Dissertation Abstracts

Living apart together (LAT) relationships: Intimacy, family practices and agency among Chinese women

Author: Shuang Qiu, dr.shuangqiu@gmail.com
Department: Centre for Women's Studies
University: University of York, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Victoria Robinson
Year of completion: 2019
Language of dissertation: United Kingdom

Keywords: Intimacy , Family practices , Agency , Qualitative method
Areas of Research: Family Research , Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty , Women in Society


Under the individualisation thesis, people are seen to place less emphasis on lifelong marriage and have more freedom to extricate themselves from fixed social roles and contractual familial obligations, arguably leading to a transformation of intimacy (Giddens, 1992). A growing number of non-cohabiting partnerships, where couples live apart but still keep their heterosexual intimate relationship, has been predominantly documented in Western societies (Duncan and Phillips, 2013) and considered as an illustration of the de-traditionalisation of family life. China’s dramatic changes in the socio-economic sphere, coupled with the increasing Western influence of individualisation and modernisation there, have brought about significant changes in Chinese people’s relationships and family life. This thesis focuses on the experiences of women in living apart together (LAT) relationships in the context of contemporary China which has a long tradition of the existence of patriarchal families within Confucian culture. Using a qualitative feminist methodology, I conducted semi-structured interviews with 35 heterosexual women (and 4 men), aged between 23 to 57, in China, during the summer of 2016. I explore the underlying reasons for couples living apart together and how women’s agency in such relationships is exercised (or not). I also ask how those living outside the conventional family understand and make sense of the changes, overtime, in their intimate relationship and family life. This thesis also examines how the notion of ‘family’ is practiced when people live their (gendered) daily lives separately from their partner and if, and how they experience intimacy and maintain a sense of togetherness across distance. By looking specifically at the little researched group of LAT in China, this research makes a timely contribution to understanding non-cohabiting partnerships in a rapidly transforming Chinese society.