Ageless love? Shared understandings of age-dissimilar, romantic relationships in Perth, Western Australia

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In this thesis, I examine how the romantic relationships of age-dissimilar, heterosexual partners are understood in Perth, Western Australia. In Western contexts such as Australia, it is often said that there has been an historical shift toward greater personal autonomy in partner selection, and that this has resulted in an increased acceptance of age-dissimilar couples. Such shifts are commonly explained by social scientists as part of processes of 'individualisation' or 'democratisation', or are linked to the emergence of capitalism and consumerism. Instead, my research suggests that people's perspectives on age-dissimilar, romantic relationships are an avenue through which shared understandings of relatedness, as well as autonomy, might be further examined. I frame my discussion using Strauss and Quinn's (1997, p. 50) connectionist approach to cultural schemas, in which cultural meanings are in the mind, yet shape and are shaped by people's context-dependent experiences and activities. Their approach informs my conceptions of culture and change, particularly in regard to contradiction and complexity. Using this approach, I identify a series of cultural schemas found in Australian people's discussions of their own or others' age-dissimilar, romantic relationships. This, I argue, enables me to better understand what at first appeared to me as glaring contradictions in how romantic love was spoken about. I therefore contend that the complexities of contemporary perspectives on romantic love are not adequately explored through theories that posit simple shifts toward greater personal autonomy. Instead, I argue that the intricacies that characterise people's conceptions of romantic love, and the underlying cultural themes that inform them, are better accessed through an approach that theorises the internalisation of cultural understandings.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


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