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Taking a Stand in a Postfeminist World

Toward an Engaged Cultural Criticism

Frances E. Mascia-Lees, Patricia Sharpe

Publication Year: 2000

Ranging across contemporary culture from the academy to shopping malls, this book offers engaged cultural criticism in a postfeminist context. Taking a Stand in a Postfeminist World offers an engaged cultural criticism in a postfeminist context. At the end of the twentieth century, an increasingly globalized world has given rise to a cultural complexity characterized by a rapid increase in competing discourses, fragmented subjectivities, and irreconcilable claims over cultural representation and who has the right to speak for, or about, “others.” While feminism has traditionally been a potent site for debates over questions that have arisen out of this context, recently, it has become so splintered and suspect that its insights are often dismissed as predictable, seriously reducing its capacity to offer powerful cultural criticism. In this postfeminist context, the authors argue for a cultural criticism that is strategic, not programmatic, and that preserves the multiple commitments, ideas, and positions required of interactions and identifications across lines of cultural, racial, and gender difference. Selecting sites where such interactions are highlighted and under current scrutiny—film, consumer culture, tourism, anthropology, and the academy—the authors theorize and demonstrate the struggles and maneuvers required to “take a stand” on a wide range of issues of significance to the contemporary cultural moment.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

We would like to thank Francis C. Lees for his generous and enthusiastic support including, but certainly not limited to, his technical assistance and photography and Alex Lees for helping us in the final stages of manuscript preparation. Colleen B. Cohen was the coauthor of the articles on which chapters 2 and 8 are based. We...


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pp. 1

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1. On Shaky Ground: Shifting Terrain and the Predicaments of Postfeminism

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pp. 3-16

This book is about the contemporary postfeminist moment, and what it means to position oneself within it. By “postfeminist” we mean a context in which the feminism of the 1970s is problematized, splintered, and considered suspect, one in which it is no longer easy, fun, empowering, or even possible, to take a feminist...

Part I. Shifting Stance: Strategic (Re)Positioning

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pp. 17

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2. The Postmodernist Turn in Anthropology: Cautions from a Feminist Perspective

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pp. 19-42

At this profoundly self-reflexive moment in anthropology—a moment of questioning traditional modes of representation in the discipline—practitioners seeking to write a genuinely new ethnography1 would do better to use feminist theory as a model than to draw on postmodern trends in epistemology and literary criticism...

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3. The Anthropological Unconscious

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pp. 43-54

We wouldn’t know the diagnosis for almost two weeks, but when my sister’s daughter was born, her brain wasn’t fully developed. Only a few hours after the three a.m. call announcing that the baby, Chloë, had been born, I was at the hospital to see her. My sister looked beautiful even after hours of labor, my brother-in-law deliriously...

Part II. Taking a Seat at the Movies: Theories of Representation and Identification

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pp. 55

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4. An Oblique Look: Theorizing the “Other” as Spectator

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pp. 57-78

We open our attempt to theorize the “other” as spectator with a postmodern gesture: a rereading of the modern, specifically, the rereading of the modern image that appears on the cover of this book. It raises questions about the politics of identity, representation, and “looking” that have dominated theory in many academic...

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5. Courting The Nineteenth Century: Object, Image, and Fetishistic Desire

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pp. 79-91

When I bought my round oak table in the late 1970s, I was sure I was being had. The fad for clunky oak had to be just past its peak. No one would ever again be willing to shell out $325 for one of those tables that sat in every kitchen a hundred years ago. Stripped oak iceboxes could not seem like perfect liquor cabinets forever, could...

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6. Self-Help Hollywood Style: Masculinity, Masochism, and Identification with the Child Within

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pp. 93-101

That American culture became increasingly therapeutized in the 1990s, especially through the infiltration of self-help discourse into many areas of life, seems almost incontestable. A sampling of journalistic commentary during the 1992 presidential campaign, for example, shows just how influential the ideology of self-help, with its...

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7. Piano Lessons: Jane Campion as (Counter)Ethnographer

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pp. 103-113

Within postmodern anthropological theory, questions about speaking for “others” have been central. While some authors have come to them through high European theory, we stumbled upon them in the day-to-day. After collaborating in our writing, we were uncomfortable with the traditional conference format of one speaker...

Part III. On Display: Style and (Ad)dress in Consumer Culture

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pp. 115

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8. The Female Body in Postmodern Consumer Culture: Subjection and Agency at the Mall

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pp. 117-142

This chapter is an attempt to construct such a “political form of postmodernism,” a struggle to find our feet in the zero gravity of the contemporary shopping mall. This mapping is crucial for an engaged cultural criticism. The mall is a principal delivery system for postmodern images in contemporary American culture (La Ferta, 1989), and...

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9. Arts and Crafts Mass Marketed

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pp. 143-149

One thing that we’ve shared besides collaboration in writing is a long-standing interest in William Morris wallpapers and Gustav Stickley furniture. Morris is, of course, the leading figure in the British Arts and Crafts movement, an artistic, philosophical, ethical, and socialist political movement that effaced the boundary between high art...

Part IV. Taking a Stand: Subjects and (Dis)courses in the Academy

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pp. 151

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10. Body as Text: Young Women’s Negotiations of Subjectivity

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pp. 153-166

The lights come up to reveal this young woman posed for movement like a Greek statue of a young athlete on an inverted metal garbage can. Her healthy stripped body is encased in layers and layers of plastic wrap. She moves, in awkward and jerky struggle, painfully extending in time, as her voice wrenches out versions and repeated...

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11. Interpreting Charges of Sexual Harassment: Competing Discourses and Claims

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pp. 167-187

You are a lanky, energetic social science professor, a white male in your early fifties, a sophisticated but rebellious product of British public school education. You enjoy intellectual give and take, as well as a fast game of squash. You value good talk, are amused and pleased by challenge and originality in others, and hence have a...


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pp. 189

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12. Locked in, Locked out, or Locked up?

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pp. 191-202

In 1993, we were pleased to be included in a stimulating group of feminist scholars, activists and artists invited to a symposium at the University of Arizona to consider how feminist theory and practice use metaphors of space and place. At that time and in that context, feminism seemed rich and diverse. We undertook intellectual exploration...


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pp. 203-215


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pp. 217-238


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pp. 239-243

E-ISBN-13: 9780791491874
E-ISBN-10: 0791491870
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791447154
Print-ISBN-10: 0791447154

Page Count: 254
Publication Year: 2000