that have been deployed to study contemporary transformations of intimacy in Mexico have remained rather narrow. There is a distinct lack of studies that examine in depth Mexicans' subjective understandings and experiences of intimate life and their relationship to wider public discourses (1). Furthermore, our current understanding of these transformations is rooted in a rather limited empirical base. Previous research has largely focused on the urban working classes (e.g., Gutmann 1996) and rural social groups (e.g., Hirsch 2003). Other groups, such as the urban middle sectors of Mexican society, have been widely neglected. At a more general level, recent high-profile debates on the individualization of personal life in the West (Bauman 2003; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995; Giddens 1992; Smart 2007) are largely grounded in research conducted in Western Europe and Anglophone North America. How do findings on recent developments in Mexico contribute to debates between individualization theorists and their critics? Conversely, how can respective theories inform research on transformation of intimacies in Mexico?

The Contradictory Pluralization of Intimate Life in Contemporary Mexico

Since the early 1970s, Mexicans' intimate lives have undergone profound changes in the context of wider transformations of the gender order. The social, cultural, political, and economic underpinnings of these transformations have been well documented (Ariza and de Oliveira 2004), and I will only mention them in passing. …

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