Good Gossip

Robert F. Goodman and Aaron Ben-Ze'ev, eds.

As ubiquitous and influential as gossip is, it has been surprisingly downplayed as a topic of philosophical, psychological, and sociological investigation and debate.

In Good Gossip, twenty-two scholars from several disciplines turn a professional eye to that much-maligned yet heavily practiced form of conversation. Going beyond merely trying to explain a previously ignored human behavior, many of them argue that gossip has unexpected virtues. They show how it contributes to community cohesion and helps individuals better understand their own predicaments, problems, and personal idiosyncrasies in light of knowledge about the life experiences of others. Without gossip, the authors show, we would have no access to such knowledge.

“In sum, this is an important examination of a significant mode of social discourse and an attempt to reorient our evaluation of that discourse.

—Choice

“Gossip is inherently democratic, concerned with private life rather than public issues, ‘idle,’ in the sense that it is not instrumental or goal oriented. Yet it can serve to expand our consciousness of what life is about in ways that are effectively inaccessible to other modes of inquiry.”

—Ronald de Sousa from Good Gossip

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Gossip also serves as a mode by which people resist and subvert power in a world that would otherwise seem overpowering. People gossip about the rich and famous in order to "cut them down to size," and informal gossip networks help overcome the depersonalizing tendencies of modern society.

Provocative and varied, this book looks at gossip from diverse angles by including essays on gossip and humor, logic, morality, privacy, legal and medical issues, feminism, history, rumors, and reputation. Although many of the authors conclude that gossip has a positive aspect that ought to be encouraged rather than prohibited, the collection as a whole does not constitute an unqualified vindication of gossip, but rather paves the way for future debate on this omnipresent pastime.