Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Is Women's Studies Dead?

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Is Women's Studies Dead?

Article excerpt

What motivates the question "is Women's Studies dead?" Firstly, a number of scholars have recently suggested that its demise is necessary and/or inevitable (Brown "The Impossibility of Women's Studies"; Brown, Politics out of History; Patai; Martin). Secondly, in Anglo-American culture, there are numerous contemporary accounts of a move into an era of third wave feminism in which Women's Studies seems misplaced and anachronistic (Findlen; Walker; Maglin and Perry; Heywood and Drake). And, thirdly, the strength and breadth of criticisms of Women's Studies appear to be on the increase (Ahmed et al; Jackson), impelling more Women's Studies scholars themselves to address the issue of the downfall of Women's Studies and its necessary resuscitation.

It may appear that I have a predictable desire in defending its teaching and practice and arguing against its extinction as I currently teach in a Women's Studies center. However, what lies at the root of my interest is a three-fold, potentially paradoxical view. I agree with many of the contemporary criticisms; I disagree with many of the arguments put forward by practitioners of Women's Studies for its continuance; yet, I still harbor a desire for it to prevail. How do I justify this apparently contradictory judgement? Why do I entertain some remnants of value in Women's Studies? To address these questions and the issue of the imminent dissolution of the field, I will elaborate on the criticisms and defenses of Women's Studies particularly in the context of subject-based enquiry. I will then offer an alternative way to think about the ensuing impasse between the two positions utilising Wendy Brown's recent interpretations of the work of Jacques Derrida and Walter Benjamin in Politics out of History.

Women's Studies Must Die!

From its genesis, Women's Studies has been plagued by problems emanating from a plethora of critical constituencies. These critical constituencies might be divided into two broad camps: the first includes the more traditional sceptics of Women's Studies, such as the university establishment, women's organizations outside the university and sometimes Women's Studies students themselves; the second group includes more contemporary and perhaps less predictable detractors. (2)

Let me briefly detail the complaints from the "traditional sceptics." The university establishment has always been sceptical about the value of Women's Studies. The suspicion is that Women's Studies is "too political" and not scholarly enough, a view which mirrors public and popular perceptions about the inadequate character of Women's Studies and a mistrust about its place in institutions of higher education (Cramer and Russo; Evans 17). Although, clearly, universities have permitted Women's Studies programs and centers into the academy and indeed some have survived and flourished, they are often run on the un-/under-paid labor of female academics (Skeggs 480), and on shoe-string budgets, making such programs vulnerable in times of economic cut-backs and re-structuring plans. Conversely, women's organizations outside the university frequently complain that Women's Studies has become "too academic," or "too theoretical" and as such has less and less to say about what is happening to "real" women in the "real" world. Sometimes this attitude is reinforced by Women's Studies students who frequently rail against the requirement to study theory and, additionally, often expect emotional as well as intellectual support as a route to providing them with the tools to "change their lives" (Skeggs 482; Jackson 31).

The brevity of this foray into traditional criticisms of Women's Studies is not meant to underplay their importance; rather it indicates my view that it is the criticisms from the less traditional and more recent sceptics that have more fundamentally cut into the heart of contemporary Women's Studies theory and practice. Women's Studies students bring universities income, and so as long as it remains economically viable for such programs to continue, many may well survive. …

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