Uncommon Sense Part- 4: Intimacy

The Sociological Review

Hi there, and welcome to your monthly dose of Uncommon Sense. I’m Alexis Hieu Truong in Ottawa, Canada. Rosie Hancock: And I’m Rosie Hancock in Sydney, Australia. And along with everyone making this podcast at The Sociological Review, we want to spread the sociological word. Alexis Hieu Truong: And that’s not because we’re on some kind of ego trip, but because it matters. It’s about questioning the assumptions about the world we share, and making space to think about what better futures might look like. Rosie Hancock: So far in the series, we’ve taken a really close, kind of sideways, look at things like home, care, the concept of education. Today, we’re going to talk about love and intimacy. Alexis Hieu Truong: Now, unlike say, education, love and intimacy can seem like things that belong to the private realm or to pop culture: Taylor Swift or Frank Ocean, or novelists like James Baldwin and Sally Rooney. But a sociologist!? I mean, who wants a sociology book as a Valentine’s gift, right? Rosie Hancock: Yeah, no, thanks. I mean, I love sociology, but not that much. Alexis Hieu Truong: So, to reject love and intimacy means missing out on some critical conversations, because our ideas around love and intimacy are both shaped by and shape our wider world. And as sociologists, we’re interested in how all of that works, how our values or norms, how say, like, colonialism or capitalism play out in what seems like our most private relationships. Rosie Hancock: Yeah. How, for example, has a lyric like Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” come to sound as much like a threat as a romantic promise, and this time of short term dating, of shopping around for love. And shouldn’t Stevie Wonder change that famous song title to “I Just WhatsApped To Say I Love You”? Alexis Hieu Truong: Yeah. In fact, it’s not just that our ideas of love and intimacy have evolved over time. It’s also true that love, for example, isn’t always actually that positive. It gets invoked to justify and frame all sorts of things: inequality, hypocrisy, consumerism, nationalism too. And slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, if you’re the “aspiring vessel of love”, Will Smith. Think about it like that. And it’s clear that so called “matters of the heart” are actually deeply sociological. Rosie Hancock: Yep, they’re all things that we’ll dig into with our guests today. Joining us to talk about love and intimacy, which is just one of her interests – alongside things like feminism and family, gender and parenthood – is Katherine Twamley, based at University College in London. Hi, there, Katherine. Katherine Twamley: Hi, great to be here. Rosie Hancock: I have to say that when I heard we were talking about intimacy, my mind immediately went to the sealed section of the Dolly magazine, which is this popular teen magazine that you could get when I was growing up in New Zealand and it was very exciting. And I hate to disappoint the listeners out there, but I don’t think that’s where we’re heading today. Right? Katherine Twamley: Yeah, absolutely. I think often when we think about intimacy, we think oh, we mean, you know, physical intimacy, sexuality. But actually, a sociology of intimacy is much wider than that. Alexis Hieu Truong: As we mentioned there, love seems like something that’s almost too sacred to talk about, even in a remotely academic way. Something that’s timeless, private, precious; something you shouldn’t theorise or get high minded about. We offered a bit of a defence already, but what would you add to it? Katherine Twamley: I think, for me, the beauty of sociology is exactly that: to be able to unpack the most personal of experiences that we have and to situate them into wider processes in society. When I think back on my undergraduate in sociology, something that really struck me and has, I guess, influenced, in a way, my focus on the sociology of love, was learning about Durkheim’s work around suicide. So, Durkheim showed that although we would think of suicide as something to do with a deeply personal circumstance that happens to somebody, we also see – when we kind of look at a wider macro lens the way Durkheim did – that there are peaks and troughs, and there are trends. So, different kinds of people at different time points are more likely to commit suicide. And we see in different periods of history greater or smaller trends, amounts of people who take their own life. And that really struck me that wow. So, something so personal, like suicide can be influenced by wider structures. And it’s the same, for me, with love. So, love is maybe more positively associated, but that is also influenced by greater processes and what’s happening in the world. Rosie Hancock: Yeah, and so, I guess not only is love socially constructed, its significance for making relations and ships is also what I would call culturally constructed, right? So we’ve come to think, at least in the culture I was raised in, that, to quote another song, “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage”. But it doesn’t actually have to be that way. And that’s an assumption that you dig into in your first book, back in 2014, based on research where you compare experiences of love and intimacy amongst Gujarati Indians born and brought up in India, and people of Gujarati Indian heritage born and brought up in the UK. We’ll talk more about your findings in just a moment. But can you first tell us how you ended up in India in the first place, and what assumptions you took with you about love? Katherine Twamley: Well, how I ended up in India was basically an administrative error, I hate to say, but that is the truth. So, I was doing my undergraduate and at the end of my undergraduate I applied to do a kind of an internship for … to take part in an internship programme, and I requested to be sent to French-speaking Africa – I’d never been to Africa, I was interested in African culture, and I also wanted to work on my French – and they accidentally sent me to India. But when I arrived in India, I really fell in love with the culture and just found it to be so fascinating. And at that time, I thought it was sort of diametrically different to what I had been … how I had been brought up in Ireland, and most specifically around relationships, which was really a topic that often came up with my friends there, who I miss. And I was in Gujarat, at the state of Gujarat, as well. So that was kind of, again, circumstance. And as I learned about their ideas of love and intimate relationships, and marriage, I really thought: “Okay, this is something I want to unpack”. Because up until that point, I had myself thought love is biological, and it’s the same the world over. And then, when I was there, I said: “Okay, they have very different ideas of what love means.” And as you say, how that is associated with marriage. And so I worked my way through a master’s, and then to come back from my PhD, which is the work that you’re talking about. Alexis Hieu Truong: One of the stories you tell in your book is of a Gujarati Indian friend of yours in India named Antuk. Tell us about his approach to love, this idea of wanting love to be arranged as you described it. Katherine Twamley: Yeah, so, Antuk was really interesting. So, he spoke to me a lot about his desire for romance, and kind of this grand narrative that he seemed to desire. That’s what he spoke to me about, about wanting to fall in love. And I set him up on a date with a friend of mine, who was … I think she was Norwegian. And then she told me about the date afterwards, and he arrived in a limo to bring her out. Gujarat is an alcohol-free state, but he had champagne glasses with a large bottle of Coca Cola. And he brought her to the cinema. And then he was opening the door. And it was all kind of very chivalrous stereotypically romantic, what we might expect from a kind of Jane Austen novel type thing updated. And he told me he really enjoyed the date, but he wasn’t going to go out on a date with her again. And in fact, his parents had already now arranged marriage for him. And he was getting married to a US-born Indian woman, and they had met once. And he would meet her again the day before the wedding, and then on the wedding; which is probably not very common practice within India, but it’s quite common in transnational marriages, because of the expense of travelling and meeting up with one another before the wedding day. And this just seemed completely odd to me. I was like: “How can you equate these two desires for love and romance and then, at the same time, set yourself up for an arranged marriage that your parents have effectively arranged for you?” And after he was married, then he sent me messages about how it was everything he ever desired, and that she bought him breakfast in bed every morning, and it was sort of this perfect marriage. I’m still in touch with them, and they’re, they’re married with two kids now. And they live in the US. Yes, that was a kind of another spark for me of “oh, there’s something odd going on here”. But upon reflection, and after sitting, I didn’t think it was so odd. But that was my initial entry into the world of love and marriage in India. Rosie Hancock: Katherine, I think what’s super interesting, you encountered this idea of wanting love to be arranged and it’s seeming kind of contradictory with what Antuk kind of thought about romance. And I’m curious whether you think that actually that’s not so far from where, you know, so-called Western culture is now, and I’m thinking in particular of dating sites that use algorithms to hook us up or reality TV shows – there’s a super popular one here in Australia, “Married at First Sight”, where people, you know, have these kind of shotgun weddings, don’t even meet each other beforehand. You know, it seems we can’t get married to strangers fast enough, and we’re asking for help to do it right, potentially on national television as well. Katherine Twamley: I think that’s a really interesting trend. And so, when I was doing my fieldwork that wasn’t … Alexis Hieu Truong: That’s super interesting. And I think that that kind of wasn’t really around. So, I mean, I talked about arranging love, that was a term that Alexis mentioned, and maybe I should explain it a bit, in a bit more detail. So, what Antuk wanted and what other participants of mine wanted was those ideas about, like, what we should do, like the “ticking of certain factors in their future spouse. So, they wanted them to be at the correct caste, the correct class, the correct height, the correct skin colour sometimes; various different factors, which they said would ensure that their family would be happy, and that would ensure a lasting relationship. Because, boxes”, those norms is what makes it so sociologically from their point of view, a lasting relationship should have these various factors. They should have a common understanding of the world. So, they wanted to make sure these factors were, if you’d like, “ticked off their box” and then, important, right? And in your book, you … it considers the they would talk about making sure – through the various practices of intimacy, such as going on dates, and so on, so forth – they would create this love. So, they would arrange the love within the appropriate circumstances. And for me, looking at, you know, UK or Ireland, or, you know, global values of people like Antuk, alongside people of Gujarati North Euro-American society, we see similar processes, as you exactly say, in that people don’t talk about it quite as explicitly, but they also tick these boxes. And they also, when we look at kind of research, they are seeking and they have these ideas about “what would be a correct partner for me”. And heritage in the UK, who also talked to you about love and some of it can be quite like “similar interests”, for example, but often, these are around class differences and racial preferences. And so you see, if we look at marriage statistics, we see that people tend to marry somebody of a similar class background and of a particular ethnic background. marriage. I’m wondering what their perspectives were, and Some of that is around exposure, but some of it is around ideas around “who would be an appropriate and correct match for myself”. whether that was perhaps shaped by the fact that they were talking to you? So, someone not from the same background. Katherine Twamley: Yeah. As was kind of mentioned, it was kind of a comparative study. So, I was looking at cousins who had been – at least that was how it was initially designed – born and brought up in India and their cousins born and brought up in the UK. And for those who had been born and brought up in the UK, I sort of argued that there was three kind of main factors. So, there was cultural and thinking about the local UK culture and the Indian culture, and ideas around appropriate relationships from their families perspective, from their own perspective, from the kind of media that they were consuming. And then there was material factors. So, for example, they could live separately from their parents in a different city, they weren’t under, kind of, the observation of elders to make sure that they had … that they behaved in a particular way. And then the other one is positionality. So, being a part of a minoritized group, and being interviewed by somebody from a White Irish background, if you’d like. So, I think for sure that influenced how they spoke with me, it influenced the recruitment. So, for example, I found it quite difficult to recruit participants who were intending and wanted to have an arranged marriage. And I think at that time point – I think it’s shifted a little bit now – but at that time point, there was a lot of talk in the media about forced marriage, and they were often arranged marriage and forced marriage were interchangeably used sometimes. And so there was a concern explicitly expressed to me as well by my participants, about my research and about how there was misunderstandings about what arranged marriage meant; which also encouraged them as well to position themselves as not having an arranged marriage. So, explicitly rejecting that term, even when they were. So, they called it an introduced marriage, although there were some certain ways in which they were different. So, for sure, who I was influenced the way they presented themselves. Rosie Hancock: So, to clarify, your interviewees for that particular project identified as heterosexual, and they were in or designed to be in monogamous mixed-sex relationships, right? I’m asking this question because I’m, I’m thinking about the way in which family formation and gay and lesbian communities can be a bit different. So, if you think about Kath Weston’s classic “Families We Choose” and how she illustrates how gay men and women construct their own ideas of kinship, drawing on the symbolism of love and friendship and biology. So, I’m wondering, you know, how this might have shaped your data – the fact that your participants were heterosexual – and how things might maybe have looked different with participants who identified as queer? Katherine Twamley: Yeah, I think that’s a really important question. So, in sociology, we draw a lot on what is known as Script Theory, particularly in studies around intimacy and sexuality. So, this idea that we have a recognisable narrative, for example, around love and intimacy. So, this is ubiquitous, right, in novels and in films. And there’s an “appropriate” way about how relationships should pan out, and how we recognise intimate practices. So, if someone buys me flowers, but you know, they’re expressing, well … if a man buys a woman flowers, typically, they’re expressing a certain feeling towards me, and so on and so forth. And the same with families, there are certain things we recognisably understand as an “appropriate” family practice. And, I guess, many of the arguments in the literature around same-sex or queer families is that they’re freer from these scripts, that they don’t have to draw on them. Sometimes they may draw on them in order to justify and demonstrate themselves as “appropriately” a family and a couple. But they can also veer away from these scripts. Potentially have more freedom to do so and will – kind of from a political perspective – try to do so. And that can be positive for both people who are in mixed-sex relationships or heterosexual relationships or more normative families, because it can push forward our dynamics and understanding of what a family and a relationship can be. Rosie Hancock: Katherine. So, your research showed us how love is really socially constructed. So, you know, as much as we would like to think it’s a matter of being struck by Cupid’s bow, it’s really shaped by our time and place and culture and context. So, having discussed that, we thought we’d now turn to dig into what love means sociologically, and intimacy too. Because those are two things that often go hand in hand, or at least we assume they do. So, Katherine, is love seen as something that’s positive generally, but intimacy is maybe a bit broader? Like, how would you define it? Katherine Twamley: So, I would say that love is more associated with the emotion; so, the kinds of feelings that we experience. Whereas intimacy can be tied to the emotion or can not be tied to the emotion, and often in sociology, when we talk about intimacy, we’re focusing on practices. So, the ways in which people demonstrate to one another that feeling of closeness, or how those feelings of closeness can be generated, and then whether and how that is linked with love. Rosie Hancock: And intimacy can be between people who don’t even know each other’s names, or where there’s a clear power imbalance. I am thinking here of that collection, edited by Eileen Boris and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, “Intimate Labors”. That collection highlights those points where money and intimacy meet. So, looking at things like domestic work, care work, sex work, even sperm donation. Could you talk to us about that a wee bit? Katherine Twamley: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a really interesting body of work. And as you say, it demonstrates how we can be intimate with people without having that loving or close connection. So, you’ve brought up some classic examples there around sex work; we could also think about hairdressers, who give us massage or are very intimately close with us, but it’s more of a transactional relationship. Although, I have a PhD student who’s doing work on a hair salon and the intimacy that’s created between them, and the inequality and how people can feel. So, the person who’s receiving the massage can feel like “oh, this hairdresser is my friend”. And then we can think about the emotional labour that’s involved – thinking of Arlie Hochschild’s work – on the part of the hairdresser, who knows that part of her work, or his work, is creating this intimate moment for the client, but they wouldn’t necessarily have those loving or emotional connections beneath it. So, as you say, there can be disparities. And then in the same point, you know, you can have monetary transactions between people who are extremely close, and who would identify themselves as being in a two-way, intimate relationship. So, more kind of classically, we often had housewives receiving a kind of a salary from their partners. But we also have nannies who can have a deep connection with their children, who are being paid to be in that position. And I think Parreñas’s work really taps into that actually, about how domestic migrant workers can feel that love for the people that they’re taking care of, and the kind of deficit that ends up resulting in that. Because their own children are missing that kind of love and affection, which they are giving, possibly, to their clients and the children that they’re looking after. Alexis Hieu Truong: And actually, love isn’t always benign, either, is it? I was reading this great piece on Love by Julia Carter on The Sociological Review site, and she mentions how love can be a “legitimating ideology”. I’m wondering what you make of that? I guess, love can be used to justify war and nationalism, like “love of your country”, and consumerism too. Both of those things can cause harm. So, it’s not always all that good. Right? I was wondering what your thoughts on that were? Katherine Twamley: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you brought up a really great recent example of Will Smith who hits the comedian in the Oscars, and it was justified through the feelings that he had for his wife. So, that’s a kind of a very personalised example. But if we look at kind of rhetoric around colonialism, we see that part of the justification for colonialism was that the intimate relationships of the kind of, inverted commas, “natives” in the colonised lands were not sufficiently “modern” and “appropriate”. And that was a way of justifying colonisation, saying: “Look at them, they have so many partners and they don’t have a marriage-based relationship, which is blessed by Christ” and so on and so forth. So, absolutely, it can be used in the legitimation of different kinds of both positive and negative behaviours on a personal level, but also on a kind of governing intimacies wider level. Rosie Hancock: That’s so fascinating, because today, there’s all of these kind of calls out there for “more love”, a “more loving society”, all that sort of jazz. But, I guess, what we’re getting at here is the need to ask who is talking about love? How are they invoking it? To what ends? You know, etc, etc, etc. And of course, who’s excluded from the idea of love that’s been put out there as well? Katherine Twamley: Yeah, absolutely. So, reflecting, for example, on the work of Bev Skeggs, who obviously also did a podcast with you around care. So, when you think about who receives care and how that can be legitimised through a love and a personal connection. So, if we think about, for example … I often think about the justification around sending our children to private schools. So, we know on a kind of a societal level – in the UK it’s very dominant in sort of policy and politics, political discourse or how politicians talk about education – we know that private school is not good for social mobility across the population. And often politicians talk about: “Okay, so, we should get rid of” – particularly left wing politicians – “we should get rid of private education”, but at the same time, they send their children to private schools with a justification of, well, I love and I care for my child. And having that kind of familial connection can justify a behaviour that is not good for society at large or is not consistent with one, you know, one’s political ideals. And so that, I think, is an example of how love can be used to legitimate a kind of a behaviour, which is not in consonance with the professed ideals of the person Alexis Hieu Truong: Katherine, I just wanted to go back on something you said about colonialism. And I was wondering if you can elaborate on it maybe about how we can imagine decolonizing love, like, what would that look like? Katherine Twamley: I think that’s a really interesting question and one that hasn’t been sufficiently addressed in sociology, and one which I’m trying to work on with my colleagues. So, we held a kind of a seminar series inviting different people to consider the decolonization of love and relationships, and that really kind of show the darth of research in this area. Thinking about my own research in India, I think what’s really interesting is that the kind of suppositions that I made about what was happening in India, were often based on a kind of a misunderstanding of what, in the Global South, love and relationships is like, and that that it was not as “advanced” or was on its pathway to what love and relationships look like in more, quote unquote, “modern” societies. But actually, because of the colonial relationship, the UK was hugely influential in how intimate relationships now are set up. In fact, they were much more fluid pre colonisation from the UK into India, there was more fluidity around gender, as well, and gender relationships and sexual relationships. And there still remained to be the case in certain caste groups and in certain groups that weren’t kind of, not colonised, but weren’t brought into the colonisation process to the same extent. So, for me, decolonization of love and intimacy is recognising how colonisation has actually shaped and is implicated in contemporary marriage and relationships, and how we view and how we see them. Alexis Hieu Truong: Yeah, that’s definitely something we need to think more about. One other notion that’s been discussed more is maybe Zygmunt Bauman’s idea of liquid love. Can you tell us a bit about that? Katherine Twamley: Yeah, absolutely. So, this is related to the idea of the individualization of society. So, in modern or contemporary society, we are less beholden to particular ideas about how we should “appropriately” behave. So, in pre-contemporary times, according to Bauman and Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, and Giddens to a certain extent, the idea is that people expected to have a similar family a similar career and a similar role in life to their parents before them, and that there was kind of strict ideas about who we should be and who we will be. And in contemporary society, things are more liquid or fluid, in that we have more choice in how we can act in the world, there are more options open to us, we can migrate, there’s much more kind of fluid boundaries between different countries – in parentheses for some people, and not for everybody – and therefore, our relationships are also more fluid; we can imagine divorce now, we can get into a relationship and not feel like we have to stay within that relationship, which we might have felt beforehand because of traditional ideals of family and marriage. So, this greater liquidness is about fluidity in and out of different kinds of relationships and family, and Bauman’s kind of very critical and negative about that. So saying: “Well, this has brought more fragility to intimate connections between people and ultimately is not very positive for the wellbeing of individuals and society”. Rosie Hancock: But you, you kind of want to challenge all of that a little bit. Right, Katherine? Like, that isn’t universally the case? Katherine Twamley: I think it’s not universally the case on a kind of a global scale, and I think it’s not universally the case even in the UK, where he was writing about, or Western Europe. So, this idea that I sort of hinted at, that borders are now fluid, of course, we know that migration is, you know, very contested. We had Brexit recently here in the UK, so certainly not everyone can move about as freely in the global world. But also, I think the work around individualization has been critiqued for overlooking a lot of empirical work, which shows the lasting desire for commitment, even if it always doesn’t … doesn’t always pan out. And so, the kind of rates of marriage dropped a little bit and certainly divorce went up. But still, you know, rates of marriage on the whole, most people do expect to and do ultimately get married. And people certainly put a lot of emphasis on familial relationships. And I think, you know, another thing that was overlooked is kind of gender differences. So, men are also more free and have had more money historically, and even contemporaneously, to be in and out of relationships, and we can see that in the way we talked about young women’s sexuality. Of course, reflecting back on Bev Skeggs’ work again, how she wrote about working-class women and about how they’re kind of surveillanced more, and about how they are more restricted in the kinds of relationships that they can have. Rosie Hancock: Thanks so much, Katherine. We’ll be back soon to talk about connection and intimacy in our supposedly increasingly contactless world, but first, a word from Alice, our producer. Alice Bloch: You’re listening to Uncommon Sense from the Sociological Review, where every month we sit down to talk with an expert guest to grab hold of a concept we all think we know, everyday notions like home or school or today’s topic, intimacy and love. And together, we work to see it a little bit differently. It’s not an academic exercise, it’s about seeing the social world anew, all underpinned by the view that change really is possible, and that you don’t have to be a sociologist to think like one. If you head to the podcast page at thesociologicalreview.org you’ll find details on our guests, plus recommended reading. And if you’ve not done so already, please do just take a few seconds to tap “Follow” or “Subscribe” in the app you’re using to enjoy this. It helps us to keep making this podcast for everyone. Thanks for listening. Rosie Hancock: This is episode four of Uncommon Sense, which means by now you know what’s coming. This is where we often pause to grab a buzzword, a trope, maybe a quote, and put it under scrutiny. Ask what it really means, what it says about us and whether we can think about it a bit differently. That sounds good Alexis? Alexis Hieu Truong: Yes. And Katherine, today we thought we’d talk to you about a word whose rise has, like so many things, been accelerated by COVID-19: contactless. It’s a term that becomes commonplace thanks to contactless payment cards. But what kind of conversation does that word – contactless – prompt, if we start to think about it through a sociological lens? Katherine Twamley: I think, for me, that conjures up stories of the increasingly digitised world that we live in – of course, accelerated, as you say, by COVID – about how we are in touch with other people via mediation. So, mediated through technology – that we stay in our homes more, that we order online more – and, I think, there’s often an assumption that this leads to a kind of a colder society, that were less in connection with one another. And, I think, that’s quite challenged by the different literatures. So, you can have intimacy and closeness through digital means. And although, recently we’ve been talking about that in terms of COVID, we have also seen that migrants have been in touch with one another and building intimacy, across transnational borders through the digital realm. So, I wouldn’t be so negative. I think a lot of the discourse is very negative about it. And I think there are pros and cons around the increasingly contactless world. Rosie Hancock: I’m really interested to hear you talk about sort of pros, because I definitely went straight to the cons. When I heard this was our buzzword, right? Like, I think about how something that’s contactless is somehow less real, or intangible and sort of hides the ways in which … I mean, I’m thinking about this in an economic sense, right? You know, you buy something in a contactless way, and it obscures any kind of moral aspect to the system. There’s this guy, Nick Crossley – guy … he’s a sociologist [laughs], he’s also a guy – who works in social movement theory. He he writes about anti-globalisation activists and talks about them trying to re-moralise the transactions that we make or our economic system in a way, because, the way capitalism sets it all up is that we are alienated from people. And actually, when you buy something you are in relationship with the people who make the things and are involved at various steps along the journey of that product ending up on your doorstep. But that’s hidden from us. So, we like to think that because we don’t have this contact with them. And the more frictionless these transactions are, the more we feel like we’re escaping that moral relationship. I’m totally rambling, but, you know, like, at the beginning of the pandemic, there was this grassroots group that I was doing research with that were talking about the need not to conflate social distancing with physical distancing; that actually what we need is physical distancing. And I’m curious, Katherine, whether you think maybe that when we, when we do have an excessive amount of physical distancing that sometimes maybe, you know, this kind of contactless thing obscures the relationships that we’re in with people? Katherine Twamley: So, I think that’s definitely a danger and a possibility. I would just caution against a kind of a blanket: “that’s what’s going to happen” and that’s what “necessarily” happens. So, work by Jessica Ringrose, which is also in social activism around kind of the #MeToo movement and young women’s feminism shows that the digital can help connect people. And we can see that with Greta Thunberg as well, across a global level, and I think there’s a real … I feel almost an intimate connection with Greta Thunberg, I follow her on Twitter and I think she’s really connected young people around the world to address a global problem. And, I think, she manages to create an intimacy between her and her followers and the people that she works with in the various different contexts and countries, which is so important to push an activate people to react and do something about the climate crisis. Alexis Hieu Truong: Going back to COVID for a moment, and maybe bouncing back on something that Rosie alluded to, COVID-19 has been a time where touch and physical contact was put on hold, and it’s had a deep impact, maybe, on our lives, right? You’ve done research on people’s experiences through the pandemic, do your findings incline you to think that we, at our core, are beings who need contact, or is the future like … if we imagine the future again, right is the future contactless? Katherine Twamley: I mean, by contact, I think you’re referring to physical contact. Would that be right? Certainly, that did come out in my research. It was a longitudinal study. We followed families with children from April 2020 – so, less than a month after the UK lockdown; it was a 10-country study, but I’ll talk specifically about the UK – and we followed them for 13 months up until the following summer in June 2021. And initially, there was a certain novelty and sort of a gratefulness to have online forms of communication and being in touch with one another. But definitely, throughout the whole year, it was considered second rate. And as time went on, in particularly … in particular for young people, which was really interesting finding for us, because young people are often presented as at the forefront of the digital era and, you know, they know so much and they’re brought up with WhatsApp and Skype and those kinds of things. But actually, the young people were saying to us that they did really miss person to person connection. And in particular, the spontaneity of person to person connection, which I think we can all understand through Zoom meetings and whatnot. Spontaneity is not something that is as easy and, you know, spontaneous meeting into one another, what often people call the “watercooler moment”, is not promoted through the digital. Alexis Hieu Truong: So, what I’m hearing is that we’re not all set for the metaverse just yet. Then, we’re not going to disappear into purely virtual reality, right away. Katherine Twamley: Yeah, absolutely. Rosie Hancock: Yeah. Thank god. Okay, so before we wrap up, this is where we each throw in our tip for something that’s not academic, but there has to be something surprising to say about love and intimacy, potentially something from pop culture. Alexis Hieu Truong: Katherine, there’s no shortage of stuff to choose from, whether it’s Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” or James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” … perhaps the entire Motown catalogue or the madly influential films of Richard Curtis “Love Actually”, “Bridget Jones”, etc. What will you pick? Katherine Twamley: Well, a book I read recently was Ian McEwan’s “Machines Like Me”. The main character in the book, he buys a robot that looks like a human being – it’s kind of set in this kind of parallel, slight time in the future – and that brings up so many questions, I think, around “love with things”, inverted commas. So, we often talk about our love relationships with other people, but actually, we can also love things. So, for example, there’s a whole sociology around the love of teddy bears, and how love can be perhaps unrequited as well. But it also brings up huge issues around consent and intimacy and subjectivity. Alexis Hieu Truong: I feel like these kinds of reflections around intimacy with objects or robots can be, can be works that are quite unnerving sometimes. So, I’d like to share something along the same lines. And that’s the work of Haruhiko Kawaguchi, who goes by the name Photographer Hal, whose work I got to know during the fieldwork … my fieldwork in Tokyo. What he does is take pictures of strangers, families all shrink wrapped, it’s like literally wrapped up in clear plastic sometimes, like their whole houses are wrapped up in plastic. And looking at his work for the first time can be, again, quite unnerving. But I think it opens a lot of interesting questions about intimacy, physical contact, but also love, proximity, and even maybe, like, our own mortality with a particular relevance in the context of Japanese social norms and values. Rosie, I feel I’ve gotten pretty sideways here, depending on our definitions of popular culture. But I think you wanted to mention an artist who also speaks to the theme of intimacy. Rosie Hancock: Yeah, also, maybe not, you know, a straight up pop culture reference. But Sophie Calle is a conceptual artist whose work I really love. And she does these great projects where, for example, she spends a year working in a hotel and goes through the personal items belonging to guests and photographs them, or picks a stranger and follows him around a city for weeks on and photographing him. In a previous life, I went to art school – I am in fact an art school drop out – and Sophie Cal really inspired some of my art. I, in fact, made a major work, where I brought my own bed into an art gallery, as in the student art gallery, and the only way you could view the video work which I had made – and this video work was of me, sleeping in other people’s beds – was for people to get into my bed and lie in my bed underneath a screen that was really uncomfortably close to the pillow. So, I was like forcing this intimacy on people. And, I think, what’s interesting about Sophie Calle’s work and which, you know, in my very ham-fisted way I tried to do as, like, a second year undergraduate student in art school, is thinking about the the norms that we have around intimacy and what we allow people, who we consider to be ourselves intimate with, access to in our life. And how, when you allow that with strangers – allow that level of intimacy with strangers – it can be very uncomfortable. Katherine Twamley: The Sophie Calle example brings up whole issues around methods for me, like, how do we get it, intimacy? How do we get people to talk? Or how do we view it, something so personal? How do we get them to talk about it without just staying on the level of the scripts that I talked about earlier? How do we observe and get into their homes? And what intimacy do we create between ourselves and our participants? And what intimacies do we disrupt by placing ourselves in those positions with them? And what are we trying to achieve? Rosie Hancock: I mean, like, Sophie Calle was taken to court by someone that she followed around. I mean, you know, conceptual artists can get away with things that a professional sociologist maybe can’t. But then, also, she didn’t get away with some of it as well. Alexis Hieu Truong: Well, it sounds like I’ll definitely have to look up the work of Sophie Calle. We’ll make sure to put the details about her work and those other recommendations, too, in the episode notes for this show. And Katherine, this is also where we say goodbye. So, thank you for joining us today. It’s been a great conversation, and really expanded my thinking on what intimacy means today. Katherine Twamley: Likewise, thank you very much for having me. Rosie Hancock: Thanks, Katherine. Bye. Alexis Hieu Truong: And that’s it from us, for now. You can catch the reading list from today’s show, including our pick of pieces from The Sociological Review by heading to our podcasts page at thesociologicalreview.org. Or just take a look at our episode notes in the app you’re using to hear this. Rosie, I really enjoyed talking to Katherine. And actually, it made me really want to revisit some of the data that I had from my fieldwork in Japan. What are you going to take away from this discussion? Rosie Hancock: I mean, I really enjoyed when Katherine was talking about how love can be used to justify sort of selfish actions. I don’t know, like, I just found that really interesting. Alexis Hieu Truong: Yeah, I agree. And one really important thing we also touched on was the idea of our “contactless world” being a bit of a myth. That actually speaks a bit to the theme that we’ll be exploring next month, security. Rosie Hancock: If you’ve enjoyed listening to Uncommon Sense, do tap “Subscribe” and “Follow” and review us in whatever app you’re using. And share us with your friends and family, which is surely an act of love. Alexis Hieu Truong: Our executive producer was Alice Bloch and our sound engineer was Dave Crackles. Thanks for listening. Bye. Rosie Hancock: Bye!





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