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The Unpredictability of Human Relations

From Iago to Fredo, Judas to General Hospital, acts of betrayal fascinate us. Eventually we all encounter this universal experience of human interaction, but despite its ubiquity, being betrayed can turn our lives upside down and leave us feeling suddenly frail and alone. Betrayal only arises out of sharing something of yourself with another, and its impact speaks to the great tragedy of human relations: at bottom, other people are unknowable.

While most attempts to study betrayal only consider its moral or psychological dimensions, Gabriella Turnaturi here examines betrayal as an act embedded in social relationships whose meanings change over time. For example, adultery is one of the most recognizable forms of betrayal, but a wide gulf exists between its role in Madame Bovary and in The Ice Storm. Therefore, Turnaturi contends, in order to examine the many meanings of betrayal we need to understand its context in a specific time and place. Born from the unpredictable possibilities of human interaction, betrayal emerges as a sociological event in this thought-provoking meditation on the stab in the back.

146 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2007

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Religion: Religion and Society

Sociology: Social Psychology--Small Groups, Sociology--Marriage and Family


“This is a profound meditation on the various meanings and modalities of betrayal. Turnaturi builds a very strong case for betrayal as ubiquitous, complicated, and fundamentally sociological. The book includes in its grasp issues that range from human intimacy and secrecy, to group membership, the concept of a ’we,’ and human autonomy. Along the way she offers many cogent insights in clear writing—I was won over by this provocative and original book.”

Robin Wagner-Pacifici, Swarthmore College

"Turnaturi’s elegant essay, drawing deeply from literature, art, politics, and history, reveals the power of a sociological imagination to unpack constructs that have long been psychologized, transformed into character flaws, and as a result erased as social domains."

Gary Alan Fine | American Journal of Sociology

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Betrayals
Chapter 2: Living with Betrayal
Chapter 3: Betrayal as Everyday Experience
Chapter 4: Secrets and Betrayals
Chapter 5: The Culture of Betrayal: From the Tudors to the Internet


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