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Reviews Jane K. Cowan, Dance and tL· Body Politic in Northern Greece. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1990. Pp. xv + 252. $45.00 hardback, $14.95 paperback. Arising from a rich heritage of anthropological studies of gender in rural Greece, Jane Cowan's Dance and tL· Body Politic in Northern Greece makes important contributions to ongoing discussions of gender, embodiment, and power on several counts. Cowan's decision to work in the Macedonian market town of Sohós, as opposed to the small and remote villages favored by most ethnographers of Greece, allows her to place social and cultural change at the center of her analysis. Her work thus offers a valuable bridge between previous ethnographic work on rural women and the rapidly changing urban contexts, which are still not studied very extensively yet in which, after all, the great majority of Greeks live. By focusing on dance-events, Cowan foregrounds a subject that oddly enough (given its importance in Greek social life) has been relatively marginal to ethnographers' concerns. Analytically, her reliance on the Gramscian notion of hegemony insures that the reader has access to multiple interpretations and perspectives, without losing sight of overarching relations of dominance and subordination. Cowan's principal concern is to analyze not dance per se but the "danceevent " as a site in which men and women "experience themselves as gendered subjects" and in which "gender inequalities and other social hierarchies are constituted and even celebrated" (p. 4). One of the book's central arguments is that specific social meanings are incorporated into the body and expressed by it, through processes that are by and large unconscious. Cowan begins her exploration of the book's themes by analyzing how gender is expressed and reproduced in everyday life through a variety of sociable practices such as drinking, eating, going out for coffee, and providing hospitality. A major strength of this attention to the seemingly trivial practices of sociability— which on closer inspection turn out to be laden with coercive dimensions— is the insight it provides into the ways in which pleasure is complicit in the reproduction of relations of power. This insight is further developed in the book's five chapters devoted to the analysis of three kinds of dance-events, the "traditional" Sohoian wedding, the more "European" formal dinner dances sponsored by die town's various voluntary associations, and the private dinner party. Throughout her discussion of these dance-events, Cowan demonstrates the productive and affirmative potential of heightened aesthetic and sensuous states for articulating Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 11, 1993. 299 300 Reviews and reinforcing particular collective meanings. At the same time, she carefully traces the different ways in which dance is problematic for women and men. Men compete for power and prestige even as they celebrate in fellowship with each other. For women, display of sexual expressivity in the dance is simultaneously a valued quality and a potential source of criticism. Thus, a girl or woman is enjoined both to "let go" and to "uphold your position" (p. 190), a contradiction that inhibits many from assuming coveted lead positions in line dances. Cowan's nuanced discussion of the ambiguous terms that Sohoians use to describe women's attitudes, poses, movements and self-presentation while dancing reveals their underlying and potentially dangerous semantic and moral slipperiness. This ever-present possibility of slipping insures women 's constant self-vigilance even in heightened sensuous states, lest they be misinterpreted. The dinner party Cowan analyzes is especially interesting as a rare example of conflict and breakdown following the apparent transgression of appropriately feminine comportment in the dance by one woman, Aphrodite. Cowan develops the story by presenting the views of several commentators on Aphrodite's failure to manage her self-presentation. Most are highly critical , although a dissenting opinion exonerates Aphrodite to some extent. Although the story, quite appropriately, is left open and ambiguous, it does show clearly enough some of the serious consequences (tearing down of reputation through gossip, harassment, condemnation) that immediately follow upon such transgressions. Sensitive to the competing discourses struggling to define gender in Sohós, Cowan presents several of the voices speaking for and challenging the dominant gender ideology. Challenges arise...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 299-301
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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