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Acts of Conspicuous Compassion

Performance Culture and American Charity Practices
Sheila C. Moeschen

Illuminates the relationship between performance and the American charity movement


Acts of Conspicuous Compassion investigates the relationship between performance culture and the cultivation of charitable sentiment in America, exploring the distinctive practices that have evolved to make the plea for charity legible and compelling. From the work of 19th-century melodramas to the televised drama of transformation and redemption in reality TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Acts of Conspicuous Compassion charts the sophisticated strategies employed by various charity movements responsible for making organized benevolence alluring, exciting, and seemingly uncomplicated.

Sheila C. Moeschen brokers a new way of accounting for the legacy and involvement of disabled people within charity—specifically, the articulation of performance culture as a vital theoretical framework for discussing issues of embodiment and identity dislodges previously held notions of the disabled existing as passive, “objects” of pity. This work gives rise to a more complicated and nuanced discussion of the participation of the disabled community in the charity industry, of the opportunities afforded by performance culture for disabled people to act as critical agents of charity, and of the new ethical and political issues that arise from employing performance methodology in a culture with increased appetites for voyeurism, display, and complex spectacle.

“Genuinely interdisciplinary, fresh, original, and timely. This book offers a compelling trajectory through types of charity and their forms of display, offering cultural analysis and historical narrative in conjunction. It will appeal to readers in disability, performance, cultural, and gender studies as well as American studies more broadly. Both accessible and sophisticated, it would be ideal for undergraduate and graduate courses.”
—Sally Chivers, Trent University

“An important, logical step forward in the growth of disability performance scholarship.”
—Michael Chemers, University of California, Santa Cruz

Sheila Moeschen holds an Interdisciplinary PhD in Theatre and Drama from Northwestern University. She is a Boston-based independent scholar and freelance writer. Her website is sheilamoeschen.com. 

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 224pp.
  • 10 B&W illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11886-1

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  • $65.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2016
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-03655-4

Pre-order Paper for Acts of Conspicuous Compassion
  • $28.95 U.S.

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  • charity, disability, disability studies, theater, performance, melodrama, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jerry Lewis, social welfare, reality t.v.


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