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Tuesdays and Thursdays, Chemistry 305, 2-3:15pm

Allison Alexy
alexy [at] / Brooks Hall 207
Office hours: Wednesdays 2-4pm, and by appointment; Sign up via the Collab page

This course offers an introduction to recent anthropological scholarship on romance to examine how intimate relationships shape human experiences. Drawing from ethnographies of diverse cultural contexts, we will consider changing perceptions of what makes relationships successful, and changing expectations about the role of romantic love in marriage. Through readings and films, we investigate the increasingly popular idealization of "companionate marriages," in which spouses are ideally linked by affection, and the subjectivities promoted by these ideals. Our ethnographic examples include queer and straight experiences, and a diversity of racial, cultural, classed, and gendered representations.

Key questions include: how do people understand themselves, and their identities, through romantic fantasies and intimate relationships? How does romantic love shape people's lives? What are the implications of having a relationship "arranged"? How do the rhetorics of "individuality" and "choice" shape romantic experiences? How does culture influence popular understandings of romance? And how does popular discourse about romance inflect personal experiences of it? How is romantic love experienced by people in different generations and at different moments in the life course? How are romantic love and consumerism related? How are they antithetical? How does romantic love impact gendered, classed, and raced identities? When and how do romantic relationships end? Do romantic intimacies bring particular risks?

Although this course is firmly rooted in ethnographic representations of romantic relationships, we will also explore how popular media discourse influences romantic ideals, and the vast industries selling various forms of romance -- from sex workers, to flirtatious bartenders, to wedding planners. We will discuss how particular relationships are labeled "legitimate" or "opportunistic" to consider the complicated ties between ideologies of romance and (neoliberal) capitalism. Finally, this course examines the risks created through romantic entanglements, and experiences of infidelity or divorce.

Key themes for class discussions include:

The modernity of romance - How is romantic love understood to be a quintessentially modern phenomena? How are modern subjectivities and romance mutually constitutive?

Cross-cultural romances - How does romantic love motivate migration, travel, and tourism? How do national and international laws attempt to regulate transnational romance? How are these relationships portrayed in popular discourse?

Romantic reading and writing - Why are romance novels popular and what do readers get out of them? How do writers use love letters to construct new identities? What kinds of relationships and romances do matrimonial advertisements prompt?

Economics of romance - How can we understand the vast industries of the sexual marketplace and paid romancing? Can "sex work" and "romance work" be separate?

Companionate love - What is an ideal "companion" and how do idealizations vary in different cultures and generations? How are sexual passion, obligation, duty, and commitment related to companionate ideals? Are companionate relationships more "risky" than other arrangements?

Buying and selling romance - How is romance sold? How are romantic experiences created, packaged, and marketed? How does consumption increase demonstrable romance, and when does it limit it?

Methodologies for studying romance - How can researchers study intimate, possibly private relationships? How do they find informants willing to share? What are the ethical considerations of such research?

Romance and family lives - How does romance occur within extended families? How do people balance romantic intimacies with responsibilities to kin? What are the fundamental tensions over which people struggle?

Beyond romance - Can romance be postmodern? How do new patterns of romantic intimacies challenge normative models or reinforce them?

Although each session is devoted to a particular theme, these key questions remain relevant throughout the assigned readings and films. Students are encouraged to make connections across texts.

This class would be of interest to students interested in cross-cultural comparisons, anthropological theory and writing, psychology, gender studies, and the social sciences more generally. There are no prerequisites for the class, although students need to be familiar with anthropology.