Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life / Edition 2

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Elsie Clews Parsons was a relentlessly modern woman. A pioneering feminist, an eminent anthropologist, an ardent social critic, she challenged Americans to develop flexible and dynamic gender, family, and social arrangements that fit the new century. From 1912, when she incorporated ethnographic data on upper-class New York into a series of tersely ironic books and articles, Parsons brought to anthropology a passionate desire to educate the public to accept and welcome sexual and social diversity. Desley Deacon's vibrant and richly detailed biography examines the powerful connections linking Parsons' intellectual commitments to her extraordinary life experience. A wealth of correspondence and memoirs allows Deacon to vividly reconstruct Parsons' unconventional marriage, her intimate friendships, her ties to a burgeoning avant-garde, her wide-ranging travels, and her bitter attempts to escape the stifling conventions of New York's social elite - in short, all of her efforts to overcome gender biases in both academia and society. There is an immediacy to Parsons' struggles, a context to her modernism, and an urgency to her message. Her remarkable intensity compelled her to redefine the social and sexual values of her day, to explore gender roles in other cultural settings, and to thoroughly detonate, through word and deed, entrenched 19th-century conceptions of women, civilization, and morality. In Elsie Clews Parsons, Deacon has fashioned a deeply insightful portrayal of an uncommon woman with the uncommon courage to radically reconstruct sexual identity, for herself and for the modern age.
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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.
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: 9780226139081
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Series: Women in Culture and Society Series Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 538
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps
Prologue: Strength to Forget the Past 1
Pt. 1 Looking Forward
1 The Young Adventuress 11
2 Travels of the Mind 27
3 The Experimental Life 49
Pt. 2 We Secessionists ...
4 The Voyage Out 75
5 New Science 97
6 New Woman 111
7 New Marriage 133
8 Dear Propagandist 145
9 The End of the Conversation 165
Pt. 3 Trans-National America
10 Saving Herself 193
11 The Other Continents among Us 217
12 Disciplinary Politics 243
13 Jessica at Fifty 279
14 Other Americas 309
Pt. 4 All Serene
15 Elsie's Lifework - Con Amore 343
16 A Modernist Death 365
Epilogue 387
Notes 393
Bibliography of Elsie Clews Parsons, 1896-1962 485
Index 501
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