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GEXcel | center for gender excellence

GEXcel news

Theme 10: Love in Our Time – a Question for Feminism

Theme duration:
Jan 2010 - Dec 2010

The overall aim of this research theme is to investigate the recently arisen and apparently growing interest in love as a subject for serious social and political theory among both non-feminist and feminist scholars (for example: Axelsson, Bauman, Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, Cixoux, Douglas, Evans, Giddens, Gunnarsson, Hardt & Negri, Hendrick & Hendrick, Hesford, hooks, Irigaray, Jakobsen, Johnson, Jónasdóttir, Jones, Jones & Karlsson, Kipnis, Langford, de Lauretis, Luhmann, Mackay, Solomon, Zizek). Among other things, what distinguishes this renewed interest in the subject of love is its perspective on love as an important topic to approach in its own terms. Whether sexual, parental, religious or “love of the world”, scholars are now exploring love without translating it into other terms (such as labour, care, commitment, trust, respect etc.).

A general assumption behind this research theme is that the increasing scholarly interest in the phenomenon and concept of love has to do with contemporary social (socio-economic, socio-sexual and socio-cultural) and political actualities that need to be understood and approached theoretically and politically – in particular by feminists.

The questions raised by this distinctive focus on love include the following: Where do contemporary knowledge interests in love come from – and why now? How do they define and deal with love? What kinds of love are interesting today and for whom? What part do feminists play – or not play – in ongoing works focussing on love? How – if at all-- are non-feminist approaches to love theory connected with existing feminist love theories?

The growing interest in love
The growing interest in the subject of love can be seen in various scholarly disciplines and multi-/interdisciplinary fields (economic theory and management philosophy, feminist theory and gender studies, history, neuroscience, philosophy, political theory/philosophy, psychology, sociology, theology). Recent arrangements such as research networks and conferences focussing on love themes indicate a changing attitude towards love as a significant subject in its own right. (Examples: the Fifth National Conference of the Isonomía Foundation for Equal Opportunities on Equality between Women and Men: “Poder, poderes y empoderamientos … ¿y el amor? Ah, el amor!” (“Power, ability and empowerment … and what about love? Oh love!”), Jaume I University, Castello, Spain, September 2008; The Research Network on Love, at the School of Social Sciences/Department of Politics, the University of Manchester, with seminars and a conference – Love in Our World - in November 2008; The Politics of Love conference, Department of Philosophy, Syracuse University, April 2009; the panel The Politics of Love: Male Friendship in the Mediterranean, Britain, and America, 1550-1800, at the 123rd Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, held in New York, January 2009.)

In sociology, and social theory more broadly, where love has been seen (if seen at all) as, at best, of marginal interest but otherwise considered “awkward” and “impossible” to approach without translating it into other terms, a noticeable shift in attitude has been occuring. In psychology, where love has been a subject of considerable scientific interest longer than in most other disciplines (except in literature and some other fields of cultural studies), feminist influence has been surprisingly weak. Among feminists, love, especially sexual love and maternal love, has been a burning (political) issue for a long time. Consequently, love as such has been even more difficult to deal with seriously in feminist theory and research than in non-feminist fields. Yet, even in feminist theory and practice love has become visible (again) as a theoretical problem and political issue. Why? What is this new research interest in love about? Why is it arising now, and why seemingly more so, or at least differently, in non-feminist than feminist circles? How are feminist theorists dealing – or not dealing – with love today?

Love as such
To say that love is being seen “as a topic important to approach in its own terms” is not to say that it is seen or should be approached as something pure or absolutely isolated from everything else “(such as labour, care, commitment, trust, respect etc.)”. Instead, this focus on love implies that love can be understood as a particular kind of creative/productive human power, which brings about effects. The identification of love with a “power” to make something new in humans and their social and physical worlds, understands (analytically) love as a field of social forces of its own.

An important part of this research theme is to investigate and elaborate theoretically how love, defined as a set of relational, practical activities and discourses that are formed and regulated through complex cultural powers and political institutions, intersects with other dynamic social forces and processes, as well as with various political, religious, and cultural institutions and ideologies in our time.

I. Love Studies – mapping the field
First, this theme aims to map the emerging field of knowledge interests in love, including feminist ways to analyze love critically and constructively. In particular, it invites studies that investigate this emerging, heterogeneous field of Love Studies through feminist lenses, locating love it historically and discussing its theoretical and political significance.

Rather than address love questions within specific disciplinary boundaries, this research theme focuses on how and for what aims love is being put at the centre of several newly emerging research problems and theoretical inquiries about global social processes and political movements. For instance, the renewed interest in “passion” in politics, whether religious, patriotic or otherwise ; in people’s “animal spirits” said to be at play in the economy and in feelings/emotions in social life engenders unexpected “love talk” in contexts where love would have been an improbable subject.

II. Love Studies – remaking the field
Second, this research theme invites feminist contributions, both critical and reconstructive, that specifically approach:
(a) Gendered interests in sexual love, for instance how (if at all) care practices relate to erotic agency;
(b) Temporal dimensions of loving and love activities, preferably as compared with temporalities of working, or labour activities; or with thinking and action time. Is there a philosophy and politics of time that should be distinguished and developed about love, to understand better the social conditions, cultural meanings and political struggles of love in our time?
(c) Love as a strong force in the intersection between politics and religion and also as a useful key concept for a new political theory of global revolution. What is to be said and done from feminist points of view about postmodern revitalising of pre-modern ideas of passionate love?

(This theme builds on research theme 1. Gender, Sexuality and Global Change. Most directly it deepens and widens continuation of one of its three sub-themes, “Sexuality, love and social theory”. By focusing on love – particularly the contemporary increase in knowledge interest in love – it seeks to understand how the love question/s is interwoven with the other two sub-themes of research theme 1, specifically, with feminist views of power and politics and with common and conflicted interests, solidarity and action. This new research theme also ties into several earlier and ongoing GEXcel themes.)


Selected Bibliography

Axelsson, Jonas (2009) Dominanser – En utveckling av den realistiska livsformsteorin (with English Summary), Karlstad: Karlstad University Studies 2009: 6.

Barriteau, Eudine (2008) ‘”Coming, Coming, Coming Home”: Applying Anna Jónasdóttir’s theory of “love power” to theorising sexuality and power in Caribbean gender relations’, in Lena Gunnarsson (ed.) GEXcel Work in Progress Report, Volume III. Proceedings from GEXcel Theme 1: Gender, Sexuality and Global Change. Linköping: Tema Genus Report Series No. 7 and Örebro: CFS Report Series No. 9. (See www.genderexcel.org)

Bauman, Zygmunt (2003) Liquid Love. On the frailty of human bonds, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Beck, Ulrich and Beck-Gersheim, Elisabeth (1990/1995) The Normal Chaos of Love, trans. M. Ritter and J. Wiebel, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cixous, Hélène (2005/2008) Love Itself in the Letterbox, trans. P. Kamuf, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Douglas, Carole Anne (1990) Love & Politics. Radical Feminist and Lesbian Theories, San Francisco: ism press.

Evans, Mary (2003) Love. An unromantic discussion, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Featherstone, Mike (ed.) (1999) Love & Eroticism, London: SAGE.

Giddens, Anthony (1991) Modernity and Self-Identity: self and society in the late modern age, Cambridge: Polity Press.

__ (1992) The Transformation of Intimacy: sexuality, love & eroticism in modern societies, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Grenholm, Cristina (2005) Moderskap och kärlek. Schabloner och tankeutrymme i feministteologisk livsåskådningsreflektion, Nora: Nya Doxa.

Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio (2009) Commonwealth, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

__ (2004) Multitude. War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, New York: The Penguin Press.

__ (2000) Empire, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hendrick, Susan S. and Hendrick, Clyde (1992 Romantic Love, Newbury Park: SAGE.

Hesford, Victoria (2009) ‘The Politics of Love: Women’s Liberation and Feeling Differently’, in Feminist Theory, vol. 10 (1): 5-33.

hooks, bell (2001) All About Love. New visions, New York: Perennial.

Irigaray, Luce (2002) The Way of Love, trans, H. Bostic and S. Pluháček, London/New York: Continuum.

Jakobsen, Liselotte (1999) Livsform, kön och risk. En utveckling och tillämpning av realistisk livsformsanalys (with English Summary), Lund: Arkiv.

Jakobsen, Liselotte and Karlsson, Jan Ch (1993) Arbete och kärlek. En utveckling av livsformsanalys, Lund: Arkiv.

Johnson, Paul (2005) Love, Heterosexuality and Society, London/New York: Routledge.

Jónasdóttir, Anna G. (forthcoming) ‘What Kind of Power Is Love Power?’, in Jónasdóttir, Anna G., Bryson, Valerie and Jones, Kathleen B. (eds) Sexuality, Gender and Power. Intersectional and transnational perspectives, New York: Routledge.

__  (2009a): ‘Feminist questions, Marx’s method and the theorisation of “love power”’, in A. G. Jónasdóttir and K. B. Jones (eds) (2009) The Political Interests of Gender Revisited. Redoing theory and research with a feminist face, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

__ (2009b) ‘Gender relations and historical materialism – still a contested connection: a critique of Frigga Haug’, in C. Åsberg, K. Harrison, B. Pernrud and M. Gustavson (eds) Gender Delight: science, knowledge, culture and writing … for Nina Lykke, Linköping: Tema Genus Series of Interdisciplinary Gender Research in progress and Transformation, no 1.

__ (2009c) ‘Is exploitation only bad – or what kind of power is love power?’, in Poder, poderes y empoderamiento… ¿Y el amor? ¡Ah, el amor! Actas 5o Congreso Estatal Isonomía sobre Igualdad entre mujeres y hombres. Online. Available HTTP: <www.uji.es/bin/publ/edicions/iso5c.pdf > (accessed 11 April 2010).

__ (2003) Kärlekskraft, makt och politiska intressen. En teori om patriarkatet i nutida västerländska samhällen. (Swedish translation of Love Power and Political Interests 1991/Why Women Are Oppressed 1994)  Göteborg: Daidalos, 2003.

__ (1994) Why Women Are Oppressed, Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

__  (1991) Love Power and Political Interests: towards a theory of patriarchy in contemporary western societies, Örebro University: Örebro Studies 7.

Jónasdóttir, Anna G. and Jones, Kathleen B. (eds) (2009a) The Political Interests of Gender Revisited. Redoing theory and research with a feminist face, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

__ (2009b) ‘Out of Epistemology: feminist theory in the 1980s and beyond’, in A. G. Jónasdóttir and K. B. Jones (eds) (2009) The Political Interests of Gender Revisited. Redoing theory and research with a feminist face, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Jones, Kathleen B. (2000) Living Between Danger and Love: The Limits of Choice, Rutgers University Press.

Jones, Kathleen B. and Karlsson, Gunnel (eds) (2008) Gender and the Interests of Love. Essays in honour of Anna G. Jónasdóttir, CFS Report Series 8, Örebro University, www.publications.oru.se

Kipnis, Laura (2003) Against Love: a polemic, New York: Pantheon Books.

Langford, W. (1999) Revolutions of the Heart: Gender, power and the delusions of love, London/New York: Routledge.

Luhmann, Niklas (1986) Love as Passion: the codification of intimacy, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mackay, Fiona (2001) Love and Politics. Women politicians and the ethics of care, London: Continuum.

Solomon, Robert C. (1994/2006) About Love. Reinventing romance for our times, Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett.

Wagner, David (2000) What’s Love Got to Do with It? A critical look at American charity, New York: The New Press.


Download the work in progress report from the theme here.

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