University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Social and Developmental Psychology (SDP) Seminar Series > Rewriting the Rules? Non-monogamies and other adventures in non-normative relationships

Rewriting the Rules? Non-monogamies and other adventures in non-normative relationships

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Societal shifts, particularly the increased recognition of same-sex relationships and moves towards gender equality, have greatly altered the ways in which people understand and experience their intimate relationships. Whilst best-selling self-help books continue to preach models of monogamy, and generally ‘opposite-sex’ relationships, many people are exploring alternative ways of relating. Distinctions between sexual and emotional closeness and questions over where lines of exclusivity should be drawn have become of key significance, with debates played out daily in the mass media and the relationship-therapy room. Openly non-monogamous forms of relationship have been hailed, by some, as potentially feminist, socialist and/or queer ways of relating. However, others have argued that such relationships are apolitical, reproducing and reinforcing various axes of oppression rather than challenging them. My research1 focuses on how non-monogamous people present and manage their relationships. An initial survey of members of a large on-line polyamorous community revealed a multiplicity of meanings and stories. Particularly there were tensions over whether polyamory was positioned within or separate to monogamy and whether it was supported by discourses of ‘naturalness’ or ‘choice’. Comparisons of polyamory to swinging and gay non-monogamy reveal hierarchies of love and sex being constructed and drawn upon to justify and support different relationship forms. Examination of polyamorous literature and on-line discussions demonstrates that the ‘mononormative’ language of relationship identities, forms and emotions both constrains, and is resisted by, non-monogamous people. In-depth research has examined how non-monogamous structures link with other experiments in power dynamics (SM) and gendered dynamics. Recently my research has come up against the limitations of what can be revealed about experiences in relationships by analysing verbal data from questionnaires, interviews and discussions. This paper will also present newer avenues employing visual methodologies and the analysis of online comics and cartoons to get at the lived experience of different relationships, and innovative ways in which normative relational and sexual scripts are challenged and resisted. The paper will also draw on the wider body of quantitative and qualitative psychological research on openly non-monogamous relationships recently collected together by the author for her edited book Understanding Non-monogamies (Routledge, 2010).

This talk is part of the Social and Developmental Psychology (SDP) Seminar Series series.

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