intimacy 2413

and democratic relationships. The work of some
feminist commentators has suggested that
Giddens has underestimated the persistence of
gender inequality ( Jamieson 1999) and the ideo
logical strength of a conventional heterosexual
culture (Berlant 1997). Berlant argued in her
analysis of US culture that the ideologies and
institutions of heterosexual intimacy have pro
vided support to a reactionary status quo by
encouraging citizens to take refuge from the
confusions of capitalism and politics. However,
Giddenss argument also finds support among
those who believe they are identifying a growing
number of instances of people constructing inti
mate relationships outside of the heteronorm
(Roseneil & Budgeon 2004).
Whereas Giddenss account suggested that
cultural emphasis on disclosing intimacy is
matched by positive social change in the every
day lives of men and women, there are many
more pessimistic visions of what is happening
to intimacy in this period of postmodernity.
According to a number of academic commen
tators, either intimacy has become attenuated
(rather than more intense) or its intensity is
of little social worth. Unrestrained market
forces and mass consumer cultures are accused
of promoting a self obsessive, self isolating, or
competitive individualism which renders peo
ple incapable of sustaining meaningful intimate
relationships. As one commentator puts it, con
cern to be sincere and responsible is replaced
with worry about being true to ones self (Mis
ztal 2000). Social scientists from a range of
contexts have developed variations of this argu
ment, sometimes in tandem with debate about
social capital and concern that private inti
macy supplants or undermines community.
Well known examples include Bauman (2003)
and Sennett (1998). This is also a longstanding
subtheme in the work of Hochschild (2003; see
also Bellah et al. 1985).
High rates of relationship breakdown, the
associated disruption of wider social networks,
and concerns, particularly in Europe and North
America, about juggling family and work clearly
do indicate strains in intimate life. However,
detailed research on how people conduct speci
fic intimate relationships commonly identifies
strenuous efforts to create good relationships
and to put children and family first, although
generally it is women who continue to play the
larger part in sustaining these intimate relation
ships. Much of the empirical research demon
strates neither self obsession nor the primacy
of self disclosing intimacy. In a review of
research on couple relationships, sexual relation
ships, parentchild relationships, and friendship
relationships, Jamieson (1998) concluded that
the evidence demonstrated a wider repertoire
of intimacy than disclosing intimacy. The
relationships people described as good rela
tionships were often neither equal nor demo
cratic. Moreover, equal relationships were
sustained by more than disclosing intimacy.
For example, couples who had worked hard to
have fair divisions of labor typically negotiated
mutual practical care that did more to sustain
their sense of intimacy than self disclosure. As
Vogler asserts, perhaps not all intimacies are
affairs of the self (2000: 48; see also Holland et
al. 2003). This is not, however, to deny the sig
nificance of self disclosing intimacy in popu
lar culture, or its discursive power to influence
everyday perceptions of how to do intimacy.
SEE ALSO: Couples Living Apart Together;
Heterosexuality; Inequalities in Marriage; Inti
mate Union Formation and Dissolution;
Lesbian and Gay Families; Love and Commit
ment; Marriage


Bauman, Z. (2003) Liquid Love: On the Frailty of
Human Bonds. Polity Press, Cambridge.
Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler,
A., & Tipton, S. M. (1985) Habits of the Heart:
Individualism and Commitment in American Life.
University of California Press, Berkeley.
Berlant, L. (1997) The Queen of America Goes to
Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship.
Duke University Press, Durham, NC.
Davis, M. (1973) Intimate Relations. Free Press,
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Duncombe, J. & Marsden, D. (1995) Workaholics
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Inequality? Sociological Review 43: 150 69.
Giddens, A. (1992) The Transformation of Intimacy.
Polity Press, Cambridge.
Hochschild, A. (2003) The Commercialization of Inti
mate Life: Notes from Home and Work. University
of California Press, Berkeley.