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Singledom and feminine subjectivity: fantasy, contemporary popular culture and lived experience

Gilchrist, Kate Rosalind (2020) Singledom and feminine subjectivity: fantasy, contemporary popular culture and lived experience. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004251


While the number of single women in the UK and the US has grown over the past two decades, there has been a simultaneous proliferation of representations of single femininity in Anglo-American popular culture. Yet there has been little exploration of how the cultural construction of the single woman is encountered, experienced and negotiated in single women’s lived experience. This thesis examines the interplay between the cultural and the psychic formation of single feminine subjectivity in a postfeminist cultural context. I take Foucault’s understanding of subjectivity as discursively constructed, alongside Butlerian psychosocial theory and the concept of fantasy, to theorise singledom as a form of gendered performativity. I ask how cultural fantasies of singledom performatively sustain, threaten or transform the norms of feminine subjectivity, and importantly what it means to live amongst such an imaginary. To do so, I analyse the discursive construction of the single woman in eight contemporary popular cultural US-UK texts and the self-narratives of 25 single women living in London. My analysis finds that celebratory fantasies of ‘successful’ single femininity coalesce around freedom, autonomy and independence. Yet, paradoxically, the freedom of the successful single subject is produced through regulatory incitements to identify, maintain, regulate and transform the single ‘self’. Where the single woman fails to correctly self-survey she is subject to painful abjectifying processes of silencing, invisibility and incoherence, which work ideologically to sustain the boundaries of normative femininity and produce deep psychic tensions. But I also argue that such ‘failures’ more productively open up opportunities for the transformation of gender norms in intimate life. In these moments of ‘radical unbecoming’ the liminal positioning of single femininity outside the coupled norm, decentres romantic love, reconfigures hierarchies of intimacy and care and troubles the single/coupled and gender binary.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Kate Rosalind Gilchrist
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Orgad, Shani and Sabsay, Leticia

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