Mini review of Eva Illouz, The End of Love

Michael Gratzke:

Eva Illouz has published several books on the history and sociology of love. Her contribution to the academic research into love and its popularisation has been remarkable. In this latest love-themed book, Illouz looks at various ways in which love ends.

A large portion of the book is dedicated to her tracing of sexual liberation, sexiness-as-commodity and ‘scopic capitalism’. Her main argument is that the detraditionalization of society (in the Western World) has created an environment in which sex, relationships and love have been decoupled. Without strong cultural frameworks regulating their interactions, such as the middle-class preoccupation with the core family as the single site for love, sex, procreation and economic security which was the dominant model ca. 1850s to 1950s, actors lack the safety of normative, ontological and emotional certainties. This is a take on Illouz’ previous work on choice, technologies of choice and the ways in which they overburden the individual.

Illouz sees the ways in which people enter and end relationships in the first two decades of the 21st century as evidence for a negative sociality based on the lack of certainties and consequently ‘muddled wills’. People don’t know what they are supposed to feel and, therefore, do not know what they are supposed to do.

Dating apps and their associated behaviours, ghosting, divorce rates which remain high, men’s unwillingness to commit, women’s overwhelming desire to be recognised in their full emotionality are brought in evidence. Many of the examples from interviews, literature and internet sources point at what Lyotard would have described as a différend: two parties who cannot resolve their conflict because there is no shared frame of reference for what the conflict is, such as a woman who feels hurt because the man did not invite her to his house warming party for his close friends – because they had agreed that their were fuckbuddies and not friends with benefits.  

To me, the book has some weaknesses in the way it generalises male and female heterosexual behaviour, although it has to be mentioned that for this book Illouz interviewed gay and lesbian people as well, which she did to a much lesser extent in previous studies. 

The strength of the book lies in its wide historical and philosophical range which is thought provoking.

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