Something old. Something borrowed. Something new.: Heterosexual cohabitation as marriage resistance? A feminist deconstruction
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis examines heterosexual cohabitation as a contested social arrangement that shapes, and is shaped by, power relations that constitute everyday situations. It considers two interconnecting concerns: the variety of meanings given by heterosexual cohabitees to cohabitation and marriage, and the contextually asserted boundaries of inclusion and exclusion between these categories. The focus is on how these meanings are strategically deployed, together with their symbolic markers, in order to lay claim to particular constructions of the self and their associated rewards and recognitions in specific settings. The examination of this process of management - 'managing selves' - forms the central problematic of this thesis. Cohabitation features in this research as a cluster of ideas, practices and political signals that are taken up according to their perceived utility in negotiating various dimensions of heterosexual coupledom. Specifically, the focus is on how individuals use 'cohabitation' as a way of indicating overt resistance to some, but not all, of the conventions of heterosexual marriage. Interviews with women and men illustrate ways in which cohabitation can be defined in contrast to marriage, and used to negotiate domestic and financial practices that differ in some respects from the gendered norms associated with 'traditional marriages'. In reading these interviews, particular attention is paid to how power is both exercised and resisted through the discursively constructed difference between cohabitation and marriage. The thesis is comprised of a series of essays that have been written in a form that allows them to be read as stand alone pieces. Focusing on cohabitation as 'marriage resistance', each chapter examines the strategic deployment of 'cohabitation' (and 'marriage') to negotiate the various identities - social, financial, domestic and emotional - that are constituted through heterosexual relationships.