The social location of widows
This thesis draws critically upon the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu to develop a theory of the social location of widows. The thesis presents widowhood as a set of objective social relations regulated by the objective structures of marriage, gender and death. In the course of the discussion a critical analysis of Bourdieu's theorization of gender is advanced. The potential of Bourdieu's work for feminist theory is identified, particularly in his explanation of the mechanism of gender relations, however, the analysis also demonstrates that the phallocentric presuppositions embedded within Bourdieu's theorization of gender have to be addressed before the theory's potential for feminist practice can be realised. The thesis examines the meaning of death and bereavement and their symbolic significance for the regulation of the relations of widowhood. It argues that the current construction of the widow, which underpins bereavement counselling practices, can be problematic for the social position of the widow and her understanding of herself. The analysis also develops the concept of social immortality as a theory for understanding the social position of the widow and her relationship to her deceased husband. A model of the objective relations of the widow has been developed by means of a comparative analysis of contemporary practice with the history of the social structures of marriage and death in the regulation of the social relations of widowhood. This analysis has identified that changes in the symbolic meaning of marriage and death is pivotal to an understanding of the social location of the widow. The model of the objective relations of the widow has been used to interrogate accounts of widowhood collected from women widowed before the age of sixty. From this analysis a theory of the social location of widows has been developed which provides a means of understanding the social reality of the widow as the history of the product of specific social relations, both as an objective class and as the subjective experience of an individual social agent.