Launch speech: The Research Network of Singlehood Studies

Welcome to the home site of the Research Network of Singlehood Studies. The following text is a slightly shortened version of the launch speech by the network coordinators Marjo Kolehmainen and Annukka Lahti, originally written for the launch event that took place on December 17, 2019 in Tampere.

Why Singlehood Studies?

The Research Network of Singlehood Studies was founded on the need to establish a common discussion forum for those scholars scattered in different higher education institutions who are conducting research on singlehood or related topics. The increase in the number of singles is a significant global trend.The amount of people living independently without a partner in the same household is growing in Finland, in Europe and globally (Eurostat 2017; SVT 2019; Klineberg 2012; Yeung & Cheung 2015). In particular, Nordic countries host a very high proportion of singles (Henriksson 2017; Kaufmann 2008; Gordon 1994). This is at least partly because the Nordic welfare states have traditionally sought to provide economic security for all individual citizens. Women, for instance, are not financially dependent on their husbands – neither has divorce been banned in these mainly secular Lutheran countries. Individualism is also valued, and couple relationships are expected to offer emotional satisfaction (Henriksson 2017; Kaufmann 2008; Gordon 1994). Despite this shift, there is a paucity of research on singlehood.

A few studies have explored people living alone, yet singlehood cannot be reduced to the issue of living alone, since many who live alone have a non-residential partner and there are singles who live in a shared household with friends or their children. The focus on living alone also might hide various other important aspects from view, such as the everyday operations of couple normativity. Couple normativity refers to the ways in which a monogamous, long-term couple relationship is regarded as an ideal (Lahti 2019; DePaulo & Morris 2005). It manifests itself in the ways in which many single people are expected to give reasons for and justify being single (see Reynolds & Wetherell 2003). Indeed, being single is often seen as a temporal phase which precedes long-term commitment, perhaps also marriage and having children (Lahad 2017). In any case, it is evident that singlehood deserves much more scholarly attention than it has been granted. Singlehood is also a considerable social phenomenon that cuts across various contemporary entanglements, from living alone to the use of dating apps and from single parenting to various legislative processes. There are countless issues that involve singlehood, and that also provide potential topics for scholars interested in the study of singlehood.

Even though the increase in the amount of singles is reshaping institutions and producing alternative intimacies, the demographic change has not disrupted the tenacity of the couple norm to a significant degree. Several single people still face stigmatization, marginalization and discrimination. In international research, these discriminatory processes are named singlism. Singlism has an impact on social and health policies and singles’ emotional well-being. It manifests in various facets of life, including housing, wages and unequal access to services and benefits (DePaulo 2006; Lahad 2017). In Finland, singlism has not been recognized to a large degree, even though singles are not entitled to as extensive tax reductions as those who are married, and social policy mainly supports families with children. In Finland, single women were denied access to publicly funded fertility treatments until recently. However, it is necessary not only to recognize the concrete mechanisms of exclusion and discrimination, but to look at their affective inequalities (Kolehmainen & Juvonen 2018; Kinnunen & Kolehmainen 2019). Affective inequalities, in the study of singlehood, refer to the accumulation of emotional distress, yet also manifest in the dismissal of singles’ well-being and in tendencies to question the happiness of solo living (Kolehmainen, Lahti & Kinnunen, accepted).

Towards an intersectional approach

In the background, you can see the brand new network logo. The logo was designed by Hella Design. For us, the coordinators of the research network, it is not just a beautiful illustration, but it also tells an academic and perhaps also a political story about the birth of this network. First of all, previous research on singlehood has very often focused on white, heterosexual, middle-class single women. For instance, it has been interested in the question of how women experience their singlehood – how they understand and negotiate their statuses as single women, or how they, for instance, experience travelling for holidays or dining alone (e.g. Reynolds & Wetherell 2003; Heimtum 2010) – or how single women are portrayed in media (e.g. Arthurs 2003; Taylor 2012; Lahad 2017). Many books and articles have been written about the famous Sex and the City. The series was progressive in several aspects, unlike many of its predecessors, as it did not associate being single with a shameful condition (Arthurs 2003; Taylor 2012). The four protagonists all had successful careers, and also enjoyed sexual encounters. However, this kind of freedom was granted mainly to white, heterosexual, middle-class women. While these studies have provided very valuable views on singlehood, and also pointed out how singlehood makes visible the limits of women’s emancipation, it is time to look at different groups of singles. There is singlehood beyond both sex and the city, as there are single people who are asexual or live in remote villages.

The Research Network of Singlehood Studies seeks to foster an intersectional approach to the study of singlehood, and advance scholarship that expands the study of singlehood to cover the lived experiences of various groups of people. We hope to advance such approaches that, in addition to, for instance, gender and sexuality, consider the significance of age, ethnicity, dis/ability and social class for the experiences of single people. There are those who live throughout their lives without a partner or become widowed, those whose living arrangements are not best described as living in a city or in rural areas, but who are located in different institutions, from hospitals to prisons. There are different people, from single parents to those who, for instance, invest in polyamorous relationships or who are inspired by relationship anarchy – the wish not to prioritize certain kinds of intimate relationships, such as romantic or sexual relationships, over all other types of relationships and companionships. It is very relevant to ask for whom singlehood can be empowering and who is, rather, rendered vulnerable in emotional or economic terms.

Second, the colours of the logo remind us of the spectrum of a rainbow. This is nothing but incidental, as we also wanted to pay attention to the so-called rainbow singles. The public debate on singlehood often assumes that single people are either heterosexual men or heterosexual women, who are perhaps also looking for a long-term relationship. While this might be the reality for some singles, it also raises questions about societal power relations. For instance, this kind of discourse often renews heteronormative values, and fails to give recognition to non-heterosexual singles, especially when the discourses around LBGTIQA+ rights have a strong focus on family issues, such as the right to marry or the right to adopt children (Juvonen & Kolehmainen 2016; Kolehmainen & Lahti, forthcoming; Lahti 2015). We may talk about ‘rainbow families’, not ‘rainbow singles’, yet within this network we also seek to spark discussion and scholarship on queer singlehood. This is also important, because long-term singlehood can be considered ‘queer’ in its resistance to adhere to conventions and ideals of a middle-class lifestyle, such as getting married and having children (Lahad 2017, Halberstam 2005; Kolehmainen & Lahti, forthcoming).

With this introduction, we welcome you all to join the network.  

References

Arthurs, Jane (2003) Sex and the City and Consumer Culture: Remediating Postfeminist Drama. Feminist Media Studies 3(1), 83–98. 

DePaulo, Bella (2006) Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

DePaulo, Bella. M. & Morris, Wendy L. (2005) Singles in society and in science. Psychological Inquiry, 16(2-3): 57–83.

Eurostat (2017) People in the EU – statistics on household and family structures.

Gordon,Tuula (1994) Single Women: on the margins? Basingstoke: Macmillan Press.

Halberstam Judith (2005) Straight Time: In a Queer Time and Place Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: NYU Press.

Heimtum, Bente (2010) The holiday meal: eating out alone and mobileemotional geographies. Leisure Studies, 29(2): 175-192.

Henriksson, Andreas (2017) Singles’ activities: Sociability and the ambiguities of singledom. Families, Relationships and Societies 8(1): 37-52

Juvonen, Tuula & Marjo Kolehmainen (2016): Seeing the Colors of the Rainbows. Affective Politics of Queer Belonging. SQS Journal 10(1-2): vi-x

Kaufmann, Jean-Claude (2008): The single woman and the fairytale prince, Cambridge: Polity.

Kolehmainen & Lahti (forthcoming):  Sateenkaarisinkkuus. Teoksessa Lahti, Annukka, Aarnio, Kia, Moring, Anna & Kerppola, Jenni (toim.). Perhe- ja läheissuhteet sateenkaaren alla. Helsinki: Gaudeamus.

Kolehmainen, Marjo & Kinnunen, Anu & Lahti, Annukka (accepted): Parittomuuden politiikat: Sinkkuus suomalaisessa julkisessa keskustelussa. Yhteiskuntapolitiikka.

Kolehmainen, Marjo & Juvonen, Tuula (2018) Thinking with and through affective inequalities. In: Juvonen,  Tuula & Marjo Kolehmainen (eds.) Affective Inequalities in Intimate Relationships. London: Routledge, 1–15.

Kinnunen, Taina & Marjo Kolehmainen (2019): Touch and Affect: Analysing the archive of touch biographies. Body & Society 25(1): 29-56.

Klineberg, Eric (2012) Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. New York: Penguin Press.

Lahad, Kinnered (2017) A Table for One: A Critical Reading of Singlehood, Time and Gender. Manchester: Mancherter University Press. 

Lahti, Annukka (2019) Bisexuality in Relationships: A Queer Psychosocial Approach. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä.

Lahti, Annukka (2015) Similar and equal relationships? Negotiating bisexuality in an enduring relationship. Feminism & Psychology 25 (4), 431–448. 

Reynolds, Jill & Wetherell, Margaret (2003) The discursive climate of singleness: The consequences for women’s negotiation of a single identity. Feminism & Psychology 13(4), 489–510

Taylor, Anthea (2012): Single Women in Popular Culture: The Limits of Postfeminism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

SVT Suomen virallinen tilasto (2019) Asunnot ja asuinolot 2018. Helsinki: Tilastokeskus.

Yeung, Wei-Jun Jean & Cheung, Adam Ka-Lok (2015) Living Alone: One-person households in Asia. Demographic research 32(40): 1099–1112.

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