The Reporter
Issue 491, 16 June 2003
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Twenty-first century love and friendship


Welfare and social policy in this country needs to adapt to take account of the increasing importance people place on their friendships, maintains professor of sociology and gender studies Sasha Roseneil, following prelimary findings from her research into twenty-first century relationships.

She has been interviewing people in Leeds, Barnsley and Hebden Bridge who are single or choose not to live with their partners, to look at how different relationships are valued and how that affects patterns of care.

"Some people had set up home with friends, but others saw living alone as a positive choice, whether they were in a committed relationship or not,” said Professor Roseneil. “But policy makers tend to assume the standard conjugal model is the norm, and fail to take into account how people are really living their lives."

She found various instances where this had caused problems, often in the most sensitive and difficult situations. "Medical professionals especially prioritise biological or marital ties. Friends aren’t afforded the same hospital visiting rights as family, or taken seriously as carers, even if in reality blood relationships have broken down."

She also found one committed couple who chose to live separately, and so weren’t eligible for fertility treatment.

"People’s life trajectories are no longer contained within couples, families and communities," she explained. "People are creating new networks of love, care and intimacy, including friends and former partners, and sometimes biological kin. Society needs to respond to these changes, to ensure that care provision fits the contemporary world."

The project is part of CAVA, a large ESRC funded research programme looking at care, values and the future of welfare. The programme is reaching its final stage, where findings from this and other CAVA research projects will be used to feed back into social policy.


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