Gender and Agency

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

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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.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text | 196 pages
  • Polity Press
  • United Kingdom
  • 0745667864
  • 9780745667867

About Lois McNay

Lois McNay is Lecturer in Politics and Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford.
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Table of contents

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.



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Review quote

'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
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