Feminist Theory for Historians



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Feminist Theory for Historians

Leora Auslander

Wednesdays, 3:00-6:00

Office Hours: Thurs. 1:00-4:00 (Social Sciences 222)


Rather than being a general introduction to feminist theory for historians, this course will focus on one central problem in feminist history and theory -- the status and meaning of "experience." We will discuss a series of texts that worry on the one hand about the status of the experience of the "objects/subjects" experience, and on the other that of the researcher. Can we, and/or should we, strive to recover the experiences of historical actors? What is the relation between language and experience? Does the historian belong in his/her text or should s/he be camouflaged behind the third person singular? What is the relation between the concept of experience and those of identity and subjectivity?
We will also tackle the problem of the relation among histories and theories of gender, race, and sexuality. When do histories of gender also need to be histories of race and/or sexuality? How does one make that determination?
As we reflect on these issues we will simultaneously maintain a discussion of the place of "theory" in historical argumentation. What is the relation between empirical and theoretical demonstration/proof? Why has the problem of the relation of theory and history been posed with special urgency by those concerned with elucidating the social construction of gender, race, and sexuality? Because of time limitations, we will not be reading a great deal of feminist history. The emphasis of this course, however, will be on using theory to do history, rather than on the mastery of theory for theory's sake.
Each class will be structured in two parts. We will spend the first two hours elucidating the texts read for that week, the final hour will be spent brainstorming on how to use the insights, strategies, theories of those texts in writing history.
The requirements for this course are active participation in each and every class discussion and a final paper due July 30. You will be expected to do all the reading for each week, to think about it, and to come in with questions and comments on the texts.
For your paper, you will choose a historical problem and a set of theoretical texts you hope will be of use in thinking better about that problem. The paper itself can take many forms. It could be a "research diary" in which you recount how you decided what the problem would be, your efforts to find useful theoretical works, the insights you had, the dead ends you hit. You may also rewrite an earlier paper, using the same empirical research, but rethinking it in light of a body of theoretical work. You may want the paper to take the form of a research proposal. You may use the theoretical texts discussed in this course, you may choose others. A one or two page paper proposal will be due in class 8th week.
Books (available for purchase at CTS and on reserve at Regenstein Library):
Edward Stein,ed. Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructivist Controversy (New York, Routledge, 1992)
Kathleen Lennon and Margaret Whitford, eds. Knowing the Difference: Feminist Perspectives in Epistemology (New York: Routledge, 1994)
Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory (London, 1987)
Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (Routledge, 1993)
Denise Riley, "Am I That Name? Feminism and the Category of 'Women' in History Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1988
Carolyn Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman (Rutgers, 1992)
Dorothy Smith, The Everyday World as Problematic (Boston: Northeastern

University Press, 1987)


Susan J. Hekman, Gender and Knowledge: Elements of a Postmodern Feminism (Boston: Northeastern, 1990)
Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, eds. Feminists Theorize the Political (New York: Routledge, 1992)
Jane Flax, Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Postmodernism n the Contemporary West (University of California Press, 1990)

Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (New York: Pantheon, 1988)


Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Cambridge: Harvard

University Press, 1991)


Stanlie M. James and Abena P.A. Busia, Theorizing Black Feminisms: The

Visionary Pragmatism of Black Women (1993)
bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation (South End Press, 1992)
MichŠle Barrett and Anne Phillips, eds. Destabilizing Theory Stanford Univ. Press, 1992)


March 29. Introduction to the Problem
Elsa Barkley Brown, "African-American Women's Quilting," Signs
Louise Newman, "Critical Theory and the History of Women: What's at Stake in Deconstructing Women's History," Journal of Women's History 2 (Winter 1991): 58-69.

Teresa de Lauretis, "Eccentric Subjects: Feminist Theory and Historical Consciousness," Feminist Studies 16/1 (Spring 1990)


Judith Allen, 'Evidence and Silence: Feminism and the Limits of History," in Feminist Challenges: Social and Political Theory ed. Carole Pateman and Elizabeth Gross (Boston, 1986)
Catherine Hall, "Feminism and Feminist History," in White, Male and Middle-Class (New York, 1992)
Joan Scott, Is Gender a Useful Category of Historical Analysis?" in her Gender and the Politics of History
April 5. Feminist Epistemologies
Kathleen Lennon and Margaret Whitford, eds. Knowing the Difference: Feminist

Perspectives in Epistemology, pp. 45-62; 79-109; 132-148; 164-216;

265-282.
Susan J. Hekman, Gender and Knowledge: Elements of a Postmodern Feminism,

pp. 62-104.


Dorothy Smith, The Everyday World as Problematic, Parts I and II.
Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, pp. 1-26.
THURSDAY APRIL 6 -- CAROLYN STEEDMAN LECTURE. CHI 4:00-5:30
April 12. Domination, Desire and Subjectivity
Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination, entire.
bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation, 21-40.
Jane Flax, Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Postmodernism n the Contemporary West, pp. 47-134
April 19. The Poststructuralist (and Psychoanalytic) Context of these Debates
Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, entire.
Judith Butler, "Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of

'Postmodernism', in Butler and Scott, 3-21.


Donna Haraway, "Ecce Homo, Ain't (Arn't) I a Woman, and Inappropriate/d

Others: The Human in a Post-Humanist Landscape," in Butler and Scott,

86-100.
Rey Chow, "Postmodern Automatons," in Butler and Scott, 101-120.
Jane Flax, "The End of Innocence," in Butler and Scott, 445-463.
Linda Singer, "Feminism and Postmodernism," in Butler and Scott, 464-475.

April 26. Genealogies of Identity
Denise Riley, Am I That Name
Section II. "Signifying Identity" in Scott and Butler
Lois McNay, "The Foucauldian Body and the Exclusion of Experience." Hypatia

6/3 (Fall 1991): 125-139.


Leslie Wahl Rabine, "A Feminist Politics of Non-Identity," Feminist Studies

14: 11-31.


May 3. Race Theory and the Problem of Experience
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, "Feminist Encounters: Locating the Politics of

Experience," in Barrett and Phillips, eds. Destabilizing Theory (1992)


bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation, 62-131.
Nancy Hewitt, Elsa Barkley Brown, and Iris Berger, "Symposium on Intersections

and Collision Courses: Women, Blacks and Workers Confront Gender, Race

and Class," Feminist Studies 18 no. 2 (Summer 1992): 283-326.
Maria C. Lugones and Elizabeth V. Spelman, "Have we got a Theory for You!

Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialism and the Demand for 'the Woman's

Voice." Women's Studies International Forum 6,6 (1983): 573-580.
Caroline Ramazanoglu, et al, "Feedback: Feminism and Racism," Feminist Review

22 (February 1986): 82-105.


Patricia Hill Collins, "The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought,"

Signs, (Summer 1989): 745-773.


Abena P.A. Busia, "Performance, transcription and the languages of the self:

Interrogating identity as a 'post-colonial' poet." in Stanlie M. James

and Abena P.A. Busia, Theorizing Black Feminisms: The Visionary

Pragmatism of Black Women (1993)


Leora Auslander, Feminist Theory and Social History: Explorations in the

Politics of Identity," Radical History Review 52 (Spring 1992)


May 10. Queer Theory, Race Theory and the Identity Question
Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, pp. 121-142; 167-185; 223-242.
bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation, 145-154.
Edward Stein, Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social

Constructivist Controversy, selections


Steven Seidman, "Identity and Politics in a 'Postmodern' Gay Culture: Some

Historical and Conceptual Notes," in Michael Warner, ed. Fear of a Queer

Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory. (Minneapolis: Univ. of

Minnesota Press, 1993): 105-142.


Biddy Martin, "Sexual Practice and Changing Lesbian Identities," in MichŠle

Barrett and Anne Phillips, eds. Destabilizing Theory


May 17. Reflexive Narratives -- Locatedness of Race and Gender
Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights
May 24. Reflexive Narratives -- Locatedness of Gender and Class
Carolyn Steedman, Landscapes for a Good Woman
Moira Gatens, "Power, Bodies and Difference," in Barrett and Phillips,

pp. 120-137.


MichŠle Barrett, "Words and Things: Materialism and Method in Contemporary

Feminist Analysis," in Barrett and Phillips, pp. 201-219.


MAY 25, 4:30-6:00 -- WORKSHOP WITH LOU ROBERTS.
May 31. The "Experience Debate"
Joan Scott, "Experience," in Butler and Scott, eds. Feminists Theorize the

Political, 1992


Thomas C. Holt, "Experience and the Politics of Intellectual Inquiry," in

Questions of Evidence: Proof, Practice, and Persuasion across the

Disciplines James Chandler, Arnold I. Davidson, Harry Harootunian eds.

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994): 388-396,


Laura Lee Downs, "If 'Woman' is Just an Empty Category, Then Why I am Afraid

to Walk Alone at Night? Identity Politics Meets the Postmodern Subect,"

and response by Scott, Comparative Studies in Society and History 35:2

(April 1993)


Kathleen Canning, "Feminist History after the Linguistic Turn: Historicizing

Discourse and Experience," Signs (Winter 1994): 368-404


Leora Auslander, "Experience" and Reflexivity: Reflections on the Writing of

Usable History," Historische Anthropologie 8 (June 1995).

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