Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Globalizing Intimacy: The Role of Information and Communication Technologies in Maintaining and Creating Relationships

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Globalizing Intimacy: The Role of Information and Communication Technologies in Maintaining and Creating Relationships

Article excerpt


Intimacy is a specific sort of knowing, loving, and caring for a person (Jamieson 1989, 1). Growing up implicitly involves intimacy in terms of close association with one or more adults. Beyond our parents, significant others include all those who have a particular role in, and commitment to, shaping of the self (Berger and Luckmann 1966). Despite the importance of intimate relationships in people's lives-and as the building blocks of families, communities, and stable society-it is only relatively recently that intimacy and emotions have become topics of social science research (Jamieson 1989). Most disciplines have paid more attention to the study of public economic and political organization than they have to informal, private social relations (Roseneil and Budgeon 2004). Indeed some commentators suggest that the growing interest in emotions, psychoanalysis, and personal growth/development of the self, as well as in childhood and intergenerational relations, marks the beginning of a "private turn" within the social sciences (Bailey 2000).

Both Giddens (1991) and Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (1995) claim that profound changes are occurring in the sphere of intimacy in the context of contemporary processes of individualization, detraditionalization, and increased self-reflexivity. In the transformation from industrial society to new modernity, traditional ideas and expectations about social relations are being reworked. The preordained path of school, paid work, courtship, marriage, and parenthood is now less clearly marked. Rather there has been a weakening of class ties, a decline in reliance on authorities such as the church, and a decoupling of some of the social behaviors and attitudes that used to be attached to marriage and family life (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995). Such that BeckGernsheim (2002,22) claims that "individual self fulfilment and achievement is the most powerful current in modern society."

In this context Giddens (1992) argues that traditional forms of close personal relationships encumbered by kin and community obligations are being replaced by the pursuit of "pure relationships." These are relationships that are entered into for their own sake in the pursuit of happiness, and are sustained only as long as they are fulfilling. As such they are based on voluntary commitment, mutual trust, equality, and reflexivity. Individuals now have to work more self-consciously on who they are and what kind of relationship they want. Giddens links the emergence of pure relationships to the development of "plastic sexuality"-in which sex has been decoupled from reproduction. Relationships (sexual and family) are now less about rules and rituals and more about choice and risk, with the consequence that love and intimacy are both more important than ever but harder to achieve and maintain (Holland et al. 2003). For example, the greater importance placed on having a "good" marriage and the pursuit of individual pleasure, has produced higher divorce rates as individuals feel less obliged (e.g., by the church, marriage vows, community tradition, etc.) to stay in unsatisfactory relationships.

Relationships between parents and children are also argued to be changing. In particular, the traditional social distance between parents and their offspring is alleged to be breaking down as adults sacrifice their traditional authority for closer, more intimate relationships with their children Qamieson and Toynbee 1990; Valentine 1997b). In an individualized culture, the balance of obligations has shifted so that the responsibility is no longer on the child to be a dutiful son or daughter but on the parent(s) to optimize their child's opportunity to fulfill their potential mainly by providing appropriate material and social opportunities (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995).

Increasingly, it is argued that it is not just family and sexual relationships alone but an increasing range of personal relationships (e. …

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