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Women at stake: ideological cross-currents in misogyny and philogyny

This thesis investigates some relationships between a sociological population which manifests misogynous and philogynous behaviour, the sociological population towards which this behaviour is directed, and a third population which mediates relations between the first two. These populations are designated ‘ecclesiasticals’, ‘women’, and ‘new philosophers’, respectively. The focal period is the late Middle Ages, but extends backwards into remoter times. The approach is interdisciplinary - especially through New History (particularly Women’s History); Philosophy (particularly developments in epistemology in this period); Literature (particularly aspects of metaphor and the genre of tragedy); and Sociology (particularly sociology of literature, sociology of women, and historical sociology). The method draws mainly on Lucien Goldmann’s genetic structuralism in sociology of literature and historical sociology. This interpretative method begins with an isolated empirical event (designated ‘abstract’); and proceeds to make it ‘concrete’ by relating it to other events, and to smaller and greater dynamic social structures. The process is oscillatory between two aspects of research: ‘comprehension’ of a selected event in terms of a latent structure discernible in it; and ‘understanding’ the structure discerned in terms of its dynamic, homologous relationship to contextual structures, and to an over-arching structure. Two empirical events were the points of departure: persecution of women as witches/heretics and survival of goddess-worship. The event with a structure relating to both was Malleus Maleficarum [c1486, by Henry Kramer and James Sprenger). This was comprehended as a defensive reaction in a dogmatic structure; and understood in relation to threats in new developments in philosophy (especially nominalism, dialectic, and the new content), in women’s oral culture, and in over-arching structuration processes of transition from pre-modern to emergent modern. There are six chapters. CHAPTER ONE, INTRODUCTION outlines the substance and methods. CHAPTER TWO, CONCEPTUAL PROLOGUE explicates the conceptual tools. CHAPTER THREE, COMPREHENSION presents a close reading of certain passages of Malleus Maleficarum, which reveals the latent structure. The main points in this are: women’s critical multiplicity, barrenness of theology, and fear of nature. CHAPTER FOUR, UNDERSTANDING - (A) VIRTUALITY relates this structure to the theologians’ ‘virtuality’ of women and associated developments in philosophy. CHAPTER FIVE, UNDERSTANDING - (B) POTENTIAL CONSCIOUSNESS looks at women in terms of facilitators and interceptors of their ‘potential consciousness’. CHAPTER SIX, CONCLUSION summarises the links that have been discerned among the three populations, and suggests their relationships to the over-arching context. The contribution made by this thesis is the construction of a theoretical framework for imaginative retrieval in an undocumented area, and the testing of its components. These components are: Goldmann’s basic hypothesis that all human behaviour tends towards consistent rational responses; the general hypothesis that women were agonist in history not passive; and the particular hypothesis that at least some aspects of the phenomenon of persecution of women as witches did not have a dispositional or hysterical base, but a rational one related to changes in content and methods of thought within the wider context of change from pre-modern to emergent modern. It is concluded that use of this framework has illuminated empirical events and relationships; and that it may be used for further research in this and other obscure areas.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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