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.