A New Type of Womanhood

Discursive Politics and Social Change in Antebellum America

A New Type of Womanhood

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 10 tables Published: August 2008

Sociology, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

In A New Type of Womanhood, Natasha Kirsten Kraus retells the history of the 1850s woman’s rights movement. She traces how the movement changed society’s very conception of “womanhood” in its successful bid for economic rights and rights of contract for married women. Kraus demonstrates that this discursive change was a necessary condition of possibility for U.S. women to be popularly conceived as civil subjects within a Western democracy, and she shows that many rights, including suffrage, followed from the basic right to form legal contracts. She analyzes this new conception of women as legitimate economic actors in relation to antebellum economic and demographic changes as well as changes in the legal structure and social meanings of contract.

Enabling Kraus’s retelling of the 1850s woman’s rights movement is her theory of “structural aporias,” which takes the institutional structures of any particular society as fully imbricated with the force of language. Kraus reads the antebellum relations of womanhood, contract, property, the economy, and the nation as a fruitful site for analysis of the interconnected power of language, culture, and the law. She combines poststructural theory, particularly deconstructive approaches to discourse analysis; the political economic history of the antebellum era; and the interpretation of archival documents, including woman’s rights speeches, petitions, pamphlets, and convention proceedings, as well as state legislative debates, reports, and constitutional convention proceedings. Arguing that her method provides critical insight not only into social movements and cultural changes of the past but also of the present and future, Kraus concludes A New Type of Womanhood by considering the implications of her theory for contemporary feminist and queer politics.


A New Type of Womanhood is rich in historical detail and convincing in its analysis of this detail through the lens and methodology of her structural aporetic theoretical frame. It is a valuable contribution to social theory, women’s studies, historical sociology, and social movements, among other areas of social and cultural analysis.” — Ann Branaman, Contemporary Sociology

“Kraus has done an amazing job of researching and organizing [A New Type of Womanhood], which compiles so much information about American antebellum women’s rights.” — Nicolette Westfall, Feminist Review Blog

A New Type of Womanhood is a very engaging book. Natasha Kirsten Kraus tells such an interesting story, I could hardly put the book down. Connecting changes in late-nineteenth-century political economy with changes in the discourse of true womanhood, Kraus offers insight into the way that the idea of women and the reforms of women function in the development of a market economy in which the notion of the promise of contract is central.” — Patricia Ticineto Clough, editor of The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social

“Natasha Kirsten Kraus has produced a hard-hitting work that takes on the complacencies of contemporary critical thought. Carefully and irrevocably reconfiguring sociological premises, her book offers exemplary readings with a courageous tenacity that explores from new and rigorous perspectives the victory of patriarchy—still dominant yet in some ways a stealth force to contend with.” — Avital Ronell, author of The ÜberReader: Selected Works of Avital Ronell

“With A New Type of Womanhood Natasha Kirsten Kraus deepens and advances the somewhat thinly presented versions of the ‘true womanhood’ doctrine in feminist theory and history. She shows that true womanhood is a highly unstable concept because it emerged from a crucial juncture of structural uncertainties in nineteenth-century American society. Moreover, her distinctive methodology, ‘structural aporia analysis,’ is an important contribution.” — Charles Lemert, author of Thinking the Unthinkable: The Riddles of Classical Social Theories


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Natasha Kirsten Kraus has taught sociology and women’s studies at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, and has been a Research Fellow at the Center for the Humanities, Wesleyan University, and a Scholar in Residence at the Center for Cultural Sociology, Yale University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Tables xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

Part 1

Chapter 1. True Womanhood, the Economy, and Woman's Rights 15

Chapter 2. Reading Antebellum History Aporetically: Renarrating Womanhood, Property Rights, and the 1850s Woman's Movement 45

Part II

Chapter 3. Gendered Economies: The Social Meanings of Womanhood 83

Chapter 4. Gendered Law: Antebellum Institutions Regulating Women, Property, and Contract 127

Chapter 5. The Antebellum Woman's Movement: Reshaping the Interimplicated Relations of Womanhood and Contract 161

Conclusion. Structural Aporias: Questions, Thoughts ,and Contemporary Politics 211

Notes 221

Bibliography 233

Index 257
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4368-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4333-2
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