Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview

3
Feminist Challenges to Political Science

Susan J. Carroll and Linda M. G. Zerilli

The study of women and politics within the discipline of political science was stimulated by and has evolved simultaneously with the contemporary feminist movement. Prior to the emergence of the feminist movement in the mid-1960s, few books or articles pertaining to women were written by political scientists (a notable exception being Duverger 1955), and from 1901 to 1966 only eleven dissertations focusing on women were completed ( Shanley and Schuck 1974). The Women's Caucus for Political Science, founded in 1971, began in 1972 to sponsor several papers on gender at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, and during the early to mid-1970s the first few path-breaking books on women and politics were published (e.g., Amundsen 1971; Kirkpatrick 1974; Jaquette 1974; Freeman 1975).

From such humble origins, the subfield of women and politics grew at a rapid pace. By the early 1990s the numbers of papers, articles, and books written by political scientists focusing on women and politics or feminist theory had grown considerably. For example, more than 60 gender-related papers were presented at the 1992 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, and in 1991, Women & Politics, a scholarly journal devoted to publishing empirical and theoretical work on women and politics, published 24 articles and reviewed 21 books on women and politics and feminist theory. The growth of a body of scholarship focusing on women and gender within the discipline of political science has paralleled similar (although frequently more rapid) patterns of growth in other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences ( DuBois et al. 1985). In addition, work on gender in political science has been strongly influenced by the rapid development of interdisciplinary work in women's studies.

The study of women and politics also became more institutionalized within the discipline throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Two of the most important developments were the establishment in 1981 of the journal, Women & Politics, and the formation of an Organized Section on Women and Politics Research within the American Political Science Association in 1986. In addition, in 1986 the political science department at Rutgers University became the first in the country to offer women and politics as both a major and minor field of study toward a Ph.D. Most of the larger political science departments now have at least one faculty member who specializes in gender politics, and many departments now offer women and politics courses as a regular part of their undergraduate curriculum.

The work being done in this rapidly growing field has important implications for all political scientists, not just those who are specialists in women and politics. Feminist scholarship poses a set of questions that challenge the theoretical and epistemological foundation on which the discipline is constructed. Sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly, the work being done by feminist scholars raises important questions about both what we study as political scientists and how we study it.


Framework

This essay will examine the questions posed by women and politics research about what we study as political scientists and how we study it in the context of three analytically distinct categories of research on women and politics. The first category consists of critiques of the ways in which political theory and empirical research in political science have traditionally excluded women as political actors and rendered them either invisible or apolitical. The second category consists of research that has attempted to add women into politics, to make them visible as political actors, while accepting the existing dominant frameworks of political analysis. The third category consists of research that calls existing frameworks and assumptions into question; work within this category suggests that our dominant frameworks cannot accommodate the inclusion of women as political actors and that many of the frameworks, assumptions, and definitions central to political science must be reconceptualized.

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