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Sadomasochism in Everyday Life: The Dynamics of Power and Powerlessness Hardcover – June 1, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this engaging but not wholly persuasive book, Chancer argues that skewed societal structures like patriarchy and capitalism provoke nonsexual sadomasochistic relationships at work, in families and between groups. Alternately accessible and abstruse, Chancer, who teaches sociology at Barnard College in New York City, ranges from critiquing popular culture and reflecting on her experience as a secretary to delving into psychoanalysis and existentialism. She claims that writers of pop psychology books ignore the role society plays in pushing relationships toward sadomasochism. In a bureaucratically stratified society, Chancer argues, people can be both victim and victimizer, venting feelings of racism, sexism or homophobia to compensate for their own class oppression. But Chancer paints with too broad a brush; it makes little sense for her to toss in a half-baked examination of South African repression. She says Sartre's analysis of how the anti-Semite needs the Jew reflects a sadomasochistic dynamic; however, masochism implies that the victim also gains some benefit, and in too many of her examples, Chancer does not address this issue.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Mention the term "sadomasochism," and most people will envision whips and chains and lots of leather. Chancer (sociology, Barnard Coll.) offers a much more subtle and pervasive vision of sadomasochism. She asks that the reader regard sadomasochism as a "distinctive dynamic between self and other" brought on in part by societal conventions which currently exist in the United States. While this dynamic may indeed still possess some of the sexual overtones normally associated with sadomasochism, it is at its core a relationship based on subordination and domination. This dynamic exists everywhere from the workplace to the way in which we raise our children. Chancer's book is indeed thought- provoking and well documented; its scholarly nature makes it an appropriate addition to academic and large research libraries.
-Jennifer Amador, Central State Hosp . Medical Lib., Petersburg, Va.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press; First edition (June 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813518075
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813518077
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,974,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Terrence T. Downes on August 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Lynn Chancer puts her finger on dynamics that operate in all of our lives, usually at an unconscious level. She carefully analyzes the elements that constitute a sadomasochistic relationship, then sorts through our cultural arrangements. She finds sadomasochism is embedded in the fabric of our way of life; specifcally in the world of work and gender relationships. Surprisingly, at least to me, she points out that the sexual sadomasochism of the S&M sort is more civilzed than is the sadomasochism of everday life. The difference is that the S&M scene contains the dynamics, and also provides limits to those dynamics, as it is consensual, and personal limits are respected. As such, it is more like a parody of everday life. In everday life, where sadomasochism is unrecognized, its inherent destructiveness is also unrecognized. The limits which would make it social are missing. Those missing, necessary, limits have to do with our ongoing dependency on one another, with our vulnerability, with our very humanity. It is the absence of limits that makes the authority of the manager, the bureaucrat, the policeman, etc., into an oppressor and persecutor rather than a benefit to humankind. If sadomasochism is a perversion then, inescapably, we are a perverse society.
Consider the dynamics of sadomaochism: 1.There must exist binding inequality. (The haves and the have-nots for example. One without the other couldn't recognize itself.) 2.There is no mutuality. One dictates the other obeys. 3.The dialectic of the relationship creates flux. Internally the neverending search for fulfillment moves the relationship to exhaustion. Externally, people can switch positions. The sadist is a masochist striving to meet the demands of, and be recognized by, a more powerful sadist.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Phyllis Antebi Ph.D on September 20, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In her acknowledgement, Chancer writes, 'As the best friend I ever imagined and a remarkably beautiful human being, AnnaMaria Morales was with me everyday even when she did not read my manuscript. Without her and Michael, I don't think I would have known in my heart and mind that alternatives to those sadomasochistic dynamics that are compulsive and destructive really can exist'. Chancer goes on to describe the relationship with a sadist as 'an inelastic ritual of dominance and subordination, a symbiotic enmeshment of power and powerlessness', and as a relationship with recurrent and very structured features. These highly charged encounters are addictive in nature, repetitive and ritualistic in character. Neither masochist or sadist can assume independence of spirit by a simple assertion of will. The persona of control and of powerlessness is inherent in the structure of their personalities. "Masochism and the Emergent Ego' by Menacker, is exceptional in identifying the bondage of familial love that becomes the underlying core of masochism. 'The Psychopathic Personality' by Read Meloy, is the best read on the sadist as predatory. Both personality disorders have their etiology in childhood and Alice Miller, 'For your own Good', for example, exemplifies why these disturbed bonds are so difficult to transcend. Chancer writes, 'He alone called into question my feelings of self worth, putting them into doubt by his coolness and by the uncertainty of his continuing affection. I believe', she continues, 'that the anxiety ridden state with which he became associated was the dominant explanation of his particular appeal'. In summary, Chancer explains, 'I came to view myself indirectly rather than directly, through the eyes of the other instead of through my own eyes'.Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By W Lyffyt on February 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
A brilliant book.Those who question why people might kill themselves, or do themselves or others harm, no longer can, if they understand the essence of the game that is so precisely described and unveiled in this book. Chancer, in minute detail, explains the dynamics of the destructive power-game when people seek to find love through power. Pursuing the power game - unreflected - must, if taken to its ultimate conclusion, result in violence and/or even death. Revealing is the phrase: "when the masochist dies, so does the sadist."

By returning to the formation of humans in early life, Chancer explains the bonding process, and how some fail to succeed in tearing away from the clutches of excessive bonding - with devastating results: caught in a non-stop game of dependency of not finding the exit door. In the book 9-1/2 weeks, the female star actually dies, unable to tear away. The sadist, too does not achieve his aim.

The dynamics exist at all levels - between individuals, and between individuals and the state.

It's not easy reading - but very revealing. Ideal reading for AFTERWARDS would be Satre's "The chips are down." In The German title is even better: "Das Spiel ist aus." (The game is over.)
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