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Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination

“Reshapes the relations between feminism and cultural studies.”—Meaghan Morris
Annette Kuhn’s work as a theorist of culture has won her a wide reputation for dissecting film and other images in books such as Women’s Pictures and The Power of the Image. In Family Secrets, she turns her attention to the deconstruction of pictures closer to home—photographs from her own childhood and images from her shared ethnographic past—to trace a trajectory from personal to collective acts of memory.

Reviews

  • “An absorbing and beautiful book that reshapes the relations between feminism and cultural studies. Kuhn’s ‘memory work’ teaches us new ways of learning to make our own personal and collective histories.”
  • “An accessible, self-questioning, thoughtful book which takes one on a fascinating, labyrinthine journey from the family photograph album to filmic representations of the past.”
  • “Kuhn ... is one of those rare academics whose prose is a pleasure to read: clear, evocative and accessible.”
  • Family Secrets is not only a poignant personal memoir, it is also an exemplary act of engaged cultural criticism. An influential reader of visual culture, a prominent feminist critic, an imaginative analyst of autobiographical and photographic texts, Kuhn provides a blueprint for interpreting the complicated stories we live by, stories who tangled roots lie in our childhood. Brilliantly connecting private history and public event, intimate memory and social theory, Annette Kuhn performs a tour de force.”

Blog

  • Reconceptualizing Family History

    "Frustrated by the fact that most texts on women treated 'the man's world' as the given and then simply asked where and how women fitted in," Stephanie Coontz writes, "I decided to undertake a survey of American gender roles: that was the starting point of the present book" — The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families 1600–1900, published by Verso in 1988.


    Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters, c. 1863-65. via Wikimedia Commons.

    As the focus of her research shifted from "woman's private sphere" to the family as a larger arena in which the public and private intersect, Coontz became more attentive to the diversity of household arrangements across time and space. "Stimulated by the burgeoning research into family history," she writes, "I began to look at the family as a culture's way of coordinating personal reproduction with social reproduction — as the socially sanctioned place where male and female reproductive activities condition and are conditioned by the other activities into which human beings enter as they perpetuate a particular kind of society, or try to construct a new one." 

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  • Reconceptualizing Family History (Part II)

    Continued from part I.


    Detail from Francis William Edmonds' The New Bonnet (1858).

    The Limits of Structural and Demographic Analysis

    Although it is important to compare demographic trends and household structures and seek their economic correlates, such procedures yield only limited information about the history of families. Olga Linares points out: “Qualitative changes in the meaning of interpersonal obligations may be as important in distinguishing among household types as more easily measured changes in size and form.” Indeed, as Barrington Moore Jr has commented, tabulating structural differences “necessarily involves ignoring all differences except the one being measured.” Changes in social relations and patterns are not “reducible to any quantitative differences; they are incommensurable. Yet it is precisely such differences that matter most to human beings.”47

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  • Women Strike! A reading list for International Women's Day



    "What is 'Women's Day'? Is it really necessary?" Alexandra Kollontai asked readers of the Russian journal Pravda a centenary ago. "On Women's Day," she wrote, "the organised demonstrate against their lack of rights."

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Other books by Annette Kuhn