Accounting for intimacy troubles : sociological analysis and vernacular discourse
Intimate relations are one of the most analysed aspects of human experience, and sociological interest in this topic has been sustained throughout the history of the discipline. This thesis begins with an analysis of existing sociological claims about intimate relations. It is suggested that these theoretical claims have largely coalesced around the issues of (a) the 'essential basis' of intimacy, and / or (b) the social and historical contexts in which such relationships are enacted. In contradistinction to academic psychology, sociological accounts have typically afforded intimacy troubles a supra-personal quality i.e. as arising from either the contradictory or dualistic nature of intimacy itself, or as a consequence of wider structural changes in specific social and historical locations. However, in making these theoretical claims, sociologists have typically muted or transformed vernacular voices. This study has attempted to identify and analyse a series of vernacular accounts of such intimacy troubles by means of a hybrid of ‘normal science' methodology (Lynch; 1993), and discourse analysis (Potter and Wetherell, 1987; Edwards and Potter, 1992). The data for this analysis comprises instances of Internet communications made over a three-year period within one 'on-line community' (www.divorce-online.co.uk). Three overarching, and highly integrated themes pervaded the exchanges on this Internet site: (a) 'reputation work', (b) the construction of ‘heroic' identities, and (c) a concern with 'moral proceduralism'. It is suggested that these findings carry differentiating and therapeutic implications for existing sociologies of intimacy troubles. The thesis concludes by advocating a turn away from the familiar sociological tendency for abstract theorising in favour of the close analysis of lay accounting for these matters.