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Why marry? The role of tradition in women’s marital aspirations

Carter, Julia


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Julia Carter
Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology


© 2017, University of Surrey. All rights reserved. While the individualisation trend has given way to a relational, reflexive turn in the sociology of relationships, there continues to be a writing out of convention and tradition in understanding relationship processes (excepting Gilding 2010). This paper aims to write tradition back into discussions around relationships by drawing on the accounts of young women and the central role that tradition plays in their relationship narratives. The analysis focuses on: participants’ accounts of marital security reflecting the desire for permanence in an impermanent world; accounts of romance and fairy tales in contrast to pragmatic concerns; and participants’ use of bricolage in combining the desire for ‘invented’ traditions with an emphasis on personal choice and agency. This paper highlights the ambivalent nature of the young women’s discourse around relationships, agency and tradition: ultimately, themes of individualisation are revealed in their restatement of tradition. This emerges in three distinct ways: the emphasis on marital security appears as a response to ‘risky’ relationships; participants aspire to the ‘traditional family’ in response to growing fluidity in family relationships; and romance is appealed to in order to counteract their often very pragmatic approach to the life course. Thus, while there are changes in the ways couples can and do live in their relationships, there remains continuity in the ways that tradition is used by participants to articulate relationship aspirations. Tradition becomes reaffirmed in a context of individualism and de-traditionalisation which reflects a pragmatic response to changing social norms and values.


Carter, J. (2017). Why marry? The role of tradition in women’s marital aspirations. Sociological Research Online, 22(1), 3.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 21, 2016
Online Publication Date Mar 14, 2017
Publication Date Feb 28, 2017
Journal Sociological Research Online
Electronic ISSN 1360-7804
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 22
Issue 1
Pages 3
Keywords bricolage, tradition, marriage, relationships, de-traditionalisation, reflexivity
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