• Individualisation versus the geography of new families

      Duncan, Simon; Smith, D. (2006)
      According to leading sociological theorists we have now entered a `late modern¿ epoch of `de-traditionalisation¿ and `individualisation¿. Families are crucial in this vision, where the social ties of kinship and marriage are weakened, increasingly replaced by the project of self. In this paper we take three geographical indices of central elements of the individualisation thesis, examining the distribution in Britain of same sex couples, births to cohabitants, and mothers¿ withdrawal from the worker role. Analysis of all three indices give support to two levels of criticism of individualisation theory. First, pre-existing social structures have not gone away; the prevalence and the effect of the components of family form and change examined here seem deeply influenced by pre-existing local structural conditions. Secondly, the analysis supports the criticism that while people might indeed have more room for manoeuvre in late modern society, and may well be less constrained by older traditions, this does not necessarily mean individualisation. The behavioural components of individualisation theory may be a non-sequitor from the observation of changing family forms. We conclude that it seems likely that individualisation may be better conceptualised as one part of pre-existing social and structural processes, and that its behavioural assumptions are unjustified.
    • People who live apart together (LATs) - how different are they?

      Duncan, Simon; Phillips, M. (Wiley Blackwell, 2010)
      ‘Living apart together’ – that is being in an intimate relationship with a partner who lives somewhere else – is increasingly recognised and accepted as a specific way of being in a couple. On the face of it, this is a far cry from the ‘traditional’ version of couple relationships, where co-residence in marriage was placed at the centre and where living apart from one's partner would be regarded as abnormal, and understandable only as a reaction to severe external constraints. Some commentators regard living apart together as a historically new family form where LATs can pursue a ‘both/and’ solution to partnership – they can experience both the intimacy of being in a couple, and at the same time continue with pre-existing commitments. LATs may even de-prioritize couple relationships and place more importance on friendship. Alternatively, others see LAT as just a ‘stage’ on the way to cohabitation and marriage, where LATs are not radical pioneers moving beyond the family, but are cautious and conservative, and simply show a lack of commitment. Behind these rival interpretations lies the increasingly tarnished spectre of individualisation theory. Is LAT some sort of index for a developing individualisation in practice? In this paper we take this debate further by using information from the 2006 British Social Attitudes Survey. We find that LATs have quite diverse origins and motivations, and while as a category LATs are often among the more liberal in family matters, as a whole they do not show any marked ‘pioneer’ attitudinal position in the sense of leading a radical new way, especially if age is taken into account.
    • Personal life, pragmatism and bricolage.

      Duncan, Simon (2011)
      Individualisation theory misrepresents and romanticises the nature of agency as a primarily discursive and reflexive process where people freely create their personal lives in an open social world divorced from tradition. But empirically we find that people usually make decisions about their personal lives pragmatically, bounded by circumstances and in connection with other people, not only relationally but also institutionally. This pragmatism is often non-reflexive, habitual and routinised, even unconscious. Agents draw on existing traditions - styles of thinking, sanctioned social relationships, institutions, the presumptions of particular social groups and places, lived law and social norms - to ¿patch¿ or ¿piece together' responses to changing situations. Often it is institutions that ¿do the thinking¿. People try to both conserve social energy and seek social legitimation in this adaption process, a process which can lead to a ¿re-serving¿ of tradition even as institutional leakage transfers meanings from past to present, and vice versa. But this process of bricolage will always be socially contested and socially uneven. In this way bricolage describes how people actually link structure and agency through their actions, and can provide a framework for empirical research on doing family.
    • Understanding tradition: marital name change in Britain and Norway

      Duncan, Simon; Ellingsæter, A.L.; Carter, J. (Sage, 2020-09)
      Marital surname change is a striking example of the survival of tradition. A practice emerging from patriarchal history has become embedded in an age of de-traditionalisation and women’s emancipation. Is the tradition of women’s marital name change just some sort of inertia or drag, which will slowly disappear as modernity progresses, or does this tradition fulfil more contemporary roles? Are women and men just dupes to tradition, or alternatively do they use tradition to further their aims? We examine how different approaches - individualisation theory, new institutionalism and bricolage - might tackle these questions. This examination is set within a comparative analysis of marital surname change in Britain and Norway, using small qualitative samples. We find that while individualisation and new institutionalism offer partial explanations, bricolage offers a more adaptable viewpoint.