Understanding Love: Attending the 2024 Love Studies Conference, Canary Islands, Spain

Photos from the Love Studies Conference featuring Ian Skoggard

Ian Skoggard and attendees at the Love Studies Conference in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain

HRAF Research Anthropologist, Ian Skoggard, reflects on his experience attending the 2024 Love Studies Conference in Gran Canaria last month.

What’s not to love about a love studies conference? This January, the International Institute of Love Studies sponsored its first conference of love studies in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain. The theme of the conference was “Towards Research-Based Knowledge of Love.” The Institute recognizes love in all its diversity. Their website states:

We consider love in its different existences, types, modes, and forms, such as personal feelings, emotions, moods, dispositions, actions, values, and varieties of interpersonal relationships. We explore the individual factors and social and cultural conditions that contribute to these diverse varieties of love.

Over a hundred participants representing 26 countries from North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East attended the conference in person or online. Presenters included graduate students and senior scholars from the disciplines of anthropology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, gender studies and comparative literature. The topics of papers ranged from sentiments of love expressed in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet and Sixth Century Arabic poetry to Japanese sex dolls and posthuman e[rotic]robots.  Altogether there were over 100 presentations, including eight keynote presentations, 80 individual papers, 11 poster presentations, and three educational workshops. The full program, abstracts and recordings of papers can be found here.

Our host for the conference, María Isabel González Cruz from Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria welcomed us to the conference and the Canary Islands. She was followed with general introductory remarks from Rashmi Singla, Charles Hill and Anna Romanowicz, who talked about the Institute, conference program and brief history of love studies. Two titans in the field of love studies gave keynote addresses, Zoltán Kövecses on “Love as a Complex Conceptual Category” and Victor Karandashev on “What is Love, Anyway.” Kövecses, a cognitive linguist, looked at metaphors of love expressed as emotion, relationship, and force. Karandashev, who has published five books on love, said that love is a multi-meaningful, multi-faceted, hierarchical concept that varies by culture and for which there may be no grand theory. Other keynote presentations addressed regional patterns of love in China, East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Arab World; Morman polygamous communities; arranged marriages and transnational couples.

Some specific topics of the individual paper presentations included Korean romantic dramas, polyamory, gratitude, dating apps, elderly parent care, agape, intergenerational love, jealous love, affectionate touching, autistic romance, and more. On the somewhat darker side of love were papers on the hateful subculture of incels, the painful love of Leonard Cohen, postmodern breakdown of social bonds, and the provocative question: Is there equality in love, should there be?

Ian presented a paper on “Symbolic Representations of the Love Act across Cultures,” discussing ritual and utilitarian objects from several cultures which combine sexual imagery to evoke, he argues, memories of lovemaking.

All in all, it was an eclectic and stimulating mélange of papers, surprisingly revealing some overlap and common threads, but more importantly, opening a dialogue across regions and disciplines on this vital and necessary subject of love. All attendees came away with many ideas to inspire their future writing and research.

Love to learn more

Is love in the air? If so, how can we explain it? When you’re ready to start theorizing, you may wish to search inside Explaining Human Culture, our open access database of the results of previous cross-cultural research, for hypotheses that researchers have tested about love. For an example of previous cross-cultural research on romantic kissing as a human universal, see this article based on William Jankowiak’s fascinating study.

If you’re feeling inspired to conduct your own research about love across cultures, try searching or browsing with the following OCM terms in eHRAF World Cultures to get started: For “romantic love”, use 581 Basis of Marriage, 831 Sexuality, 152 Drives and Emotions, or 832 Sexual Stimulation.

Note that membership is required to search eHRAF. Institutions that begin a free 60-day IP trial will have access to the both eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology databases. Ask your librarian to sign up for a trial using this form.