Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life / Edition 2

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Elsie Clews Parsons was a pioneering feminist, an eminent anthropologist, and an ardent social critic. In Elsie Clews Parsons, Desley Deacon reconstructs Parsons's efforts to overcome gender biases in both academia and society.

"Wonderfully illuminating. . . . Parsons's work resonates strikingly to current trends in anthropology."—George W. Stocking, Jr., Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"This is the biography of a woman so interesting and effective—a cross between Margaret Mead and Georgia O'Keeffe. . . . A nuanced portrait of this vivid woman."—Tanya Luhrmann, New York Times Book Review

"A marvelous new book about the life of Elsie Clews Parsons. . . . It's as though she is sitting on the next rock, a contemporary struggling with the same issues that confront women today: how to combine work, love and child-rearing into one life."—Abigail Trafford, Washington Post

"Parsons's splendid life and work continue to illuminate current puzzles about acculturation and diversity."—New Yorker

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
A marvelous new book about the life of Elsie Clews Parsons...It's as though she is sitting on the next rock, a contemporary struggling with the same issues that comfront women today: how to combine work, love and child-rearing into one life.
Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Feminist and anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons (1874-1941) published numerous articles and books on the Pueblo and other Southwestern Native American tribes, and became the first woman president of the American Anthropological Association shortly before her death. Her interest in cultural anthropology concerned the changes in ceremonies and rituals that followed the Spanish occupation of Native American lands. Considered an eccentric visionary and philanthropist by her friends and well-known colleagues, including Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, Parsons was born to a wealthy family and spent her childhood in New York and Newport. A Barnard graduate in sociology, Parsons did not adhere to traditional upper-class concepts of women's roles. She considered herself a "new woman," and her life included several lovers, adventurous arduous travel, as well as an "experimental" marriage and children. Drawing on Parsons's extensive personal and professional papers, as well as the memoirs (Mabel Dodge) and fiction (Robert Herrick) of her contemporaries, Deacon (Managing Gender) presents her material in a pedantic style ("The assertion of sexual plasticity and cultural mobility was part of the modernist project to repudiate history...") unlikely to appeal to the general reader. Although this volume boasts some 80 pages of notes, its viewpoint is not detached, and often reads more like a tribute than a biography-lacking in objective analysis of Parsons' research or writings. Although this work covers the relevant facts of Parsons' career, she never comes to life as the archetypal modern professional woman, the author intended.
The Washington Post
A marvelous new book about the life of Elsie Clews Parsons...It's as though she is sitting on the next rock, a contemporary struggling with the same issues that comfront women today: how to combine work, love and child-rearing into one life.
Kirkus Reviews
Despite the wade through Deacon's (American Studies/University of Texas) dense writing and disheveled timeline, Elsie Clews Parsons' story shines through. A feminist and anthropologist active in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, she consistently challenged the prevailing ideas and prejudices of her time. Parsons, a well-educated member of New York's upper class, drew her feminist ideas from her extensive studies of sociology and anthropology. Deacons chronicles Parsons' professional career as a groundbreaking ethnographer, detailing her "modernist" theories, her fieldwork in the Southwest, and her impact on the anthropological community. Her numerous published papers focused on dissecting and revamping cultural norms, from marriage to sex and birth control, all with the aim of spurring social change for women. Her professional career was balanced by an equally active personal life full of adventures, children, and romances, though Parsons carefully kept this life separate from her professional labors. WW I served as a turning point for Parsons, sending her off into new areas of research. A pacifist appalled by the "melting pot" acculturation propaganda preached by Woodrow Wilson, and by the racial intolerance that increased with the onset of the war, she immersed herself in understanding the culture of the Pueblo people of the Southwest, where she at last found serenity. (She continued her trips to the Southwest for anthropological research until her death in 1941.) After the war ended, Parsons returned to New York, where she resumed teaching and publishing, and worked to encourage aspiring social scientists. While Parsons's story is a remarkable one, Deacon views her subject as a"carrier of culture" in the new modernist era and thus continually interrupts her narrative to cram in extensive, and rather dry, academic explanations of her subject's anthropological theories and her influences, making for an uneven portrait of a remarkable figure.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226139074
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/1997
  • Series: Women in Culture and Society Series, #1997
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 538
  • Lexile: 1470L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps
Prologue: Strength to Forget the Past
Part One: Looking Forward
1. The Young Adventuress
2. Travels of the Mind
3. The Experimental Life
Part Two: We Secessionists...
4. The Voyage Out
5. New Science
6. New Woman
7. New Marriage
8. Dear Propagandist
9. The End of the Conversation
Part Three: Trans-National America
10. Saving Herself
11. The Other Continents among Us
12. Disciplinary Politics
13. Jessica at Fifty
14. Other Americas
Part Four: All Serene
15. Elsie's Lifework—Con Amore
16. A Modernist Death
Epilogue by Catherine R. Stimpson
Archival and Oral History Sources
Bibliography of Elsie Clews Parsons, 1896-1962

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