Specious poisons?: reputation, gender, and democratic politics Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Taylor, Erin N.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science
  • Suggesting that reputation and gossip have been largely ignored by contemporary political theorists, I argue that both reputation and the gossip that helps to constitute it are important aspects of our communal and political lives. I begin with the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as representative of a larger early modern discourse that identified the desire for reputation as one that is central to human beings. Arguing that this desire for reputation simultaneously poses great dangers and great power for political communities, Rousseau's vision urges careful attention to political arrangements as a way of harnessing the positive effects of the desire for reputation. In my second chapter, I move to a focus on the relationship between reputation and gender, interrogating the necessity that women maintain spotless sexual reputations (a central feature to Rousseau's political schema) in light of both Mary Wollstonecraft's critique of Rousseau as well as my examination of the fate of Rousseau's heroines. Turning to the work of Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill, I contend that their arguments about the stifling effects of reputational politics for individual liberty point to a nuanced understanding of the differential effects of reputation for individuals in various echelons of society. Chapter 4 takes up George Orwell's novel Burmese Days as well as his essay "Shooting an Elephant" to think about the ways in which reputation and gossip work in contexts of radical differences of power. While both of these works are situated in the colonial context, I argue that Orwell's observations about the functions of gossip and reputation within relationships of incommensurate power are instructive beyond the colonial setting. Finally, in Chapter 5, I turn to contemporary political events to explore the previous chapters' themes of community, gender, individual liberty, and power through the lens of sexual reputation and the gossip that surfaced during the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal.
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  • Bickford, Susan
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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