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When Ladies Go A-Thieving

This book focuses on middle-class urban women as participants in new forms of consumer culture. Within the special world of the department store, women found themselves challenged to resist the enticements of consumption. Many succumbed, buying both what they needed and what they desired, but also stealing what seemed so readily available. Pitted against these middle-class women were the management, detectives, and clerks of the department stores. Abelson argues that in the interest of concealing this darker side of consumerism, women of the middle class, but not those of the working class, were allowed to shoplift and plead incapacitating illness--kleptomania. The invention of kleptomania by psychiatrists and the adoption of this ideology of feminine weakness by retailers, newspapers, the general public, the accused women themselves, and even the courts reveals the way in which a gender analysis allowed proponents of consumer capitalism to mask its contradictions.
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"The outlines of a kleptomania story have been adumbrated, but a full-fledged treatment of the subject has been wanting until the publication of Elaine Abelson's excellent and readablee account of shoplifiting in the Victorian American department store."-Victorian Studies "Very well written, original, and compelling. It breaks fresh ground and commands the reader's attention."-Daniel Horowitz, Smith College "Abelson offers fresh her lively and eminently readable social history of shoplifting in the United States and, tangentially, Europe....Students of developments and transmutation of gender stereotypes of modern capitalist society will love this book-as will those who ponder the meaning of the glittering and far-flung shopping malls of our own time. Abelson's trenchant comments also illuminate the history of labeling in deviance and its interconnections with social and economic interests."-Contemporary Sociology "Interesting and well-written....Well put together and suggestive."-American Historical Review "Unlike social theorists who view industrial capitalism as a resolute march toward modernity, Ableson offers a far more sophisticated and complex interpretation....Exceptionally provocative and well-conceived."-Business History Review "[An] intelligent and intriguing probe into the social history of American shoplifting....A fascinating story, replete with evidence of changing and intersecting class and gender relationships. The author tells it inventively and well."-The Journal of American History "More than a history of social change and shoplifting. It is a study of consumer culture and technological change, class privilege and gender roles in transition, female criminality and social control....Interesting, well-written, and informative."-American Journal of Sociology

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