Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Glamour" has it wrong; to tackle relationship violence, one must take agency as a victim (and no, the two terms are not mutually exclusive).

A 2008 neighborhood sign reads "North Hampton is a Domestic Violence-Free Zone." Carisa Showden points out that in situations of relationship violence, agency must be shared with concerned others. Image from Creative Commons.

Assistant professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro

In its May 2011 issue, Glamour magazine ran the article “Relationship Violence: The Secret that Kills 4 Women a Day.” The article combined well-sourced, hard-hitting statistics with stories from many young women who had experienced often quite serious relationship violence, or from family members and friends of women who were killed by husbands or boyfriends. I do commend Glamour for running no-nonsense stories on important issues like this that affect its readers, and I don’t mean to criticize necessarily for how this reporter framed the article. At the same time, I think the way the magazine phrased questions delving into this story is telling, and is representative of a sort of “mainstream” view of the problem of domestic violence in 21st America.

After leading with some heart-wrenching (and all-too-common) accounts of the nature of domestic violence against women, Glamour asks:

“Why is this still happening in 2011? After all, as women, we’re clearly no longer second-class citizens, so dependent on men’s earnings and support that we must put up with brutal relationships simply because we have no choices. We have more choices than ever—and men are surely more enlightened. So why are women more likely to be killed by their boyfriend than they were 35 years ago? And what can we do to reverse the trend?”

The class and race biases embedded in these questions may simply be indicative of Glamour’s target readership, but they are also emblematic of the common understanding of what women’s choices look like in situations of intimate partner violence. What the article misses in framing the question in this way is that while some women indisputably do have more options—and more to the point, more good options—than they did forty or fifty years ago, not all women do. To have “good choices” available, material resources have to be more widely distributed, gender norms (what we might in our philosophical language call “discursive resources”) have to change, and laws and public policies have to support an array of ways that women and men deal with ending abuse. So women have “more choices than ever” only to the degree that they have increased access to healthcare, good jobs, day care, supportive friends and family networks, full citizenship status, mobility, access to legal interventions that enable them to negotiate effectively with their partners when needed, and a strong enough sense of self to buck gender norms about responsibility for the maintenance of relationships and being a good partner. Not all women have most of these resources.

Framing aside, Glamour also asks readers to confront an age-old question: Why do women stay? As the article points out:
Perhaps most surprising, some researchers believe that because young women today feel invulnerable in relationships, they may actually try to tough it out themselves rather than ask for help when things turn bad. “We’ve grown up in a different generation, where women are leaders, we have careers, children—we break glass ceilings,” one 24-year-old student tells Glamour … In other words, it’s hard for young women to see themselves as victims at the hands of a man.

That is, women, especially young women, have grown up with the expectation that they have agency. Being an “agent” means being able to assess your situation and wrest some control from it. In our popular definitions of “victim” there’s no room for the idea of “agency;” “victims” don’t have control. But that definition is wrong and dangerous. It’s often only through seeing oneself as being a victim that one can get to the point of realizing the situation needs to change and making the plans necessary to enact those changes. This is what I call “the agency in ‘victim’.” Victim and agent are not mutually exclusive categories; they are co-implicated. Being willing to say you are a victim is one of the first steps in saying that the abuse you are suffering is wrong, not your fault, and has to change. Evaluating what it takes to change that situation is the next step. And here, the Glamour article is spot-on: it makes its main point an important and powerful one: “tell somebody.”

Talking with concerned others is essential to agency; because agency, in addition to all of the personal and individual things that it is, is shared. Our capacities for acting in our own best interests are developed by and enhanced through the conversations we have with others and the intellectual, moral, emotional and material resources we devise in our actions with others. Family, friends, co-workers, even by-standers can provide outside narratives that we can use to evaluate our own sense of ourselves and our evaluations of our situations. It is, finally, in this process of evaluating and reevaluating who we are and how we are living our lives that we become agents in the fullest sense of the word. We become competent criticizers of the gender norms we’ve internalized and our sense of the limits placed on us by the gender, race, and national narratives through which we’ve developed a sense of ourselves and our capacities.

And at the end of the day, while it is essential to get abused women help, to get them talking to concerned others, and to provide safe havens, until our first gut-reaction question is “why does he hit her?” rather than “why doesn’t she leave?,” we will not be at a point where gender norms have altered deeply and significantly enough for us as a society really and truly to tackle intimate partner violence.


Carisa R. Showden is assistant professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and author of Choices Women Make: Agency in Domestic Violence, Assisted Reproduction, and Sex Work.

"Choices Women Make is one of the best treatments of agency and its relation to women and feminism that I have seen. It is a superb book."
—Kathryn Abrams, University of California, Berkeley

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Drumroll please ...

It's here!


Welcome to the new online home for University of Minnesota Press!

Beyond the new, multi-chromatic look, you can now easily keep up with the Press's comings and goings, including internal news; books, tests, and journals divisions; exploring our books; and accessing more information on our site than ever before.

We're very pleased that the new site has launched, and we want to thank our partners in creating the Press's new electronic publishing home:

* Boston-based web development firm Jazkarta
* The branding and design team at forge
* Curtis Michelson with Curtis Michelson Consulting

Now featuring frequently updated news content and interactive ways to discover and browse the books we publish, we invite you to explore the past, present, and future of the University of Minnesota Press.

Thank you for visiting.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Almost two decades after the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, the country still has a long way to go.

A beach in Cape Town, South Africa. In a recent report, South Africa received a lowest-possible rating for its lack of progress in addressing xenophobia. Image from Creative Commons.

Associate professor of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University

Recent news out of South Africa that the rainbow nation received the lowest possible rating for its response to xenophobia should not come as a surprise. Since the outbreak of violence against foreigners in the urban peripheries three years ago, the government has shown little commitment to addressing the underlying tensions that generated it. More broadly, the violence marked only one aspect of a failure of governance that has come to define the state in relation to the country’s townships since the end of apartheid almost two decades ago.

The African Peer Review Mechanism Monitoring Project (APRMMP), a creation of the African Union, gave South Africa a red light, its lowest rating, for its response to the 2008 wave of violence, finding not only a lack of progress in addressing xenophobia by government but also an element of denialism. Referring to the news, Tara Polzer Ngwato, of the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, observed, “Government responses have been fragmented, poorly resourced and with limited political commitment.”

It is important to note that Ngwato’s description could easily refer to virtually any one of the country’s many social problems, particularly those that plague township communities, and speaks to the lack of progress in addressing apartheid’s legacy of underdevelopment. Indeed, the APRMMP also gave the country red lights for its efforts on poverty and unemployment, while only the management of elections earned a green light.

A complex web of relationships connects the many challenges the country faces. In my recently released book, I examine the city’s attempt to confront crime and gangsterism as the leading edge of its wider urban development strategy. What I found is that its anti-crime strategy, which in practice prioritizes displacing crime from affluent areas and containing it within poor areas, is rooted in a perception that the townships are a threat to the city’s revitalization.

Through this strategy, the city is attempting to disentangle the fate of the affluent downtown from that of the threatening periphery and protect the former from the "pathologies" of the latter. This conceptualization mistakes the source of the city’s disorder. In an attempt to deal only with certain consequences of a repressive inequality, the city fails not only in delivering development, it actually undermines it.

Similar to the challenge of gangs and crime, the failure to address xenophobia cannot be separated from failures to address poverty, unemployment, adequate housing, violence against women and children, and other dimensions of social development. What is required in South Africa, as in all unequal societies, is a reconfiguration of basic social relationships. Good policy – comprehensive, sustained, well-resourced – cannot accomplish this alone, but without government playing a central role, it is unlikely to happen.

Further, an effort at this scale this cannot be launched, much less sustained, through economic and governance strategies that are based on the alleged transformative power of free markets. South Africa’s leaders, like many global elites, hold fast to the idea that the path to development for struggling countries lies in reshaping the national economy as a destination for international capital. This has been the gamble the African National Congress and its partners in government have made for almost two decades, and seems determined to continue, despite its overwhelming failure to spark a South African renaissance.

The kind of comprehensive development strategy that is sorely needed would require the full attention of government for years, perhaps even decades, leaving little time and few resources required to host global events, such as the 2010 World Cup and other spectacles that, in part, are attempts to draw wealth to the country. Sadly, despite often laudable rhetoric, even the limited initiatives to address glaring inequality, whether at the national or local scales, have fallen victim to the forces identified by Ngwato: a lack of coordination, a lack of resources, and most importantly, a lack of genuine political will.

If the problems facing the average South African are unable to command the required attention from government, we should not be surprised that the danger facing even more vulnerable foreign residents has not compelled government to act. More insidiously, the strategy of portraying the “troubles” of the townships as somehow intrinsic to the social organization of the townships – the same implicit strategy employed with crime – goes beyond neglect. In fact it reveal another conscious iteration of the infamous narrative of ‘black on black’ violence used in a previous era to locate the cause of township unrest in township residents themselves, all the while making less visible the role of state and market actors. Such is the implication in a remarks made by Maggie Maunye, chair of the parliamentary oversight committee of the Department of Home Affairs, that foreigners were a cause of continued underdevelopment.

In both cases, xenophobic violence and criminal violence, some of the most vulnerable of South Africa’s residents are made to bear the burden of almost twenty years of failed social policy, neglect, and a now more colorful elite’s efforts to protect their social position relative to the nation’s majority. Until the political will is mobilize to upturn these entrenched realities, it is unlikely that any of South Africa’s vulnerable communities will be secure.


Tony Roshan Samara is associate professor of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University. He is author of Cape Town after Apartheid: Crime and Governance in the Divided City.

"Cape Town after Apartheid is a major contribution to the field of urban studies and criminal justice. It provides a framework for understanding gangs, violence, and neoliberal crime policies, emphasizing how security policies are rooted both in neoliberalism and apartheid-era policy and how they serve to strengthen gangs and fail to stem violence."
—John Hagedorn, author of A World of Gangs

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On accessories: Why do we study the habits of dress, and what happens when it gets taken to an entirely new level (as with Shanghai)?

Should anyone think that pondering over the significance of clothes is a frivolous practice, let us read what William James had to write about them:
“The old saying that the human person is composed of three parts -- soul, body, and clothes -- is more than a joke. We […] appropriate our clothes and identify ourselves with them.”
—William James, The Principles of Psychology

Or, to remain in the same family, let us see how, toward the end of his career, his brother Henry subtly and theatrically presented one of clothing's accessory:
“Maggie had kept the shawl she had taken out with her, and, clutching it tight in her nervousness, drew it around her as if huddling in it for shelter, covering herself with it for humility. She looked out as from under an improvised hood -- the sole headgear of some poor woman at somebody’s proud door.”
—Henry James, The Golden Bowl

Clothes speak of US!

—Cristina Giorcelli, professor of American literature at the University of Rome and co-editor of Accessorizing the Body: Habits of Being I (out this month from University of Minnesota Press)



Photographs in this post courtesy of Paula Rabinowitz.

Professor of English at the University of Minnesota and co-editor of Accessorizing the Body

I did the final page proofing for Accessorizing the Body in Shanghai, where I have been teaching as Distinguished Fulbright Lecturer in American Culture at East China Normal University since February. Since I arrived, I’ve been wandering the streets, soaking up the wild energy of a city whose official motto is “Better City, Better Life” but whose unofficial motto could be “Real city/Fake city,” as one reality about Shanghai is that the atmosphere is filled with artificial materials. Overflowing with goods spilling onto every street and alleyway, the city is a fitting place to contemplate the abundance of accessories and clothing in the new urban landscape—which means on bodies, in shops, strewn over railings, hanging from clotheslines, spread on sheets for sale, displayed from shop windows and hawked by everyone, from the ubiquitous vendors calling out “Lady, lady, you want bags, watch, sunglasses…” on Nanjing Lu to the glitzy “Lady Dior” exhibition guides at the ritzy Plaza 66 House of Dior. This storefront exhibition, which features commercials by David Lynch and John Cameron Mitchell—not to mention a full-size portrait of Iggy Pop in drag carrying his Dior bag—followed the successful Culture Chanel show at Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art on display this winter.

For a time, People’s Square, site of the Sunday afternoon marriage market and statues to fallen heroes of the revolution, was awash with huge banners of Man Ray’s profile of Coco in black sheathe and white pearls, which is the only image of her available for reproduction (that’s why it’s on our cover, too). This show featured her designs as art—rather than artists’ riffs on the object as in the Dior show—as well as her own collection of work by friends: Picasso, Cocteau, a manuscript page of Proust’s Á la Recherche du Temps Perdu—and examples of nuns’ habits and men’s golfwear and piles of fake pearls along with all the real and knock-off stuff that sports the Chanel logo.

As my students have astutely observed, all this was designed to sell an exclusive brand to a wider Chinese clientele beyond the fabulously wealthy who can realistically afford it. But the logo—the brand—is already a household phenomenon here, made possible by endless knock-offs on sale in every Metro station and on most busy street corners (which is to say all in a city of 23 million). Genuine high-end material rarely gets purchased; what flashes by is the artificial version, even the knock-off of the knock-off, a series of removes that filters into every aspect of life. After all, this is the culture that produced the prized jade carving of a piece of roast pig during the Qing dynasty, hauled off in 1949 to Taiwan by Chiang Kai-shek and on display (along with the jade cabbage) at the National Palace Museum.

Copying is an essential aspect of Chinese culture. One might read in Der Spiegel about how Chinese architects copied an Austrian World Heritage village or listen to Italian designers' concerns about their work being fabricated by Chinese residents on NPR to realize that the buying and selling of cheap stuff of every color, fabric, shape, and use imaginable fills the empty sidewalk space hoping to attract a population perpetually on the go.

Take what’s on sale by street vendors outside the front gate of ECNU: an ever-evolving cast of men and women, mostly young and working all day long, bargaining with savvy customers as they try to get rid of their "stuff." Here’s what’s available to wear (I’m not even discussing street food, pirated dvds, books and magazines, fortune-telling, notebooks, games, flowers, phones, electronics, etc.): hair pins, shoes, panties, leggings, socks, wallets, purses, jewelry, hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, tee-shirts, blouses, dresses, pants, combs, and scarves. This plethora of stuff—stuff that cannot be consumed even by the millions passing by in Shanghai—is here because it couldn’t pass quality control (a T-shirt reading ANDENGL, for example); it’s a failed try-out for the US market; a knock-off; or it’s from a shipment that somehow fell off the delivery truck. Most is "Made in China," which wants to become a brand as "Made in Italy" is, now that H&M (with stores in all the malls, that is to say, everywhere) sells clothing made in Laos, Bangladesh, Indonesia, where labor is cheaper still.

I’m just back the fabric market under the Nanpu Bridge and had a hand-tailored wool-cashmere, silk-lined aubergine knock-off Armani suit made last week. Next week I pick up the navy knock-off Versace in silk-wool blend. Awhile ago I had a chance to visit one of the actual knock-off accessory shops run by the relative of a friend of a friend; but the cops had just busted it the day before, confiscating all her inventory until she pays the “fine” and gets a “new shipment” of goods. Hers is not the same kind of shop as those found at the Fake Market in the Metro station beneath the Science and Technology Museum in shiny Pudong, where men’s shirts marked “Made in USA” and “Montblanc” pens and “Dunlop” golf clubs (as well as T-shirts with Obama in a Mao cap) can be bargained down to one-tenth the asking price. Those are officially-sanctioned fakes—I’m talking about the other stuff—which is hiding in plain sight, the street stuff, that mingles with the laundry hanging from every window and balcony, no matter what the class status of the buildings’ occupants; I’m talking about the Shanghai of pajama-wearing men and women out for a stroll; I’m talking about the eclectic style of a city overrun by accessories.


Paula Rabinowitz is co-editor with Cristina Giorcelli of Accessorizing the Body: Habits of Being I, the first volume of a four-part series that charts the social, cultural, and political expression of clothing, dress and accessories as seen on the street, in films and literature, and in ads and magazines to decipher how materials offer meanings.