Love in the time of ‘settling’ : forbidden knowledge and modern singles advice

Julian M. GROVES*, Hau Nung, Annie CHAN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


While there has been much feminist criticism over recent discourses that stigmatize single women, little is known about how women actually consume and respond to the advice prescribed in this discourse. This article addresses this shortcoming by looking at a controversy that emerged in Hong Kong over a popular television show that dispensed dating advice to single women. Based on focus group discussions about the show with 39 unwed women, we examine how women negotiate sexist modern dating advice in relation to their normative views about courtship. Using analogies drawn from the sociology of science, we argue that modern dating advice is constructed by our informants as forbidden knowledge , that is, knowledge that is considered too sensitive, dangerous or taboo to produce. By rendering the laws of attraction mysterious or unknowable, our informants continue to search for romantic partners, while bracketing the sexism that they encounter. The implications for agency and choice in this positioning are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-155
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Sociology
Issue number1
Early online date1 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

We thank Yuqian Wang, Y.L. Anne Wong, Lee Tsz Yan, Jason Chan and HKUST Library’s Media Resources for their assistance with the focus groups.

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research received a Direct Grant for Research from Lingnan University, reference no. 101054.


  • Hong Kong
  • courtship
  • dating
  • forbidden knowledge
  • reality TV
  • romantic love ideal
  • singles


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