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Portrait Sara Eldén. Photo: Emma Lord.

Sara Eldén

Associate Professor | Director of Research Studies | Senior Lecturer

Portrait Sara Eldén. Photo: Emma Lord.

Konsten att lyckas som par : Populärterapeutiska berättelser, individualisering och kön


  • Sara Eldén

Summary, in English

In this thesis, the expanding discourse of popular therapeutic culture on and for heterosexual couples is analysed. Three case studies have been carried out; self-help books for couples, TV programs with relationship-focus, and web discussion boards connected to the TV programs. The analysis is made in relation to sociological theories of individualization, therapeutic culture, feminist studies of couples and inequality, as well as inquiries of the private/public dichotomy.

The thesis argues for a need to critically engage with the effects of individualization on couple relationships and gender. A responsible autonomous couple is constructed in popular therapeutic narratives. This couple is simultaneously autonomous and responsible for doing “couple work”, but also dependent on the experts’ definition of ideals of “the good couple” as well as on guidelines for ways to get there. As a result, the popular therapeutic narrative (contrary to the argument of theories of late modernity) ends up reproducing meaning-constitutive scripts for the heterosexual couple.

In addition, the assumption of the responsible autonomous couple enables a reproduction of gendered stereotypes as well as gender inequality in the couple. Swedish popular therapy talks about the couple in gender-neutral terms, but e.g., the generalized “tools” offered to the participating women and men in the TV programs ends up reproducing traditional gender roles: men “take action”, “set limits”, and make decisions, and women “connect with their feelings”, “mirror” their men, and refrain from “controlling”. Furthermore, inequalities related to social structures and cultural norms of gender, such as unequal distribution of housework, cannot be framed as a “couple problem” in the discourse, but is understood in terms of “differences” related to “personality”.

Popular therapeutic narratives are, however, challenged by the (mainly women) writers on the web discussion board. Most importantly, gender-neutral characterization of heterosexual couple relationships is questioned in the sharing of individual experiences. Thus, the thesis argues that popular therapy on the couple holds an – indirect – potential challenge of, not just the private/public dichotomy, but also the dichotomy of the personal/political.


  • Sociology

Publishing year





Lund Dissertation in Sociology



Document type



Department of Sociology, Lund University


  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


  • couple relationships
  • gender equality
  • gender inequality
  • feminism
  • household work
  • popular therapy
  • therapeutic culture
  • experts
  • individualization
  • late modernity
  • cultural narratives
  • collective narratives
  • private-public
  • media images
  • self-help books
  • TV programs
  • Internet




  • Johanna Esseveld


  • ISSN: 1102-4712
  • ISBN: 91-7267-286-2

Defence date

17 April 2009

Defence time


Defence place

Kulturens auditorium, Lund


  • Thomas Johansson (Professor)