Sadomasochism in Everyday Life: The Dynamics of Power and Powerlessness

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Lynn Chancer advances the provocative thesis that sadomasochism is far more prevalent in contemporary societies like the United States than we realize. According to Chancer, sexual sadomasochism is only the best-known manifestation of what is actually a much more broadly based social phenomenon. Moving from personal relationships to school, the workplace, and other interactions, Chancer uses a variety of examples that are linked by a recurrent pattern of behavior. She goes beyond the predominantly individualistic and psychological explanations generally associated with sadomasochism (including those popularized in the "how to" literature of the recent Women Who Love Too Much genre) toward a more sociological interpretation. Chancer suggests that the structure of societies organized along male-dominated and capitalistic lines reflects and perpetuates a sadomasochistic social psychology, creating a culture steeped in everyday experiences of dominance and subordination.

In the first part of the book, Chancer discusses the prevalence of sadomasochistic cultural imagery in contemporary America and examines sadomasochism through several perspectives. She develops a set of definitional traits both through existential analysis of an instance of S/M sex and by incorporating a number of Hegelian and psychoanalytic concepts. In the second part of the book, she places sadomasochism in a broader context by exploring whether and how it appears in the workplace and how it relates to gender and race.

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Editorial Reviews

Ellen Willis

Ellen Willis, journalist and critic, author of No More Nice Girls and Daring to Be Bad:

"An important contribution to that most pressing of cultural projects -- uncovering the psychic roots of authoritarianism."

Ruth Sidel

Ruth Sidel, Hunter College, and author of On Her Own: Growing Up in the Shadow of the American Dream:

"A brilliant, highly orginal analysis of contemporary U.S. society. Chancer illuminates fundamental issues in American culture, in the workplace, in gender relationships, and the minefield of race."

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this engaging but not wholly persuasive book, Chancer argues that skewed societal structures like patriarchy and capitalism provoke nonsexual sadomasochistic relationships at work, in families and between groups. Alternately accessible and abstruse, Chancer, who teaches sociology at Barnard College in New York City, ranges from critiquing popular culture and reflecting on her experience as a secretary to delving into psychoanalysis and existentialism. She claims that writers of pop psychology books ignore the role society plays in pushing relationships toward sadomasochism. In a bureaucratically stratified society, Chancer argues, people can be both victim and victimizer, venting feelings of racism, sexism or homophobia to compensate for their own class oppression. But Chancer paints with too broad a brush; it makes little sense for her to toss in a half-baked examination of South African repression. She says Sartre's analysis of how the anti-Semite needs the Jew reflects a sadomasochistic dynamic; however, masochism implies that the victim also gains some benefit, and in too many of her examples, Chancer does not address this issue. July
Library Journal
Mention the term ``sadomasochism,'' and most people will envision whips and chains and lots of leather. Chancer sociology, Barnard Coll. offers a much more subtle and pervasive vision of sadomasochism. She asks that the reader regard sadomasochism as a ``distinctive dynamic between self and other'' brought on in part by societal conventions which currently exist in the United States. While this dynamic may indeed still possess some of the sexual overtones normally associated with sadomasochism, it is at its core a relationship based on subordination and domination. This dynamic exists everywhere from the workplace to the way in which we raise our children. Chancer's book is indeed thought- provoking and well documented; its scholarly nature makes it an appropriate addition to academic and large research libraries.--Jennifer Amador, Central State Hosp . Medical Lib., Petersburg, Va.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813518084
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/1992
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 252
  • Sales rank: 1,015,401
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction Reflecting on a Set of Personal and Political Criteria 1
Pt. 1 Expanding the Scope of Sadomasochism
Ch. 1 Exploring Sadomasochism in the American Context 15
Ch. 2 Defining a Basic Dynamic: Parodoxes[sic] at the Heart of Sadomasochism 43
Ch. 3 Combining the Insights of Existentialism and Psychoanalysis: Why Sadomasochism? 69
Pt. 2 Sadomasochism in Its Social Settings
Ch. 4 Employing Chains of Command: Sadomasochism and the Workplace 93
Ch. 5 Engendering Sadomasochism: Dominance, Subordination, and the Contaminated World of Patriarchy 125
Ch. 6 Creating Enemies in Everyday Life: Following the Example of Others 155
Ch. 7 A Theoretical Finale 187
Epilogue 215
Notes 223
Index 231
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