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Gender, sexuality and temporality in an English salsa scene
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The ‘baby boom’ generation, born between the 1940s and the 1960s, is often credited with pioneering new and creative ways of relating, doing intimacy and making families. With this cohort of men and women in Britain now entering mid and later life, they are also said to be revolutionising the experience of ageing. Are the romantic practices of this ‘revolutionary cohort’ breaking with tradition and allowing new ways of understanding and doing ageing and relating to emerge? Based on an innovative combination of ethnographic fieldwork in salsa classes and life history interviews, this book documents the meanings of desire and romance, and ‘new’ – or renewed – intimacies, among women in mid and later life. Beginning with women at a transition point, when they were newly single or newly dating in midlife, the chapters look back over life histories at prior relationship experiences in different life stages, engage with the fine grain of navigating the terrain of dating and repartnering in midlife, and look forward to hopes for future intimacies. Fieldwork in salsa classes demonstrates the sensory, sensual and affective nature of heteronormativity whilst biographical interviews show how femininity is informed by memories of the past, of the generations that came before and class-based desires. Making important contributions to our understanding of ageing, intimacy and gender, this book illuminates the intersections of age, class and white normativity in romance and desire. We see how rather than being revolutionary, a pervasive concern with being respectable throughout the lifecourse endured.

Sarah Milton

This chapter discusses desires and hopes for the future by drawing on interviews and stories told about dating beyond the salsa classes, in internet dating and online spaces. Respectability was embodied in multiple ways when talking about internet dating, which was tricky in its explicit search for romantic and/or sexual partners. Internet dating was reimagined into a group setting, with individual profiles made by multiple people, and taking individual agency out of the context. Internet dating was also treated like a business, desexualising the spaces and therefore making the space ‘safe’. Interestingly, however, discussions of online forums allowed a much more agential and calculated discourse of desire to arise, with internet dating allowing the picking and choosing of (un)desirable attributes. Talking of what kind of men were not desired revealed much about how the women wanted to be seen themselves. Notions of ‘compatibility’ were seeped in class-based narratives. Derisive descriptions of undesirable men, accompanied with undesirable lifestyles, worked to align the storytellers with a middle-class femininity. The chapter discusses contempt and the cathartic processes of class relations. Contempt was also linked to feelings about ageing. Divorced and midlife men were increasingly dependent and needy, problematic in terms of imagining future relationships. The chapter ends with a discussion of intimate economies that link love and economy, desire and class.

in Ageing and new intimacies
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(Re)negotiating ageing, gender and sexuality
Sarah Milton

In the Conclusion, I draw together the ways in which, rather than being revolutionary, the women in fact maintained a pervasive concern with being respectable throughout the lifecourse. I discuss how this was informed by the intersections of age, class and race and interrogate how intimacy and romantic relationships produce and reproduce the intimate workings of heteronormativity.

in Ageing and new intimacies
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Updating dancing and dating
Sarah Milton

The Epilogue revisits the women who told their stories for this research, updating their experiences of dating and ends by considering how these hopes for the future, desires and struggles are playing out in the ever-changing landscape of romantic relationships and intimacy.

in Ageing and new intimacies
Sarah Milton

This chapter dives back into the sensorium of the salsa classes, examining stories of ‘transformation’. The chapter begins with a description of the ‘salsa outfit’ and the hierarchies felt within the class space, most observable in the differences in what men and (particularly) women wore. The detailed description of a ‘styling’ workshop is used to examine the ways in which the teachers taught not only the movements of the dance but how to embody a glamorous (hyper)femininity: in the way you could learn to dress, hold yourself and move around the salsa space in certain ways. Learning to dance and embodying the ‘salsa self’ negotiated the trouble of ageing, and the concept of an embodied lifecourse is developed whereby different life stages were associated with changes in sociality and different ways of dressing. Practices of femininity, such as adopting the glamorous salsa outfit, are not done alone; new friendships with other women in the salsa classes, and new shared practices of glamourising the body, are situated alongside stories told about the friendship practices of their teenage years. Women supported each other, learnt from each other, practised with each other and made sense of men with and through each other. The chapter shows that these female friendships also reinforced gendered heteronorms, particularly in the quest for respectability.

in Ageing and new intimacies
Abstract only
Revolutionary intimacies?
Sarah Milton

The so-called ‘baby boom’ generation have lived their teenage years, marriages, family making, divorce, and now ageing into and beyond midlife, throughout a time where across North America and Europe there has been rapid change in practices of and policies surrounding intimacy, gender and sexuality – as well as rapid and dramatic changes in the ways in which people age and experience ageing. The Introduction chapter begins by examining a wide body of work on the sociologies of intimacy, family and relationships and ageing studies. Drawing the literature on ageing, gender and relating together, I show how assumptions about the baby boom generation and its revolutionary character are exclusive, deeply classed and racialised. In this book, I draw on ethnographic research in salsa classes across southern England and oral history interviews undertaken between 2011 and 2020 to document the everyday meanings and practices of femininity and heterosexuality, and the doing of ‘new’ intimacies, among women in midlife. The chapter goes on to describe the methodology of the research: an innovative combination of ethnographic fieldwork in salsa classes and life history interviews. The salsa ‘field’ is described and I discuss the value of sensorial methodologies, particularly in research on gender and sexuality, and then further detail the additional layers of depth and context that the life history interviews provided to the ethnographic present. The chapter concludes with a summary of the remaining chapters.

in Ageing and new intimacies
Sarah Milton

In this chapter, life history interviews ‘orientate’ during what was experienced at first as an uncertain and disorientating time. Putting the ethnographic detail of the salsa classes in the context of life stories also orientates the ethnography upon which the book rests in a wider context, providing a deeper understanding of practices of heterosexuality and femininity that have taken generations to form, multiply and evolve. The chapter begins with the jubilation of change in the ‘second stage’ of the women’s lives, where salsa classes were one of many recent changes. Certain lifestyles and interdependencies were perceived of as generational and women distanced themselves from their mothers’ ways of ageing. Drawing on the writings of historians of gender relations, love and marriage and sociologists of contemporary feminism and intimacy, the chapter situates these emancipatory and transitional narratives within the social histories of post-war changes to selfhood and relationships. Despite being enthused about freedom from familial ties, stories show the women are ever-intwined in family relationships and in some cases ‘freedom’ was facilitated by their families. In another layer of complexity, extracts from the interviews reveal deep nostalgia for the durable relationships of their parents’ generation, idealising and aspiring towards these durable, long-term relationships. Finally, current dating practices are described in which multiple femininities and desires played out. A multitude of often conflicting ideals and expectations surrounding ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ femininities circulated at the same time, shaped by normative understandings of gender, generation and age. Yet they were always produced as respectable.

in Ageing and new intimacies
Sarah Milton

This chapter dives deeply into the ethnographic space and the sensorium of the salsa class. Drawing particularly on Sara Ahmed’s queer phenomenology, it explores the ways in which heteronormativity was felt through the body in different spaces – and how in various ways the body, or bodies, (re)produced certain spaces as sexualised, or not. Heterosexual femininity was done through body language; through the unspoken, bodily, and sensuous, and produced and reproduced in the spaces in which women found themselves. Despite divorce and living singly increasingly common in mid and later life, the experience of becoming unpartnered was deeply disruptive to social lives and who women were orientated around. In midlife the married moved among the married, and becoming single meant having to find new social spaces and new social networks. In a context of life transition and uncertainty, and feeling out of place, salsa classes were highly structured spaces which felt welcoming, safe and joyful. They were also intimate and close, and the pleasure of this had to be managed. The concept of ‘safe sensuality’ is developed: a way of being intimate but respectable. Alongside, and essential to, the production of the safe salsa space and safe sensuality was the production of a dangerous outside and dangerous outsiders, produced as explicitly sexual. The production of a dangerous outside space and dangerous outsiders allowed the explicitly sexual to be pushed away – and therefore the intimacy and touch, and new ways of being and moving with men, to be safe, sensual and respectable.

in Ageing and new intimacies
Mariam Motamedi Fraser

Chapter 4 is organised around two connected parts. The first analyses two popular scientific books – one by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, the other by Clive Wynne – in which the authors seek to explain to their readers what dogs are. The second part explores some of the implications of those explanations, for dogs. The chapter draws on Jocelyn Porcher’s theory of animal labour to do this. Its argument in essence is that dogs’ species story – exemplified in these two books – actively militates against an understanding of dogs as labouring subjects. And because dogs are not perceived to be labouring subjects, it is difficult to identify, let alone challenge, the ongoing exploitation of companion and working dogs, or to recognise their forms of ‘resistance’. As for the creative potentiality that Porcher claims to exist in labour, dogs’ species story allows no leverage for this at all. Although the chapter draws on Porcher’s theory of animal labour to make this case and to explore its implications, the particularity of dogs’ species story, as it is described, for example, by the scientists explored in the first half of this chapter, also constitutes a critique of it, and of Porcher’s implicit assumption that her account of labour applies equally to all domesticated animals. Debates about animal labour are complex and multifaceted, as the conclusion of this chapter acknowledges and discusses.

in Dog politics
Open Access (free)
Scientific research with dogs
Mariam Motamedi Fraser

Previous chapters have addressed the serious trouble that dogs’ species story makes for dogs. Chapter 5 turns to the trouble that the story makes for scientists – for the very scientists who are writing it. It puts three related, but differently charged, issues into conversation with one another: dogs’ perceived relationality, as it is defined as a methodological problem in science; relationality, as it is defined as the foundation of animal capability, agency and resistance in nimal studies; and the contested place of singular individuality in both. This chapter shows how Vinciane Despret’s model of ‘polite research’ is differently relevant to those scientists who support dogs’ species story (and who are therefore obliged to grapple with the methodological quandaries that are perceived to be raised by dog–human relationality) and to those who contest it (and who foreground dog individuality in contrast). It also argues, however, that neither polite research, nor the responses of these scientists to the problems posed by dogs, offer much in the way of the undoing of dogs’ species story, nor can they wholly account for how dogs might be enabled to object to the questions that are posed to them by science. The final section of the chapter analyses Martin Seligman’s ‘learned helplessness’ research, the brutality of which served, inadvertently, to draw attention not only to the relevance of intersubjectivity, but also to the dogs’ irreducible singularity, which had the power, at least momentarily, to interrupt, perhaps even to disrupt, the demands of the experiments.

in Dog politics