Gender and Social Theory

Gender and Social Theory

Gender and Social Theory

Gender and Social Theory


• What is the most significant aspect of current literature on gender?

• How does this literature engage with social theory?

• How does the recognition of gender shift the central arguments of social theory?

We know that gender defines and shapes our lives. The question addressed by Gender and Social Theory is that of exactly how this process occurs, and what the social consequences, and the consequences for social theory, might be. The emergence of feminist theory has enriched our understanding of the impact of gender on our individual lives and the contemporary social sciences all recognise gender differentiation in the social world. The issue, however, which this book discusses is the more complex question of the extent to which social theory is significantly disrupted, disturbed or devalued by the fuller recognition of gender difference. We know that gender matters, but Mary Evans examines whether social theory is as blind to gender as is sometimes argued and considers the extent to which a greater awareness of gender truly shifts the concerns and conclusions of social theory. Written by an author with an international reputation, this is an invaluable text for students and an essential reference in the field.


But the Vicar of St Botolph’s had certainly escaped the slightest
tincture of the Pharisee, and by dint of admitting to himself that he
was too much as other men were, he had become remarkably unlike
them …

(George Eliot, Middlemarch)

If you ask them what is the meaning of their restless activity, why
they are never satisfied with what they have, thus appearing so
senseless to any purely worldly view of life, they would perhaps give
the answer, if they know any at all: ‘to provide for my children and
grandchildren’. But more often, and since that motive is not peculiar
to them, but was just as effective for the traditionalist, more
correctly, simply: that business with its continuous work has
become a necessary part of their lives.

(Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic & the Spirit of Capitalism)

What can be said at all, can be said clearly.


The quotations above are intended to give readers an early indication of some of the views and inclinations which inform this book. The first is a commitment to the idea of interdisciphnarity. Thus the quotation from George Eliot, and the suggestion to her readers in 1871 that it is only when we recognize what we share with others that we begin to understand ourselves. We spend much of our lives, as Eliot recognizes, preoccupied with our singularity and our individuality. It is a major task of sociology to enable us to understand the common circumstances of our existence. That assumption may occasionally be of comfort to us, but as the quotation from Weber reminds us, it may also be unsettling and profoundly uncomfortable. We may not want to recognize the part which we as individuals play in structures of power and privilege: it is certainly not the case that we are often prepared to recognize the elements of our behaviour which are derived from the social as much as the personal world. But at the beginning of the twenty-first century, when those of us who live in the West live in societies of unparalleled technological sophistication (in particular in terms of our ability to control and reorder the natural world) we increasingly . . .

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