Scripts for the 'Good Couple': Individualization and the Reproduction of Gender Inequality
Summary, in English
Theorists of late modernity are discussing the effects of individualization on heterosexual couples. Processes of individualization are understood in terms of the individualized framework of thinking about self and others permeating Western societies. Sociological analyses of therapeutic manuals appoint them both as a symptom and as an effect of individualization processes. In popular therapy, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim encounter evidence of individualism and the disappearance of ‘scripts for a life together’ (protecting ‘me’ against ‘us’), while Anthony Giddens sees potentials for a democratic, pure and gender- equal couple. Their dispute can be settled by analyzing the constructions of ‘the couple’ when the therapy manuals are put into action. The case in question is Swedish popular therapy as it appears in TV programmes with ‘real’ couples. Analyses of the ongoing interactions demonstrate how new scripts for heterosexual couples are emerging, scripts that hold elements of both traditional and late modern societies and relationships. In these, a ‘normal fantasy’ of the couple is (re)produced, not in the form of traditional authoritarian scripts but in individualized notions of what is a good, normal and happy life, a fantasy that is the responsibility of the individual/couple to complete. Individualized assumptions enable (an indirect) reproduction of stereotypes and inequalities of the genders, e.g. regarding unequal divisions of domestic work, with reference to ‘what is best’ for a specific individual or couple. The author argues for the necessity of revaluing both understandings of individualization in sociological theories and the ‘workings’ of individualized narratives on cultural and individual levels.