Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Sociology

Content Description

1 online resource (v, 242 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Steven Seidman

Committee Members

Glenna Spitze, Ronald N Jacobs


Family, Gender, Individualism, Intimacy, Social Class, Social Theory, Man-woman relationships, Intimacy (Psychology), Self, Individuality, Sex role

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Social Psychology | Sociology


Sociologists working in various scholarly traditions posit an individualization of contemporary romantic relationships occurring in Western societies over the passed several decades. This dissertation uses North American and European theoretical perspectives on "individualized intimacy" as the basis for a qualitative interview study of 45 women and men involved in heterosexual relationships. In keeping with the theoretical perspectives that ground the study, the interviews focus on how concepts of self-development, communication, gender and social class collide with one another in, and serve to shape, respondents' narratives of self and other in intimacy. Findings demonstrate that: (a) regarding gender, women and men prioritized individual autonomy within specific realms of intimate life as opposed to as a generic concept, and two particular facets of relationships - money management and sexual freedom - were narrated in both gender-typical and -atypical fashion; (b) social class differences correlated with higher and lower levels of interest in projects of self-development, and with different understandings of how a relationship may foster or hinder self-development; and (c) communication was nearly universally praised by respondents as fostering intimate togetherness, even as it was also described as having implications for individualism in relationships. In the conclusion of the dissertation I draw on the substantive findings in order to argue for a more cultural sociological approach to the subject of individualized intimacy, as well as for a more supple conceptual language of individualism writ large.