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An Introduction to Complex Texts

Shefali Jha

By Vidyut Bhagwat
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2004, pp. 374, Rs. 675.00


Feminist Social Thought brings together a set of introductory essays on the work of six of the best-known feminist ideologues of the twentieth century. The attempt is to summarize in some detail the work of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone, Juliet Mitchell and Sheila Rowbotham. Given the scope of the thought and the fact that several books have been devoted to the analysis of each work, this is an arduous task, and one is bound to be disappointed if one is looking for an analytical or even critical approach. However, as stated in the preface, the book is intended as a textbook to be used as part of women’s studies programmes at the undergraduate and perhaps postgraduate levels, and in this it succeeds.   While the ‘Introduction’ covers the socio-historical and political context of the writing, each chapter consists of brief biographical information and detailed summaries of the main books written by each writer. Culled from the work of historians and some of the writers discussed in the book itself, the introduction charts the history of women’s activism at various points in the history of Europe and the United States, and covers all of about three hundred years (the seventeenth to the twentieth century). It also briefly discusses ideological influences on the women’s movement in the twentieth century, including the work of Freud, Herbert Marcuse, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan etc. The information can seem disjointed and abrupt in places, with connections missing, but this is inevitable given the nature of the exercise and the constraints it places on the author. An example is this introduction to Althusser: ‘Like Lacan, Althusser asserted that the unconscious is structured like language. It is a structure, but not a subject. Althusser wanted to use the science of psychoanalysis in developing the science of ideological formation, the culture of modern capitalism’(p.52). This can be very confusing for the newcomer to theory, feminist or otherwise, as to who the book is aimed at. One is not given information about what Structuralism is, what the discussion on the ‘subject’ has been or what Althusser’s distinctive ideas on ‘ideological formation (s)’ are.   The chapters summarize ‘feminist classics’ like The Second Sex, The Feminine Mystique, Sexual Politics, The Dialectic of Sex, Women’s Estate and Women, Resistance and Revolution, apart from several others, by the respective writers. The summaries are organized ...

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