PhD thesis

Title: Persians’ Intercultural Partnering Practices in the Multicultural UK

Summary:

This PhD research investigates intimate partnering practices across cultural differences engaged in by individuals from the Persian diaspora in the United Kingdom (that is, relationships between Persians and non-Persians), with the aim of contributing important insights on the diverse nature of family life in a late modern multicultural society. The project challenges mainstream sociological conceptualizations and theorizations of family life and intergroup relationships and furthers the investigation of the consequences of late modernity for the intimate practices of migrants in a diverse society. The thesis examines intercultural partnering practices in order to derive a clearer picture of the intersection of culture, including tradition and religion, that shapes such practices within multicultural societies.

The driving theory of this research is the predominant theory of reflexive modernization, which shapes the current discussions of the sociology of family life and relationships in the UK. In this study, however, I adopt a critical approach towards the theory’s two core notions of individualization and de-traditionalization. Both seem to be problematic, as individual choices are still extensively limited by cultural and traditional boundaries of their community and restricted by the economic and socio-political structure of their society. In terms of the latter notion, I suggest distinguishing religious traditions from other aspects of the traditional and considering religion independently as a meaningful distinctive determinant factor that is interwoven with other forms of tradition in the construction of individuals’ partnering practices and intimate biographies. Further I explain how the Shiaism of these individuals may affect their intimate relationships by exploring the incidence of some Shia practices, such as temporary marriage, that have not been explored in the earlier research on Muslim families in the UK.

Drawing on my qualitative empirical data, this thesis addresses the ways in which Persians construct and understand meanings attached to their partnering practices. Since the exploration of those meanings and the construction of such practices are different in diverse cultures, I investigate how Persians practice, negotiate, and sustain their partnering relationships across cultural difference. I interviewed 36 Persians who had had the experience of being in relationship(s) with one or more members of non-Persian social groups. In line with my sampling strategy, the comparative analysis was based on gender, religious, and cultural identities. In terms of the latter, the participants and their partners were identified as holding a position in between their respective cultures. This in-between cultural identity makes the process of partnering and maintaining intimate relationships more feasible and sustainable for these people.

The analysis focuses on practices of three stages of a partnering relationship: pre-partnering, partnering, and post-partnering practices. In other words, I investigate why these individuals became involved with partners from different social groups; how they formed relationship, whether permanent or temporary and whether monogamous or polygamous; how they sustained their relationships across cultural boundaries, and why their relationships might fail. In the process of an intercultural partnering relationship, many situations with diverse cultural connotations emerge for these couples to negotiate, from marriage expenses and the financial implications of the relationship, to expressing their feelings, to managing everyday rituals and practices such as dressing and hygiene practices and dietary habits. These cultural issues are often highly significant in sustaining a relationship.

In addition to the stages of a partnering relationship, I consider ‘relational partnering practices’, which focus on family connections with immediate and extended family members as well as members of other social networks such as friends and neighbours. Managing these relationships in conjunction with intercultural unions often requires constant negotiations between couples and influences their life together. More particularly, there are issues related to passing down cultural identities to their children, which appear in naming, baptising, circumcising, dressing, and educating them. Relational interactions often come together during culturally significant celebrations and ceremonies such as Christmas, Norouz (Persian New Year), Islamic Eid holidays, Shia festivals and other traditional occasions. Negotiations about these cultural sessions showcase the significance of the traditional for these individuals. In light of empirical evidence, this thesis argues that family life and relationships within this study’s particular social context may not fit in with the claims of individualization and de-traditionalization theories, given the continued influence of traditional culture on Persians’ relationship practices in the UK, and thus that further theoretical refinement and reconceptualization in the field are required.