Academic journal article Hecate

(Other) Feminisms-European Women's Studies/women's Studies in Europe

Academic journal article Hecate

(Other) Feminisms-European Women's Studies/women's Studies in Europe

Article excerpt

European Women's Studies suffers from invisibility. By this I mean that--on the whole--in the anglophone world, and that includes Britain, we have little idea either of the feminisms produced in the various non-anglophone European countries or whether or not there is such a thing as 'a European dimension' or 'European dimensions' to Women's Studies. When did you last read the work of a Slovenian or Greek or Finnish feminist? Do you even know of any? And what does it mean, not to know of any Slovenian or Hungarian feminists? One thing it demonstrates is the regulation of the production and flow of knowledge--the knowledge highway is, in fact, not a free-for-all but a highly regulated system of one-way traffic and limited access. (1) Anglo-American thinking and writing has dominated Women's Studies agendas not only in the anglophone world but also across Europe. Nowhere is this more evident than in, for instance, the Anglo-American dominance over debates about sex and gender or around queer theory, in which contexts the names of Judith Buffer and Donna Haraway have become the most prominent proponents of certain kinds of American feminist thinking. When I went to a German-speaking conference in Konstanz in early summer 2003 pretty well every single contributor used their work as a reference point. This raises the question whether Women's Studies as constructed through the Anglo-American frame is all there is to Women's Studies, or whether there are other, in this instance specifically European, dimensions to Women's Studies that differentiate it from the Anglo-American tradition.

I ask this question for three geopolitically specific reasons:

1) In the past three years a number of feminists from different European countries including Rosi Braidotti and myself have been working on this question as part of the Women's Studies Thematic Network ATHENA, a European Union-funded network. One of the European Union's concerns is how Europe fares in comparison with the United States and with Japan, its strongest economic competitors. Whenever one conducts research under the European Union umbrella, therefore, one is required to engage with what in EU literature is described as 'the European dimension'--the thing that makes us Europeans special and different from, indeed in the EU's eyes presumably better than, Japan or the United States. To engage with the question of the 'European dimension' in anything is not an easy task, not least because the European Union itself is unclear in its documentation about what it means by 'the European dimension', a phrase nonetheless used in evaluations of proposals for projects. One reason, then, for asking this question is that research grants from the European Union require one to consider the issue of 'the European dimension' which in turn requires some notion of what constitutes this.

2) The indeterminacy of meaning of the phrase 'European dimension' within European Union literature brings me on to my second reason for asking the question about the European specificities of feminism and by extension Women's Studies. That indeterminacy is in my view indicative of one of the key differences between Europe and the United States and Japan: Europe's fundamentally indeterminate nature. Europe as a term encompasses not only a geography with no fixed borders as the various attempts to decide which parts of Russia or of Turkey are European and which are not, as well as the current enlargement process of the European Union, demonstrates; Europe as a term also gestures towards a political ideal of unity and harmonisation driven by the European Union; it bespeaks a history of ideological investments that are centred on the Enlightenment, rationality, the notion of the sovereign subject; it most prominently, in all its diverse definitions, points to itself as the quintessential subject-in-process, always becoming, never just being. (2) For unlike Japan and the United States, Europe has not enjoyed stable structures--the wars on its own territories in the last three decades alone such as the Balkan wars have effected repeated radical shifts in its territorial and political contours; more recently, the diverse positions taken by the various European countries regarding the war in Iraq have indexed the great range of political opinion and political will that exists within Europe. …

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