Burr, Vivien (2005) Friends are the families we choose for ourselves: towards the democratisation of relationships. In: British Psychological Society Psychology of Women Section POWS Conference 2005, 6-8 July 2005, University of Huddersfield, UK.

It is almost a truism to say that relationships
occupy a place of central importance in women’s
lives in a way that is not so for men. Some, for
example, Chodorow (1978), have gone as far as to
say that women’s sense of self is defined in terms
of their relationships to others. However, many of
women’s close relationships have traditionally been
located within the family, and to the extent that
the family may be seen as an institution serving
the interests of patriarchal society we may
question its benefits for women and their sense of
self. If social structure and subjectivity are
interlinked, as I feel they must be, then it is no
surprise that for many women their sense of self,
founded within inegalitarian relationships, is
sometimes characterised by a lack of self respect
and self-esteem.
In this paper I will comment upon recent changes
in family forms in western societies and upon the
increasing importance of friendship networks in
many people’s lives. Drawing examples from
popular culture as well as from social science
research, I will discuss these changes as a form of
‘democratisation’ of relationships (Giddens, 1991,
1992, 1994) and reflect upon the impli

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