research group: Hull Critical Love Studies

http://lovenetwork.hull.ac.uk/cls.htm

Critical Love Studies

Researchers and PhD candidates from social sciences, cultural studies and psychology at the University of Hull have come together as the Hull CLS group. The goal of this research group is to establish Critical Love Studies as a multidisciplinary field of research at the University of Hull and beyond. In order to achieve this, we are working towards grant capture, a programme of participatory & creative events during the Hull City of Culture 2017 programme, a major international conference in conjunction with the Love Research Network, and a number of publications.

Critical Love Studies, as we understand them, can be expressed by the phrase: Love is what people say it is. First and foremost this means that we are open-minded, attentive and ready to embrace experiences and representations of love where they occur. In order to understand them we have to ask open-ended questions and to listen closely to nuance. This attitude favours an inductive research methodology rather than following a traditional theory of love.

Furthermore, the phrase above addresses love as something people say and do. Love is relational and it is performative. We have no direct access to the potentiality of all love. Love comes into being in the billions acts of loving which occur at all times. Thirdly, love in its performativity is productive. We reproduce given patterns of loving behaviour and thus reinforce the truth regimes associated with them (love is supposed to be unconditional, love between two non-related adults is supposed to be exclusive, you are supposed to hate the person with whom you are breaking up etc.). Still, changes in love occur in the uncountable acts of repetition in differance. Like changes to gender roles and gender relations, changes to experiences and representations of love are gradual. This why each and every act of love is valuable to Critical Love Studies.

Current members of the CLS research group are:

Julie Seymour is a family sociologist working in the Hull York Medical School. Her recent research addresses ways in which people “display” their family bonds in public and semi-public settings. She has also been working with staff at the HYMS anatomy unit and families of body donors exploring the emotional labour involved in liaising with the loved ones of recently deceased people.

Julie Walsh is a PhD candidate who has been supervised by Julie Seymour. Her thesis on migrant families and “displaying” family bonds in Hull has been submitted. She is particularly interested in indigenous audience responses to migrant family display and if these “displays” subsequently help to “legitimise” the presence of migrant communities in (semi) public discourse.

Johanna Spiers holds a doctorate in psychology from the Birkbeck University of London. Her specialism is qualitative health research in psychology. She has previously worked with people living with and being treated for end stage renal disease and people who use ileostomy bags. She has extensive expertise in Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), psychological analysis of poetry as well as creative writing. Her interest in love research lies in an exploration of love over a lifespan.

Emma Wolverson, is a practising Clinical Psychologist and a lecturer in the Faculty of Health and Social Care. Her research is informed by Positive Psychology and aims to help people to live well – in particular in circumstances which are commonly perceived to be extremely difficult if not void of hope. She has been working with people living with dementia and their partners, and is critical of attempts to describe dementia solely in relation to loss and decline.

Charlotte Cowell is a PhD candidate who has been supervised by Emma Wolverson. Her thesis looks at love in spousal caregiving. She has been working with couples where one partner has dementia using methods such as photo elicitation. She has found that talking about love often leads to emotional reactions such as displays of affection towards the spouse who has dementia. In this context, the interviewing process in itself may be described as a positive intervention.

Catherine Vulliamy is a PhD student in Gender Studies at the University of Hull. Her work is on the relationship between love and sexuality, and seeks to explore cultural meanings, understandings and constructions of both sexual orientation and love. She is particularly, but not exclusively, interested in the meanings and influence of love in the context of ‘fluid’ and ‘non-normative’ sexual desire, orientation and/or practice.

Michael Gratzke is Professor of German and Comparative Literature who has been working in the wider field of cultural studies. He has previously researched representations of love and masochism in literature from the 1770s to the late 20th century and heroism of sacrifice from the mid-18th century to the present. His research into love in contemporary life is comparative in its scope covering English, German and Finnish texts; and it seeks to lessen the gap between research into high literature and popular cultures. He is the founder of the Love Research Network.

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Love at face value. Popular romance and the future of Critical Love Studies.

by Michael Gratzke, University of Hull

Popular Culture research in general and Popular Romance Studies in particular have been hampered by the aesthetic bias which constitutes traditional literary scholarship and related disciplines. As a researcher interested in Popular Romance one has to declare themselves as a closeted fan or to situate the research in a context which allegedly justifies the choice of primary material for the study of something which is assumed to sit outside the aesthetic form of Popular Romance. This may include sociological or psychological questions regarding changing social attitudes or mechanisms of disseminating a heteronormative mind-set. This bias is paralleled in love research where most love theories aim to explain something which is not love: Freud looks at love as a surface phenomenon to sexuality. Luhmann argues that love relationships translate social values into everyday behaviour. Bourdieu describes social monogamy as a stabilising mechanism in class society. When we study Popular Romance or love in its own right, we have to address the suspicion that we engage in something trivial, superficial or even frivolous.

The emphasis on an assumed lower aesthetic value of artefacts associated with Popular Culture is a truth regime which aims to isolate traditional literary scholarship from issues of consumer capitalism. By demonizing market forces and associating them only with “low-brow” mass culture, we prevent ourselves from looking at the productive and creative outcomes of consumer capitalism across the board. In love research very few authors, such as Eva Illouz, acknowledge that consumer capitalism from its beginnings in the 19th century has not just been a force which colonises some kind of original, authentic love but in fact a dispositf which produces love. No form of artistic expression operates outside the framework of consumer capitalism. The aesthetic bias has been to a degree overcome in the study of fan fiction which is sometimes deemed to be superior to Popular Romance because of the apparent creativity of non-professional writers who assemble texts as a bricolage from the vast array of characters, “universes” and story-lines available commercially. The ultra-low budget of online publication is on occasion cast as some kind of rebellion against the system.

We also need to query the assumption that a higher degree of aesthetic complexity magically stimulates a critical, subversive potential in readers or viewers. If we take a very famous novel of the early 19th century, Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, we cannot help noticing that it reinforces a bourgeois and heteronormative agenda precisely by taking the protagonist and its readers through a bewildering journey involving crossdressing noblewomen, a hermaphrodite, incestuous love and the failure to get one’s finances in order. Wilhelm, cleansed of his homoerotic desires and dreams of running a theatre, finally decides to become respectable and to train as a surgeon.

The basic tenets of Critical Love Studies, as I understand them, can be expressed by the phrase: Love is what people say it is. First and foremost this means that we are open-minded, attentive and ready to embrace creativity, diversity and originality where ever they may be in evidence. You may be following a prescribed pattern if you buy a Valentine’s card and overpriced roses but this does not mean that I understand what these actions mean to you and the object of your affection. In order to find out I have to ask open-ended questions and to listen closely to your nuance. This attitude favours an inductive research methodology. Furthermore, the phrase above addresses love as something people say and do. Love is relational and it is performative. We have no direct access to the potentiality of all love. Love comes into being in the billions acts of loving which occur at all times. This includes the millions of words written about love and the hundreds of thousands of minutes spent engaging with them. Finally, love in its performativity is productive. We reproduce given patterns of loving behaviour and thus reinforce the truth regimes associated with them (love is supposed to be unconditional, love between two non-related adults is supposed to be exclusive, you are supposed to hate the person with whom you are breaking up etc.).

Still, changes in love occur in the uncountable acts of repetition in differance. Like changes to gender roles and gender relations, changes to experiences and representations of love are gradual. This why each episode of a hastily produced telenovela is as valuable to the study of Popular Romance as it is to Critical Love Studies.