Mary Daly 1928-
American critic, nonfiction writer, and autobiographer.
The following entry presents an overview of Daly's career through 2001.
Among the most radical feminist scholars of the late twentieth century, Daly is known for basing her critical arguments on the academic traditions of theology and philosophy, rather than those of politics or economics. In works such as The Church and the Second Sex (1968) and Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (1973), Daly not only criticized the Catholic Church for demonizing women and relegating them to secondary roles but also denounced organized religion itself as the cornerstone of all oppressive patriarchal social institutions. In later works, such as Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978) and Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (1984), she shifted her focus to dissections of male-biased linguistic structures that perpetuate patriarchy, thus laying the foundation for a new feminist-oriented usage with the hope of fostering a women's revolution.
Daly was born on October 16, 1928, in Schenectady, New York, the only child of Frank and Anna Catherine Daly. Her parents were working-class Catholics, and Daly grew up as a devout member of the church. She enrolled at the College of St. Rose, where she earned a B.A. in English in 1950. Daly had been interested in philosophy and theology, but no degrees in either of those disciplines were offered at St. Rose at the time. Two years later, she earned her M.A. in English at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Daly then entered the School of Sacred Theology at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, where she earned her Ph.D. in religion in 1954. Daly wanted to pursue a doctorate in Catholic theology, but such a degree was not then available to women anywhere in the United States. Daly learned that she could pursue the degree at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, since the school was state-run and could not legally bar women from any course of study. For the next eleven years, Daly studied at Fribourg, earning a basic degree in sacred theology in 1960, a licentiate in sacred theology in 1961, a doctorate in sacred theology in 1963, and a doctorate in philosophy in 1965. In 1966 Daly took a job as an assistant professor of theology at Boston College. That same year, she published her first book, Natural Knowledge of God in the Philosophy of Jacques Maritain (1966), an academic analysis of the French philosopher. However, it was the publication of The Church and the Second Sex that first brought Daly widespread critical and popular attention. The book's strong criticism of the Catholic Church's attitudes toward women proved controversial, and Daly made several television appearances to further defend and expound her views. Her outspokenness angered some of the administrators at the Jesuit-run Boston College and, as a result, the following year she was denied both tenure and a promotion to associate professor. This action outraged many Boston College students and their demonstrations on Daly's behalf forced the administration to alter its position and eventually award tenure to Daly. Nevertheless, her future at Boston College remained unclear as the administration denied her promotion to full professorship in 1975 and 1989. In 1999 a male student at Boston College, with the backing of a conservative public-interest law firm, threatened to sue the college unless men were allowed to attend Daly's women's studies classes, which Daly had traditionally limited to women only. Before Boston College could officially respond, Daly requested that her next semester's classes be canceled and took a leave of absence. The college suspended Daly in 2000, prompting Daly to sue for violation of her tenure rights and breach of contract. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2001.
An exhaustively researched and comprehensive history of the Catholic Church's alleged suppression of women, The Church and the Second Sex is a searing indictment of the Church as a fundamentally sexist and patriarchal institution. The book offers little in the way of suggested ecclesiastical reforms; instead, Daly argues that the Church's bias against women is an inherent result of its history and structure. However, in Beyond God the Father, Daly began to outline a feminist spiritual program that she believes could take the place of the current patriarchal religions, creating a foundation for a feminist theology. Beyond God the Father asserts that Christianity is based on a conception of God as a static, authoritarian, and—most importantly—male figure. Daly argues that this father figure has become the backbone of a system of symbols that men use to subjugate women. Furthermore, Daly claims that this religious subjugation legitimates all other forms of social, racial, economic, and political oppression. Beyond God the Father calls for a feminist spiritual revolution—one that will replace the traditional concept of a male God with the existentialist-influenced conception of the divine as something readily available through the fullness of one's own being. Daly moved her focus outside the religious sphere with Gyn/Ecology, turning her critical attention to the issue of societal gender roles. The work's thesis states that women, after millennia of male domination, have unconsciously accepted a patriarchal ideal of femininity—an ideal that must be stripped away if women are to realize their full potential. In Gyn/Ecology's central section, Daly delineates the results of this false ideal with a list of socially sanctioned abuses of women, including Chinese foot-binding, witch-burning, the Hindu suttee, and female circumcision. Daly points out that each of these imposed forms of mutilation is based on a male-created ideal of womanhood. In the book's final section, Daly demonstrates how women can use language to create a new definition of womanhood, giving once pejorative terms like “hag” and “crone” positive connotations while exposing the hidden patriarchal meanings of seemingly innocent or neutral terms. Daly further pursued this lexicographical project in Pure Lust, guiding the reader through three “realms.” In the first realm, the ancient culture of the “Goddess” is examined; in the second, existing phallocentric conceptions are dismissed; and in the third, women are left free to create their own society. In each section, Daly discusses the patriarchal linguistic obstacles that she feels block women from fully realizing themselves as individuals. Daly's next work, Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (1987), is an expanded version of the linguistically oriented sections of her previous two works. Written with Jane Caputi and presented in dictionary form, the book reconstructs and redefines women's language through etymological investigation, alliterative wordplay, linguistic invention, and mythological association. In the autobiographical work Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage: Containing Recollections from My Logbook of a Radical Feminist Philosopher (1992), Daly recounts her youth, her education, her struggles with the Boston College faculty, and other personal matters, most notably the development of her critical ideals and the circumstances surrounding the writing of her previous works. Structured as a quasi-magical dialogue between Daly and a young radical feminist living in the year 2048, Quintessence … Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto (1998) offers a survey of social problems facing women in the 1990s, including the break-up of the second wave of the women's movement, the growing development of genetic engineering, society's over-reliance on technology, and the grip of postmodern theory on academia. Quintessence then presents a fictional history of the world from the 1990s to the year 2048, proposing that the women's movement will evolve into strong communities of like-minded women who, through intense devotion to each other and the ideals of radical feminism, will eventually cause the world's patriarchal institutions to crumble. In 2001 Daly published The Gender Division of Welfare: The Impact of the British and German Welfare States, a critical analysis of the modern institution of welfare, citing specific case studies and examples from the United Kingdom and Germany.
Daly has acted as an important force in modern radical feminism, inspiring considerable critical debate, most of which has fallen along cultural and political lines. Certain aspects of her work, notably charges of essentialism and her historical ambivalence, have been hotly contested in feminist circles. One of Daly's most controversial positions has been her assertion that men are inherently inferior to women and should generally be excluded from the society of women. Many feminists have openly rejected this ideal, with some calling Daly blatantly sexist while others argue that it is within the power of individual men to reject patriarchal systems. Daly has also been criticized for her belief that the oppression of women by men is now, and has been throughout human history, the primary form of oppression, and that all other instances of oppression pale in comparison. This belief—and its corollary, that radical feminism is the single most important form of liberation ideology—has angered a number of activists and scholars who have charged Daly with both self-aggrandizement and shortsightedness. However, some of Daly's supporters have defended her by claiming that Daly is speaking metaphorically when comparing the oppression of women to other instances of oppression. They have also argued that Daly does not intend to denigrate other forms of oppression or liberation ideologies, and is simply speaking from within an admittedly outdated framework of 1960s-era radical politics. Many critics have agreed that Daly's analysis of language as a tool of oppression and liberation constitutes her greatest achievement, particularly in works such as Pure Lust. Nevertheless, some scholars have asserted that, by focusing entirely on the English language, Daly has framed feminism as an Anglocentric phenomenon. Others have criticized Daly's focus on redefining words as too limiting, arguing that she should focus instead on larger linguistic units of discourse. Daly's supporters have countered that Daly always defines words in the context of larger ideas, and that her focus on words—the basic units of meaning—rather than posing a limitation, allows her great analytical flexibility, since words are used in many different contexts.
Natural Knowledge of God in the Philosophy of Jacques Maritain (nonfiction) 1966
The Church and the Second Sex (criticism) 1968; revised edition, 1985
Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (criticism) 1973; revised edition, 1985
Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (criticism) 1978; revised edition, 1990
Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (criticism) 1984; revised edition, 1992
Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language [with Jane Caputi] (criticism) 1987
Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage:...
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SOURCE: Ruether, Rosemary Radford. “Theology by Sex.” New Republic 169, no. 19 (10 November 1973): 24-6.
[In the following review of Beyond God the Father, Ruether finds flaws in Daly's conception of women and her notion of castrating “phallic morality.”]
Mary Daly's new book [Beyond God the Father] is a bold effort to found a theology for the women's movement. Many will find this book startling and even repugnant. Mary Daly has little respect for orthodoxies, either Protestant or Catholic. She strives to break not only with orthodox theology, but also with the traditional logic and meaning of language, in order to reveal a new meaning over...
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SOURCE: Irion, Mary Jean. “Wrenching Free of the Patriarchal Past.” Christian Century 91 (16 January 1974): 46-7.
[In the following review, Irion offers a positive assessment of Beyond God the Father, though notes shortcomings in Daly's lack of historical perspective.]
The most searing and searching book yet to relate the movement for women's liberation to religion in America was published in autumn by Beacon. The author, Mary Daly, has been a leader in the movement for some time. Hers is truly a radical book, one with staying power that should outlast that of death-of-God-type radicalisms. Since her argument moves beyond church and Christianity, she will...
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SOURCE: Donnelly, Doris. Review of Beyond God the Father, by Mary Daly. America 130 (19 January 1974): 39-41.
[In the following review, Donnelly evaluates the strengths and weaknesses in Beyond God the Father.]
Mary Daly usually does not tease. Coy she is not. Nor playful. Nor shy.
In fact, if ever there were a showdown at the O.K. Corral with those insecure, clerical, hierarchic types, nothing less than The Church and the Second Sex—her vastly knowledgeable and impeccably researched book detailing the history of ecclesial suppression of the feminine—would have qualified her as the one and only straight-from-the-hip champion of...
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SOURCE: Steinfels, Margaret O'Brien. “Earthly Utopia or Armageddon?” Commonweal 99, no. 17 (1 February 1974): 442-43.
[In the following review, Steinfels criticizes Beyond God the Father, noting Daly's “effort to decimate patriarchal religion, language, and ideas.”]
Earthly utopias, in books or in Vermont, are works of the imagination that allow us to fantasize alternative ways of living our lives and organizing the world. You are interested in a society of abundance, restraint, and civility, based on a credit card economy? See Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. You are “into” common property, communal life, and connubial freedom? Check out...
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SOURCE: Neal, Marie Augusta. Review of Beyond God the Father, by Mary Daly. Contemporary Sociology 5, no. 4 (July 1976): 441-42.
[In the following review, Neal compliments Daly's central argument in Beyond God the Father.]
Attempting a radical critique of patriarchy, Mary Daly addresses the symbol system of liberation theologies and challenges male theologians to re-examine their language to see if they can say anything religious about transcendent being without relying on the unexamined assumptions of the holiness of patriarchy.
The book [Beyond God the Father], which was severely criticized by theologians and which cost the author her...
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SOURCE: Mollenkott, Virginia R. “Against Patriarchy.” Christian Century 96 (11 April 1979): 417-18.
[In the following review of Gyn/Ecology, Mollenkott commends Daly's critique of patriarchal oppression, but objects to her judgmental and intolerant perspective.]
Mary Daly, associate professor of theology at Boston College and leading philosopher-theologian of the radical feminist movement, proposed in her second book that feminists speak of God-as-a-Verb (Beyond God the Father, 1973). In Gyn/Ecology, she repudiates the term “God” altogether, as representing “the necrophilia of patriarchy,” and speaks only of the Goddess who “affirms...
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SOURCE: Frye, Marilyn. “Famous Lust Words.” Women's Review of Books 1, no. 11 (August 1984): 3-4.
[In the following review of Pure Lust, Frye commends Daly's “exemplary iconoclasm,” though expresses reservations concerning her treatment of race and her optimistic notion of natural harmony.]
With Pure Lust, Mary Daly takes on once again that central and challenging project of a movement by women to liberate women: the work of creating new meaning. The project is challenging partly because it is “impossible”—as Alice told the rebel egg Humpty Dumpty, you can't just make words mean what you want them to mean. It is necessary because patriarchal...
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SOURCE: Penelope, Julia. “Erratic, Ecstatic, Eccentric.” Women's Review of Books 5, no. 3 (December 1987): 5-6.
[In the following review, Penelope offers a positive evaluation of Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language.]
Have you ever stopped in the middle of an intense conversation to search for the “right” word? Have you ever found yourself in an emotionally charged situation in which your mind went blank, and hours, even days, later suddenly realized what you could have said? When it happens to me, I say that I'm “at a loss for words,” and spend sleepless nights scratching at “I should have said's.”
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SOURCE: Hedley, Jane. “Surviving to Speak New Language: Mary Daly and Adrienne Rich.” Hypatia 7, no. 2 (spring 1992): 40-62.
[In the following excerpt, Hedley discusses Daly's attempt to depose male-defined language through etymological reconstructions and the invention of a new vocabulary for women, culminating in Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language.]
As radical feminists seeking to overcome the linguistic oppression of women, Rich and Daly apparently shared the same agenda in the late 1970s; but they approached the problem differently, and their paths have increasingly diverged. Whereas Daly's approach to the repossession of...
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SOURCE: Douglas, Carol Anne. Review of Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage: Containing Recollections from My Logbook of a Radical Feminist Philosopher, by Mary Daly. Off Our Backs 23, no. 1 (January 1993): 19.
[In the following review, Douglas lauds Daly's frank and insightful portrayal of her life as a feminist scholar in Outercourse.]
Looking back to Outercourse: The Bedazzling Voyage, logbook of radical feminist philosopher Mary Daly, is a good reminder of the obstacles faced by feminists in the late twentieth century. Daly is, of course, the feminist who reclaimed words such as spinster, hag, nag, and crone. Readers must remember that in the 20th...
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SOURCE: Adams, Carol J. “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.” Women's Review of Books 10, no. 6 (March 1993): 1, 3.
[In the following review, Adams praises Daly's contribution to feminist theory and offers a favorable evaluation of Outercourse.]
For anyone who has ever wanted to know more about the radical feminist philosopher behind Beyond God the Father, the Revolting Hag of Gyn/Ecology, the Nag-Gnostic philosopher of Pure Lust and the Conjurer of the Wickedary, here in one installment are the how, the why and the what of Mary Daly and her books. Through the medium of one woman's life—her own—Mary Daly invites us into the process of...
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SOURCE: Griffin, Cindy L. “Women as Communicators: Mary Daly's Hagography as Rhetoric.” Communications Monographs 60, no. 2 (June 1993): 158-77.
[In the following essay, Griffin analyzes Daly's feminist philosophy of language and its application as an alternative mode of communication theory and rhetorical practice among women. According to Griffin, Daly elucidates the dichotomy between women's public and private discourse, embodied in a “foreground” of patriarchal oppression and a “background” of feminist authenticity and subversion.]
In 1987, Spitzack and Carter suggested that, although women's visibility has increased in the communication discipline, the...
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SOURCE: Ratcliffe, Krista. “De/Mystifying Herself and Her Wor(l)ds: Mary Daly.” In Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions: Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, pp. 65-106. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Ratcliffe provides an overview of Daly's radical feminist critique of patriarchal language and discusses the rhetorical strategies of intervention by which she exposes male oppression embedded in language and attempts to reclaim and liberate women's discourse from male domination.]
[T]his book is primarily concerned with the mind/spirit/body pollution inflicted through...
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SOURCE: Douglas, Carol Anne. Review of Quintessence … Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto, by Mary Daly. Off Our Backs 28, no. 11 (December 1998): 14.
[In the following review, Douglas praises Daly's optimistic world view, but finds Quintessence inferior to her previous works.]
Readers in 2048 will like Mary Daly's new book, Quintessence. That's Daly's prediction, and the book is filled with comments from a radical feminist from that year who likes the book and conjures Daly back to discuss it.
Daly's faith in the future bespeaks her isolation, and the isolation of many radical feminists, in the...
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SOURCE: Schaeffer, Pamela. “Law Firm Forces Mary Daly's Hand.” National Catholic Reporter (5 March 1999): 3.
[In the following essay, Schaeffer recounts Daly's controversial academic career at Boston College and discusses the possibility of her early retirement in the face of a legal challenge brought by a male student denied admission to Daly's female-only class.]
Feminist author Mary Daly's stormy 33-year career in the theology department at Boston College may be coming to an end. Her nemesis is a single male student who has demanded entrance to one of her women-only classes, challenging her 20-year policy of teaching men separately.
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SOURCE: Moane, Geraldine. “Mary Daly's Radical Elemental Feminist Journey.” Women's Studies International Forum 22, no. 5 (September-October 1999): 573-75.
[In the following review, Moane praises Daly's accomplishment with Quintessence, arguing that the work “pushes her ontological analysis to new depths.”]
Quintessence is Mary Daly's seventh radical feminist book, published on the 30th anniversary of her first book, The Church and the Second Sex (Daly, 1968). Quintessence is also being published on the 25th anniversary of Beyond God the Father (Daly, 1973), and the 20th anniversary of Gyn/Ecology (Daly, 1978). It can...
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SOURCE: Shukla, Marsaura. “Time Is on My Side.” Cross Currents 49, no. 4 (winter 1999-2000): 550-57.
[In the following excerpt, Shukla presents a favorable review of Quintessence, which the critic contrasts with Rosemary Radford Ruether's Women and Redemption.]
The liquor store around the corner from my apartment has in its window a digital sign counting down in rapidly moving milli-seconds to the year 2000.1 A friend of mine is developing a class on time and millennialism in the New Testament. The terrors of Y2K appear as a motif in television commercials for cars, insurance, soda-pop. As the twentieth century and the second millennium of the...
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SOURCE: Daly, Mary, and Catherine Madsen. “The Thin Thread of Conversation: An Interview with Mary Daly.” Cross Currents 50, no. 3 (fall 2000): 332-48.
[In the following interview, Daly discusses the abuses of patriarchal language, her conception of and contribution to radical feminism, the dangers of biotechnology, and her utopian vision of a patriarchy-free future world.]
Perhaps a certain amount of disclosure is needed. I am, if not quite an ex-radical feminist, no longer a loyalist to radical feminism. My circumstances and my opinions would still look radical enough to anyone but another radical feminist, but I am no longer willing to worry what another radical...
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SOURCE: Korte, Anne-Marie. “Deliver Us from Evil: Bad versus Better Faith in Mary Daly's Feminist Writings,” translated by Mischa F. C. Hoyinck. In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly, edited by Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Marilyn Frye, pp. 76-111. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Korte traces the development and contradictions of Daly's feminist theology and post-Christian critique of patriarchy, particularly as shaped by her reading of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and subsequent efforts to reconcile religious experience with the process of women's self-realization and transcendence.]
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SOURCE: Gray, Frances. “Elemental Philosophy: Language and Ontology in Mary Daly's Texts.” In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly, edited by Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Marilyn Frye, pp. 222-45. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Gray examines Daly's subversion of male-defined language and philosophy through the calculated use of metaphor, naming, and linguistic inventions, particularly as such strategies reveal Daly's view of language as fundamentally linked to the process of becoming.]
You are the icon of woman sexual in herself like a great forest tree in flower, liriodendron bearing sweet tulips, cups of joy and...
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SOURCE: Korte, Anne-Marie. “Just/ice In Time: On Temporality in Mary Daly's Quintessence,” translated by Mischa F. C. Hoyinck. In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Daly, edited by Sarah Lucia Hoagland and Marilyn Frye, pp. 418-28. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Korte discusses Daly's conception of time and her use of temporal disjunctions in Quintessence to escape patriarchal notions of absolute space/time.]
At the brink of a new millennium, could there be a more fitting subject for Mary Daly, renowned for her “Be-Dazzling” leaps through time and space, to thematize than time? In her latest...
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SOURCE: Jenkins, Stephen P. Review of The Gender Division of Welfare: The Impact of the British and German Welfare States, by Mary Daly. British Journal of Sociology 52, no. 2 (June 2001): 354-5.
[In the following review, Jenkins praises Daly's “succinct and seductive” examination of modern welfare states in The Gender Division of Welfare, but laments the work's lack of post-1990 references.]
[The Gender Division of Welfare: The Impact of the British and German Welfare States] makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the nature of contemporary welfare states, their relationships with families, markets, and outcomes for individuals. Distinctive features include reviews of earlier approaches, a new conceptual framework based on gender differentiation combined with a cross-national perspective, and the combination of theorizing and empirical work. The writing style is succinct and seductive.
Part I conceptualizes the relationships between gender and the welfare state. There is an useful critical survey of earlier frameworks, and persuasive argument in favour of a gendered approach and a cross-national perspective. Daly's own conceptual approach is a coherent development and integration of elements of earlier research rather than a radical departure. I concur with her desire to move away from typologies of welfare states towards better integration of micro-level outcomes, and her preference for two-country rather than many-country comparisons. Part II provides a comprehensive picture of the key characteristics of the British and German welfare states viewed through the lens of the conceptual framework. This focus is on policies for families and caring, risks covered, eligibility criteria, treatments of those entitled, and cash transfer systems. Part III examines the role of the welfare states (and the family) in the context of income redistribution, poverty, financial relationships within marriage and marital breakdown. It would be unfair to summarize the empirical findings in a few sentences (though there are no great surprises!). Indeed, pointing out “messy and stubborn practices encountered in social reality” is a part of the book's message—one with which I sympathize. The book concludes with thoughtful reflections on the utility of a gender approach to comparative welfare state analysis.
The enduring legacy of this book may be the analytical framework rather than the specific application. The main focus is on the mid-1980s, i.e. before Thatcherite and subsequent “reforms” to the British economy and welfare states, and before German reunification in 1989. (The discussion of later periods in the concluding chapter appears somewhat of an afterthought in comparison.) The introduction acknowledges this, stating none the less that “the mid-1980s suggests itself as an appropriate period from which to take stock of … postwar welfare state models.” This may be so—but investigation of the impact of more recent changes (or whether things have in fact really changed) is likely to be of greater contemporary interest. Moreover there are few references later than the mid-1990s. Some unpublished research that is cited has long since appeared, and some notable recent research is not cited. One specific date issue: Daly's German sample—and hence empirical inferences—refer only to native Germans, i.e. “guestworkers” are not considered despite their importance in German society (they are over-sampled in her data source, so data availability is not an issue). It is important to note that the potential for quantitative cross-national research has markedly improved over the last decade, with substantial extensions to the collections of comparable data comprising the Luxembourg Income Study and the Cross-National Equivalent Panel Data File (http://www.human.cornell.edu/pam/gsoep/equivfil.cfm). The latter also reminds me of an unwarranted side-swipe. Daly refers to “the latest fashion in poverty research, which searches after duration and movement … However none of the recent work on the dynamics of poverty gives cause to assume that the structures of poverty uncovered here would be any different to those found by dynamic analyses.” One of the lessons of the last decade is indeed that, if one asks different questions, then one does get different (and complementary) answers to the standard cross-section-based approaches.
Overall, and despite some specific reservations, I thoroughly recommend this book as a worthwhile purchase for researchers, teachers, and students.