Date of Award

Summer 8-7-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Ralph LaRossa

Second Advisor

Charles Jaret

Third Advisor

Wendy Simonds

Abstract

Globalization, the economic crisis, fast travel, and modern communication devices have facilitated the proliferation of long-distance relationships (LDRs). As LDRs deviate from temporal, spatial conventions and some social norms, they provide an opportunity to study the social construction of time, space, norms, and boundaries. To understand the rigidity and permeability of different kinds of boundaries, I conducted qualitative interviews with both married and unmarried couples in LDRs, as well as partners who lived in the same country and were of the same nationality, and partners who lived in two different countries and differed in their nationality (20 couples, 40 individuals total). I used social constructionism, cognitive sociology, symbolic interactionism, and ethnomethodology, and applied grounded theory methods. In LDRs the boundary between distance and intimacy was blurred, often in a sociomental space. By using technology participants diminished the significance of separate time zones, shared synchronized activities, and increased solidarity. As long as couples spent time together, separate physical locations became irrelevant. Borders between countries created a less fluid boundary than distance because of bureaucratic obstacles (e.g., visas). Marriage and children turned out to be the most rigid boundaries. Most respondents considered marriage and coresidence to be essential goals. Many also assumed that children required two parents and coresidence. Gender did not make a significant difference in time devoted to the relationship and visits. However, women were more likely than men to relocate. I also found that boundaries were used in exercising agency, creating solidarity, and shifting norms.

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