SIU Department Name | Page Title

siu logo siupress logo

SIU logo


Main Content Area

Utopian Genderscapes

Utopian Genderscapes

Rhetorics of Women’s Work in the Early Industrial Age

Add to Cart

Michelle C. Smith


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
234 pages, 6 x 9, 10 illustrations


Additional Materials

About the Book

2022 Winifred Bryan Horner Outstanding Book Award, Honorable Mention!

A necessary rhetorical history of women’s work in utopian communities
Utopian Genderscapes focuses on three prominent yet understudied intentional communities—Brook Farm, Harmony Society, and the Oneida Community—who in response to industrialization experimented with radical social reform in the antebellum United States. Foremost among the avenues of reform was the place and substance of women’s work. Author Michelle C. Smith seeks in the communities’ rhetorics of teleology, choice, and exceptionalism the lived consequences of the communities' lofty goals for women members.
This feminist history captures the utopian reconfiguration of women’s bodies, spaces, objects, and discourses and delivers a needed intervention into how rhetorical gendering interacts with other race and class identities. The attention to each community’s material practices reveals a gendered ecology, which in many ways squared unevenly with utopian claims. Nevertheless, this volume argues that this utopian moment inaugurated many of the norms and practices of labor that continue to structure women’s lives and opportunities today: the rise of the factory, the shift of labor from home spaces to workplaces, the invention of housework, the role of birth control and childcare, the question of wages, and the feminization of particular kinds of labor.
An impressive and diverse array of archival and material research grounds each chapter’s examination of women’s professional, domestic, or reproductive labor in a particular community. Fleeting though they may seem, the practices and lives of those intentional women, Smith argues, pattern contemporary divisions of work along the vibrant and contentious lines of gender, race, and class and stage the continued search for what is possible.   


Michelle C. Smith is an assistant professor of English at Clemson University. Her teaching and research interests include feminist rhetorics, rhetorical theory, and historiography. Her writing has appeared in College English, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, and Peitho, as well as in other journals and edited collections.


“Michelle C. Smith’s history of utopian communities models a distinctly feminist and archival enactment of ecological, materialist rhetorics. This historical account is a must-read for everyone interested in industrialization, women’s domestic, professional, and reproductive labor, and class divisions among Northern U.S. white women during the period—not to mention how these rhetorical ecologies endure in the current culture of tidying up, leaning in, and having it all.”—Pamela VanHaitsma, author of Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education
Utopian Genderscapes is an important contribution to feminist rhetorical studies, filling a critical gap in our understanding of intentional communities, labor conditions, and gender relations in the nineteenth century. Setting careful archival research within a theoretically rich ecological framework, Smith demonstrates how gender, class, and race were deeply imbricated with each other in the sites she studies, positing a challenge to utopian visions of reform, both then and now.”—David Gold, author of Rhetoric at the Margins

“[T]his is a valuable and engaging book. It shows how a historical study can be made to resonate with the present, yet remain sensitive to the distinctive attitudes and values that make the past feel like a different world. Smith’s book is succinct, compelling, and deeply relevant to the current moment.”—Robin Ganev, H-Environment