The construction of intimacy in heterosexual, longterm relationships in a South African farmworker community

Adams, Arlene (2014-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Current mainstream theories of intimacy were derived from studies with primarily White, middle class participants living in developed countries. However, as social contexts shape people’s definitions, meanings and behaviours, it cannot be assumed that mainstream intimacy conceptualisations would apply to other populations. Studies of intimacy should be located in its social and historical context. Previous South African studies of Black and Coloured couples mainly emphasised HIV/Aids, interpartner violence and gender inequality, and neglected to investigate positive aspects of intimate lives of poorer communities. A lack of such context-specific data on how South African men and women construct and experience intimate relationships hinders appropriate and effective interventions. This study addressed this research gap by exploring intimacy experiences of long-term heterosexual adult Coloured couples living in a low-income semi-rural community. The objective of this qualitative study was to gain an understanding of how the participant couples expressed and experienced intimacy. The participants were 15 couples (i.e. 30 participants), between the ages of 23 and 66 years, who had been married or living together for a minimum period of two years. Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore: (i) how couples understand intimacy, and (ii) how intimacy is expressed and experienced in committed adult heterosexual relationships. Theoretically, this study was informed by social constructionism and interviews were analysed using Braun and Clarke’s thematic analysis method. The following themes were identified: (i) closeness means being together, (ii) sex and intimacy (iii) closeness in talking (iv) expressions and experiences of intimacy/closeness through acts of care, (v) alcohol disrupts closeness (vi) family of origin and the constructions of intimacy; and (vii) community constructions and norms. Although much of the international literature suggests that mutual self-disclosure is the foundation for intimacy, self-disclosure did not feature prominently in the narratives of this study’s narratives. Closeness was expressed through sharing in practical and tangible ways. Gender was pertinent to these couples’ experiences and gender roles were fundamental to their intimacy perceptions and behaviours. Despite some contestations of hegemonic masculinity and femininity constructions, most of the participants did not demonstrate an active awareness or resistance regarding learned gender roles. They did not seem to consider these gender roles as problematic, limited or limiting, nor did they indicate alternative gender ideas. This was attributed partly to poverty and low education levels, which constrain people’s access to alternative gender perspectives. Religion and community influences also play an important role in their understanding of their role as partner. Although Christianity endorses traditional gender ideas, the participants themselves felt that their religious beliefs and practices facilitated intimate experiences, and prevented alcohol abuse and domestic violence. In conclusion, implications for policy and practice in terms of gender inequality and alcohol abuse are discussed, as are the limitations of the study.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Huidige hoofstroom teorieë van intimiteit is afgelei van studies met hoofsaaklik Wit, middelklas-deelnemers. Aangesien sosiale konteks mense se definisies, betekenis en gedrag met betrekking tot intimiteit vorm, kan dit egter nie aanvaar word dat die hoofstroom konseptualisering van intimiteit ook van toepassing sal wees op ander bevolkingsgroepe nie. Studies van intimiteit moet geleë wees in die sosiale en historiese konteks. 'n Gebrek aan sodanige konteks-spesifieke data oor hoe verskillende groepe Suid-Afrikaanse mans en vroue intieme verhoudings verstaan en beleef, kan toepaslike en effektiewe verhouding ingrypings belemmer. Verder het vorige Suid Afrikaanse studies oor Swart en Kleurling paartjies hoofsaaklik gefokus op HIV/VIGS, paartjie geweld en geslags ongelykhede en het nagelaat om positiewe aspekte van die intieme lewe van paartjies in arm gemeenskappe te ondersoek. Hierdie studiehet hierdie navorsing leemte aangespreek deur te verken hoe hoe langtermyn, heteroseksuele, volwasse paartjies in 'n lae-inkomste semi-landelike gemeenskap intimiteit verstaan, beleef en uitdruk. Die deelnemers was 15 paartjies (d.w.s 30 deelnemers), tussen die ouderdomme van 23 en 66 jaar, wat getroud was of saamgewoon het vir 'n tydperk van ten minste twee jaar. Kwalitatiewe semi-gestruktureerde onderhoude is gevoer om die volgende te verken: (i) hoe paartjies intimiteit verstaan, en (ii) hoe intimiteit betoon en ervaar word in toegewyde volwasse heteroseksuele verhoudings. Die studie is teoreties geskoei op sosiale konstruktiwisme en onderhoude is ontleed met behulp Braun en Clarke se tematiese analise metode. Die volgende temas is geïdentifiseer uit die onderhoude: (i) nabyheid beteken om saam te wees, (ii) seks en intimiteit, (iii) nabyheid deur gesels (iv) uitdrukkings en ervarings van intimiteit deur dade van sorg, (v) alkohol ontwrig saamwees, (vi) die invloed van die familie van oorsprong op die konstruksie van intimiteit, (vii) gemeenskap konstruksies en norme. Alhoewel die internasionale literatuur aandui dat wedersydse selfonthulling die grondslag vir intimiteit vorm, het self-onthulling nie prominent in die deelnemers se vertellings voorgekom nie. Nabyheid is eerder beleef en betoon deur praktiese en tasbare dade en gebare. Geslagsrolle was fundamenteel in paartjies se belewing en uitvoering van intimiteit. Ten spyte daarvan dat sommige individuele deelnemers hegemoniese geslagsrolle bevraagteken het, het die meerderheid deelnemers nie ‘n aktiewe bewustheid of weerstand getoon rakende geleerde geslagsrolle nie. Hulle het skynbaar nie hierdie geslagsrolle as problematies, of beperkend gesien nie. Hulle het ook nie aangedui dat hulle alternatiewe geslagsrol idees het nie. Dit word gedeeltelik toegeskryf aan armoede en lae vlakke van onderrig wat mense se toegang tot alternatiewe geslagsrolle en perspektiewe beperk Godsdiens en gemeenskap invloede speel ook 'n belangrike rol in hul begrip van hul rol as lewensmaat. Alhoewel Christenskap tradisionele geslag idees onderskryf, het die deelnemers gevoel dat hulle godsdienstige oortuigings en praktyke intieme ervarings fasiliteer, asook die misbruik van alkohol en huishoudelike geweld verhoed. Dit impliseer dat godsdiens bydra by tot die skepping en instandhouding van manlikheid en vroulikheid idees in hierdie gemeenskap. Ten slotte, is implikasies vir beleid en praktyk in terme van geslagsongelykheid en alkoholmisbruik bespreek, asook die beperkinge van die studie.

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