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“Shocking” Masculinity: Stanley Milgram, “Obedience to Authority,” and the “Crisis of Manhood” in Cold War America

Ian Nicholson
Isis
Vol. 102, No. 2 (June 2011), pp. 238-268
DOI: 10.1086/660129
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/660129
Page Count: 31
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
“Shocking” Masculinity: Stanley Milgram, “Obedience
to Authority,” and the “Crisis of Manhood” in Cold
War America
Preview not available

Abstract

ABSTRACT Stanley Milgram's study of “obedience to authority” is one of the best-known psychological experiments of the twentieth century. This essay examines the study's special charisma through a detailed consideration of the intellectual, cultural, and gender contexts of Cold War America. It suggests that Milgram presented not a “timeless” experiment on “human nature” but, rather, a historically contingent, scientifically sanctioned “performance” of American masculinity at a time of heightened male anxiety. The essay argues that this gendered context invested the obedience experiments with an extraordinary plausibility, immediacy, and relevance. Immersed in a discourse of masculinity besieged, many Americans read the obedience experiments not as a fanciful study of laboratory brutality but as confirmation of their worst fears. Milgram's extraordinary success thus lay not in his “discovery” of the fragility of individual conscience but in his theatrical flair for staging culturally relevant masculine performances.

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