1st Edition

The Single Woman A Discursive Investigation

By Jill Reynolds Copyright 2008

    The increase in numbers of single people has been described as one of the greatest social phenomena of western society. Most women will spend periods of their lives alone, without a committed partner relationship. Yet there is still a degree of social stigma attached to this status. Single women are a crucial group for study in relation to perceived changes in family life and relationships. This book provides a new understanding of what is often taken-for-granted – female single identity.

    In an examination of extracts from her interviews with women aged 30 to 60 years and living alone, Jill Reynolds explores how women deal with this potentially stigmatized identity. She focuses on identity and self-representation through consideration of discourse and the conversational moves made by the participants. Her analysis highlights that the culturally available and familiar resources for understanding singleness are highly polarized. Single women weave their way through the extreme contrasts of a denigrated or an empowered identity. Thus, while most participants give very positive accounts, they also pay attention to widespread social expectations that success in life involves a long-term committed relationship.

    This book makes an important contribution to the understanding of the lives of single women and represents a challenge to the considerable literature on gender and family life which has inadequately theorized singleness.  It will be of great interest to academics and students in social psychology, sociology, social work and social policy. It will also be of particular interest to students of gender studies, qualitative research, narrative studies, conversation analysis and discourse analysis.



    1. Developing a Feminist Discursive Analysis of Singleness  2. Contrasting Models of a Single Identity  3. Working with a 'Single' Identity  4. A Narrative of Relationships and Singleness  5. Choice and Chance in Relationships: Negotiating Agency  6. The Everyday Politics of Singleness.  Conclusions


    Jill Reynolds is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health & Social Care at The Open University. Her teaching is in the areas of social work, managing health and social care and mental health. Her research interests include feminist practice, identity and singleness, and meanings of care and support.

    'This important study not only gives us a fascinating account of contemporary women's experiences of being single, but also demonstrates an exemplary use of discourse analysis to illuminate questions about identity. Jill Reynolds has shown how women today work with and negotiate singleness in a social context in which expectations about their proper role are changing rapidly' - Rosalind Gill, Professor of Social Psychology & Cultural Theory, Open University

    'Sometimes a new book illuminates an everyday issue in ways that shift understandings and make it puzzling why it has taken so long for someone to write it. The Single Woman is such a book. In what will surely prove to be the inaugural book for the field of singleness, Reynolds has written a thought-provoking and innovative book that will appeal to lay readers as well as academics from many disciplines.' – Ann Phoenix, Professor, Institute of Education, University of London

    As a single woman myself, I found the book resonant and perceptive, prompting a heightened awareness of my own ‘personal identity project’. I recommend it to anyone with a personal, professional or political interest in women’s position in society and the psycho-cultural acrobatics we use to perform our various roles. Alison Gilchrist, British Journal of Social Work