Claude-Hélène Mayer and Elisabeth Vanderheiden, Eds.
Springer Nature Switzerland AG., 2021
ISBN 978-3-030-45995-6 ISBN 978-3-030-4599
Reviewed by Dr. George Simons, @ diversophy®
As an interculturalist, I became comfortable with this book when I read the first line of the introduction: “Love and its meanings vary across time, space and culture; they are socially and culturally constructed and need to be understood from a contextualized point of view.” It fits my expectations of objectively exploring our diverse cultural and personal subjectivities around the age-old attempts to understand this most human of topics.
This is not a volume to be read in a single sitting (though I almost did, due to a protracted hospital stay), nor is it a romantic or inspirational reading (though, in some cases, I had hoped for more narrative examples and case studies. It is rather a highly diverse scholarly effort, a massive resource collection of research papers on love in a variety of contexts, personal and professional settings, and cultures. The work is well referenced providing a large number of resources for deeper exploration.
The key challenge is that, when defining love, we have not progressed very far from the tripartite distinction of the classic philosophers: Éros (ἔρως) which focuses on passion and sexual interest; Philia (φιλία) which describes the affectionate regard of friends and relationships; and Agape (ἀγάπη) unconditional empathetic and active love (God’s boundless love (caritas/charity) is the model in religious context). The words for “love” are casually used in a number of languages for expressing our likes, e.g., “I love apple pie”, but the perspectives here are those of interpersonal human affections, though one chapter interestingly addresses falling in love with commercial brands. While there are references to neuroscientific data, I suspect that much more will appear in the future to add further perspective as to how cognitive and emotional integrity expresses itself and acts in the various forms of affection. Certainly, the borders of the three classical distinctions can be fuzzy and sometimes overlap on both personal and social levels. Then there is the wide-open question of where technology will take love in our Artificial Intelligence future.
Frankly, each chapter of this book deserves its own review, if for no other reason than each chapter concentrating on a specific area and/or population and an aspect of love observed and studied there. The forms of love in couples, groups, families, organizations, cultures, religions, generations, interracial relationships, and specific contexts are myriad. Love in psychotherapeutic situations and in workplace leadership are also discussed. Classical love literature is examined along with the amorous dimensions of communication networks in cyberspace and the shifts in sexual identity and orientation currently developing, as well the effects of globalization on relationships.
The variety of research techniques and procedures tend to be rigidly observed and well documented by the authors. Casual readers best digest the four introductory chapters, then filter the contents for what serves their interest or engages their curiosity and serendipity. However, because of its academic solidity, I feel that the most important contribution of the book lies in how chapters offer intriguing starting points for one’s own research or as stimuli for further research and dissertation work on the part of one’s students. The topic of love is inexhaustible, and we have scarcely dipped into the vast cultural resources that are open to further exploration. For example, while the book is not highly illustrated there are graphs and images that help visualize cultural challenges, one example being this very simple diagram of the social context of interpersonal affection in a specific sense of community found among the Xhosa of South Africa.
We owe our thanks to the authors and editors of this “handbook” for work well done, though that word in the title should not lead readers to suspect that, enlightening as it is, this book is a vade mecum or practical tour guide that provides ready solutions to the vicissitudes and challenges of our love lives!