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Gender and Agency: Reconfiguring the Subject in Feminist and Social Theory



Gender and Agency: Reconfiguring the Subject in Feminist and Social Theory

Lois McNay

ISBN: 978-0-745-66787-4 May 2013 Polity 196 Pages



This book reassesses theories of agency and gender identity against the backdrop of changing relations between men and women in contemporary societies. McNay argues that recent thought on the formation of the modern subject offers a one-sided or negative account of agency, which underplays the creative dimension present in the responses of individuals to changing social relations. An understanding of this creative element is central to a theory of autonomous agency, and also to an explanation of the ways in which women and men negotiate changes within gender relations.

In exploring the implications of this idea of agency for a theory of gender identity, McNay brings together the work of leading feminist theorists - such as Judith Butler and Nancy Fraser - with the work of key continental social theorists. In particular, she examines the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Paul Ricoeur and Cornelius Castoriadis, each of whom has explored different aspects of the idea of the creativity of action. McNay argues that their thought has interesting implications for feminist ideas of gender, but these have been relatively neglected partly because of the huge influence of the work of Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan in this area. She argues that, despite its suggestive nature, feminist theory must move away from the ideas of Foucault and Lacan if a more substantive account of agency is to be introduced into ideas of gender identity.

This book will appeal to students and scholars in the areas of social theory, gender studies and feminist theory.

1. Gender, Subjectification and Agency: Introductory Remarks.

2. Body, Position, Power: Bourdieu and Butler on Agency.

3. Gender and Narrative: Ricoeur on the Coherence of Self.

4. Psyche and Society: Castoriadis and the Creativity of Action.

5. Gender and Change: Concluding Remarks.




'This is a fine piece of theoretical work that deftly negotiates some complex debates. It is rigorous, scholarly and has something significant to say.' Feminist Theory

'Complex and elegantly written ... Anyone frustrated by the simple assertion that identity is like a trap which necessarily forecloses the prospect of true female agency will find this book to be a useful contribution to the ways we think about what it means to become a female subject in culture.' Canadian Journal of Sociology Online

"McNay's book would benefit very greatly from the use of examples, to demonstrate the power of the approach she endorses in relation to contemporary feminist dilemmas and contentions." European Journal of Social Theory

* An important re-assessment of the idea of agency in the context of changing relations between men and women.

* Brings together the owrk of leading feminist theorists with the work of key continental social theorists.

* Argues that feminist theory must resist the influence of Foucault and Lacan to acheive more substantive ideas of agency and gender identity.