Sociology of Love: This article explores the concept of Love, and explains the different types of Love It looks at love from a sociological lens. It then looks more closely at some of the classical and contemporary social thinkers’ perspectives on Love.
The Social-Cultural Dimensions of Love
Sociology is generally understood as the study of society and so studying something as seemingly natural as Love seems strange. A person may wonder how is Love sociological. Love tends to be viewed as an emotion that has biological and even spiritual components but could not possibly have any social constructs associated with it. However, there is certainly a social-cultural dimension to love and we know this because Love has definitions, patterns, phenomenons, trends, cultural expectations and norms that change across space and time. In other words, although Love exists universally, there are differences in how societies perceive Love within a cultural, social and historical context.
Thinking Sociologically About Love
In the article titled “Love is Sociological”, Peter Kaufman provides some questions to think about when looking at Love sociologically. Some of these questions include:
- “Who do we love?” (Kaufman, 2016)
- “How do we love?” In other words, how to we display love? What are the words, objects, rituals and other cultural artifacts we use to express love? What role does the media play? What role does religion play? (Kaufman, 2016)
- “When do we love?” One way to see this is how there are cultural understandings of when love reaches its peak and when it dips. For instance, in movies and TV shows there is an emphasis on romantic love during the high school years. (Kaufman, 2016)
The Sociological Imagination
While Love is often understood as a private experience that is associated with happiness and well-being, there are social implications of Love. One useful tool for understanding something as private as Love from a sociological lens is the Sociological Imagination. The Sociological Imagination was termed by C Wright Mills. He states that even the most private thought, emotions, experiences or behaviour can be seen in trends, cultural phenomena and with a social dimension. (The Sociological Imagination by Mills: Summary and Concepts, 2021)
The Different Types of Love
According to the article, “Love and Commitment”, there are multiple different definitions of love. On one hand, there are some forms that are passionate that is characterized by sexual or romantic attraction and that fluctuate from highs to lows. On the other hand, there are some forms that are compassionate such as friendship and family love that are seen as stable and rational. Below are the following forms of love that have been named to exist in society:
Eros is defined as passionate love that is often associated with love based on physical appearance. Eros love is commonly associated with “love at first sight” and it can end very abruptly.
Mania is defined as passionate love and almost like eros but gone to an extreme. It is associated with obsessive love, infatuation, possessiveness and acts such as stalking.
Storge is compassionate friendship-based love. Storge is a quiet, gentle and gradual love. It lacks strong passion the way eros and mania have but there is a deep affection for one another and there tends to be great relationship satisfaction.
Agape is altruistic love which is defined as a love that is not expected to be reciprocated.
Pragma is defined as practical love. There is something about the person such as the ability to be a good parent, well-respected in the community or wealthy. Pragma is commonly associated with arranged marriages.
Ludus is defined as love for the moment. In Western society, it is often not seen as real love. Ludus doesn’t last long and is associated with flirtation, desire, seduction and sexual arousal.
Patriotism vs Nationalism
When discussing Love in society, sociologists may look at not only human love of each other but also the love of one’s country or nation which also may take on passionate or compassionate forms. In the article, “For Love of Country: An Essay On Patriotism and Nationalism”, Maurizio Viroli states that Patriotism and Nationalism are often confused as being interchangeable. Viroli states that Nationalism is “associated with an exclusive, intolerant, and irrational attachment to one’s nation.” and gives historical examples of Nazism and Fascism. Patriotism on the other hand as Viroli states that Patriotism is a love of people’s sense of civic and human rights which would include the mental clarity to stand against oppression. In other words, with Patriotism there is a sense of civic responsibility and a compassionate approach whereas Nationalism is geared towards a passionate sense of unity between people with a shared identity and at times losing sight of how this kind of love can result in harmful and even hateful practices to those excluded from the group identity. (Viroli, 1997)
Classical Thoughts On Love
The two Classical Social Theorists this article will be discussing are Emile Durkheim and Max Weber.
Emile Durkheim studied altruistic suicide which he defined as different to other suicides. Altruistic suicide is when individuals take their life with the state of mind that it is for a worthy cause and will benefit a group of people. Altruistic suicide is a culturally acceptable form of suicide. When someone sacrifices oneself in order to protect, defend, help or serve, it allows the rest of the people to continue to function and maintain stability. Unlike other suicides, altruistic suicides are seen as selfless and heroic acts of love for one’s community, nation and land and that is full of immense bravery. One example that altruistic suicide occurring in modern society is the military. (Stack, 2010)
Max Weber studied what he termed “World-Denying Love”. According to the article, “Max Weber and World-Denying Love: A Look at the Historical Sociology of Religion”, Word-Denying Love is a way to describe the opposite of what would be worldly love or love of the material world. In the modern world, we live a very hurried and chaotic existence, going from one place to the next what Weber calls “spheres”. People are busy with wealth, status, entertainment and the various spheres of life each with impersonal interactions. There is barely time to build connections with one another or to know someone outside a particular sphere of society. In contrast, fostering connection and deep love for one’s local people and place; which by extension the operations of society are carried out with a sense of kinship in every decision is an inherent feature of tribal societies that has been lost wisdom in modern times. It is a way of life that allows one to slow down and take the time to appreciate, know and care for not only one’s family but also one’s neighbours, one’s community and the animals, plants and the rest of the natural environment. Weber discusses that in tribal societies there is a sense of brotherliness; of taking care of each other as neighbours and that is guided by religion specifically in the Judaeo-Christian and Buddhism traditions. (Bellah, 1999)
Contemporary Thoughts On Love
The two Contemporary Social Thinkers discussed in this article are Pitirim Sorokin and Erich Fromm.
Pitirim believed in the power of agapic love. He dreamed of a society in which individuals saw themselves as citizens with responsibilities and duties to care and love for one another. In his vision, there would be an ethical revolution in which people cared to engage with the spiritual soulful part of human life and develop an inner desire to care for one another as part of their personal growth. (Nieli, 2015)
Erich Fromm was a member of the Frankfurt School. He had experienced so much hate in his lifetime that he decided to study Love. Fromm wondered why people searched and longed for love obsessively but instead experience separateness and despair. He believed that there is Mature Love and Immature Love. According to Fromm, Immature Love is selfish and neglect and what is the prevailing experience contemporary times. Fromm states, “Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says ‘I need you because I love you.” In other words, Immature Love is when a person is concerned with only with taking as much as they can to fulfill needs without regard for the other person, whereas Mature Love is about a mutual respectful and reciprocal relationship. (Sinor, 2022)
As society continues to shift, the ways in which Love is defined, understood and experienced will continue to shift as well. In the future, sociologists may continue to study trends of marriage, divorce and non-traditional families such as adopted families or blended families. Sociologists may also be interested in the ways the digital age has impacted people’s increased isolation, loneliness, lack of a sense of belonging or connection for one’s local neighborhood and the ways in which more people find tribal-like connections to online communities.
Kaufman, Peter. “Love Is Sociological.” Everyday Sociology Blog, 10 Feb. 2016, https://www.everydaysociologyblog.com/2016/02/love-is-sociological.html
“Love and Commitment – Sociology of Family – Iresearchnet.” Sociology, 8 Jan. 2019, http://sociology.iresearchnet.com/sociology-of-family/love-and-commitment/.
Nieli, Russell. “Pitirim Sorokin: Expanding the Radius of Love.” OpenDemocracy, 16 June 2015, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/pitirim-sorokin-expanding-radius-of-love/.
Research, Hartford Institute for Religion, and Robert N Bellah. “Max Weber and World-Denying Love: A Look at the Historical Sociology of Religion.” Max Weber & World Denying Love by Robert Bellah – Aar Article, June 1999, http://hirr.hartsem.edu/Bellah/articles_3.htm
Sinor, David. “The Frankfurt School: Erich Fromm’s Perspective on Love.” TheCollector, 12 Apr. 2022, https://www.thecollector.com/erich-fromm-frankfurt-school-perspective-of-love/.
Stack, Steven. “Emile Durkheim and Altruistic Suicide.” Taylor & Francis, 12 Aug. 2010, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13811110490243741.
Viroli, Maurizio. “For Love of Country: An Essay on Patriotism and Nationalism.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 2 Oct. 1997, https://academic.oup.com/book/12461?login=false.
Worley, Jennifer. “Take Online Courses. Earn College Credit. Research Schools, Degrees & Careers.” Study.com | Take Online Courses. Earn College Credit. Research Schools, Degrees & Careers, 21 Sept. 2021, https://study.com/academy/lesson/the-sociological-imagination-by-mills-summary-lesson-quiz.html.