P2P: Marital Monogamy as Ideal and Practice

Every student in the Sociology PhD program at the University of Toronto completes the Research Practicum course in their second year. This course involves each student working directly on a research project with a faculty member through the various stages of research and writing while also meeting with other graduate students in the course to tackle the hurdles of clarifying, strengthening, and sharpening one’s ideas in a journal-length research article. In this series, we highlight the practicum papers that went on to become published articles, and the students who wrote them.

Green, A. I., Valleriani, J. and Adam, B. (2015), Marital Monogamy as Ideal and Practice: The Detraditionalization Thesis in Contemporary Marriages. Journal of Marriage and Family. doi: 10.1111/jomf.12277

Jenna2 Jenna was a Master’s student when she began working with Professor Adam Green as a Research Assistant on his SSHRC-funded project studying how heterosexual and same-sex spouses conceive of and structure their marriages. The next year, when she enrolled in the research practicum, she asked Professor Green if she could work with this marriage data, and if he would advise her on the project. She had already learned some of the skills she would need while she was a Research Assistant but the practicum honed the skills further. Professor Green agreed and they began what would become a three-year odyssey exploring the changing meanings of marriage and monogamy. The resulting paper was published in December 2015 in Journal of Marriage and Family.

The paper, drawing on 90 qualitative interviews with heterosexual and same-sex spouses, focuses on Giddens’ 1992 detraditionalization thesis which argues that marriage is increasingly characterized by goals of individual satisfaction and mutually-fulfilling partnerships. They found that heterosexual couples speak to a widening acceptance of diverse marital lifestyles, but have not changed their personal preferences regarding their own relationships. Of all married respondents in this study, gay men’s relationships embody most what is described in the detraditionalization thesis. While a minority of these men were committed both in the abstract and in practice to marital monogamy, the majority understood monogamy in reflexive and plastic terms, not as an ethical choice but as a flexible, pragmatic arrangement designed to suit the needs and wishes of the partners.

While the general contours of the paper were established in the course of the practicum, Jenna says that it still needed a lot of work when the practicum finished. After taking a short break from the paper, she and Professor Green began to loosely brainstorm about the findings via email, which ultimately led to them reshaping the findings and discussion collaboratively. Jenna says that it was a slow process, but that through a series of meetings and emails, it started to come together. Having learned that the Journal of Family and Marriage was looking to incorporate more qualitative studies, they decided to submit there. Their first submission came back with a request for major revisions. Jenna and Professor Green then worked more and made the paper stronger. When they resubmitted for the second time, it came back with a request for minor revisions, and later, was finally accepted!

Throughout the practicum process, Jenna says, there were many times she “had to go ‘back to the drawing board’ with encouragement from my peers, professors, and advisor, but it ultimately was an unparalleled experience which taught me practical skills I can carry forward.” While the content isn’t her current area of focus, Jenna’s experience working with Professor Green’s marriage project was, she says, extremely beneficial and helped her develop her methodology and qualitative research skills. This has been useful in her current dissertation studies where she has conducted 60 in-depth interviews to understand the issues surrounding the regulation of medical marijuana. Jenna says that the practicum process was also instrumental in teaching her how to structure an article, how to contextualize the findings, the review process and also how different audiences may receive an article.

Giddens, A. (1992). The Transformation of Intimacy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.