The Abject Single …

singleWhat does the article examine?

The article examines how singleness is experienced in the context of consumption and the “market place”.

Which concepts are discussed in the article?

The article draws on a wide range of mainly sociological sources to set out the context of the study: it discusses, amongst other things, how the marketplace enforces cultural stereotypes of singles – and embeds them into the lived experience of study participants: particularly of that of female singles, who are seen as “failed subjects” (p.1563).

Where is the data from and what methodology is being used?

The researchers used “active interviewing” (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995). Active interviewing encourages both parties to interact and be active participants in the interview process. It is thus in contrast to traditional forms of interviewing, where static questions are asked and/or one party is seen as the source of all knowledge.

The sample were 14 single adults, aged 22-56 from the UK. Recruitment was made using “gatekeepers”, i.e. people suggested other people for the interview because they believed the potential participants were suitable for the study.

As this is a qualitative study, the study looks in-depth into the lived experiences of the participants. This means that a lot of meaning can be derived from the interviews and presented excerpts, yet the experiences presented in the study should not be seen as representative. Rather they are personal to the study participants. Nevertheless, they can give insights into the varied lived experiences of the market place by singles.

What are the main outcomes?

The study reveals how singles experience social and psychological isolation reinforced through market place imagery and practices. For example, marketing surrounding Christmas emphasises “family” and “living as a couple”, thus reinforces the perceptions of singles as somewhat “failed” individuals. In other scenarios, the market penalised singles for being single: For example, explicitly by charging a single supplement for hotels, or implicitly by having “2-for-1” offers on products. In other words, the informants felt that marketplace practices persistently celebrated “coupledom” as a desirable and rewarding life, while rendering single consumers invisible.

Why should you read it?

As the authors point out, 51% of households in the UK are actually single households. Yet, despite this large proportion of single consumers, both marketers and academics have rarely looked at single consumers. Where they have done so, marketers are experienced as penalising singles, for examples by charging a “single premium”. The article discusses singleness in-depth, including the different experiences from male and female singles. However, although the article points out that the marketplace emphasises heterosexual couples and heteronormative practices, the article does not feature non-heterosexual consumers, which is an avenue for future research.

For both academics and marketers, understanding lived experiences is important and useful, and often surprising. Thus, nuanced and deep-insights, like the ones generated in this article, open up a variety of different research possibilities. The article further can be the basis of an interesting discussion how marketing reinforces existing cultural norms – and excludes people living outside of these “idealised consumer images”.

Ai-Ling Lai, Ming Lim & Matthew Higgins (2015) The abject single: exploring the gendered experience of singleness in Britain, Journal of Marketing Management, 31:15-16, 1559-1582, DOI: 10.1080/0267257X.2015.1073170

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