Crossing Boundaries

Article excerpt

Introduction to this edition

It was with mixed feelings that I offered to host a conference in the summer of 2003 for the Women's Studies Network (UK) Association. Whilst I have been committed to the Network for several years now, and have been involved as an Executive member and as Co-Chair, I took on the conference organisation at short notice and alone. I was not at all sure that I could pull it off! However, what I was clear about from the outset was the theme in which I was interested. My working title of Transcending Boundaries met with some resistance, with some colleagues on the Network Executive feeling that 'transcending' was somewhat ephemeral and that something more concrete was required from us--and indeed that we require from ourselves--in our work both within and without the academy. My view was (and remains, I think) that to cross boundaries still leaves them in place, and there are some boundaries I would rather transcend than cross. However, we eventually agreed a title of Crossing Boundaries and Conference calls for papers invited contributors to consider a range of boundaries, including:

* Crossing boundaries of teaching and research

* Crossing boundaries of the academy

* Crossing interdisciplinary boundaries

* Crossing boundaries of 'race' and 'class'

Feminist scholarship can act both as a site for struggle and as an enabler for the discovery of the tools necessary to bring about transformative change and development. As part of such struggle, feminist practices consider and integrate theoretical and ideological positions, material realities, and the personal experiences of women. It relates these issues to conditions of power, oppression and privilege. In trying to lay the foundation stones for a world in which institutionalized practice does not subordinate women's lives and experiences, new ways of seeing have to be conceptualized, and boundaries both crossed and transcended. Traditional disciplinary boundaries, for example, can be a barrier to intellectual thought, and the boundaries that appear tightly fixed around what counts as 'conventional' research can effectively shut out women's lives, experiences and ways of knowing.

The articles in this special issue have been selected to give a good example of the range of discussion and issues that were raised across the themes of the Conference. The Conference also raised questions about women's studies itself, and the place of the Women's Studies Network. With the demise or disappearance of many women's studies courses within the British Academy, several Conference delegates felt that by clinging onto the name of 'women's studies', the network was excluding many feminist scholars who no longer--or never did--work within 'women's studies' per se, although they are certainly very involved with and committed to feminist teaching and research.

Women's Studies has always been a contested space, both within and without the academy, personally and politically. It has a huge diversity of approaches and struggles, and is not just inter- and multi-disciplinary, but is also trans-disciplinary. This can make the spaces occupied by women's studies / gender studies / feminist scholarship even more difficult and contested. In an apparently post-feminist era, feminist spaces are becoming increasingly difficult to claim, and feminists find ourselves engaged with political, ideological and material struggles over which boundaries to build around 'safe' spaces, and which boundaries to try and cross or dismantle. Should we, for example, be trying to locate ourselves more firmly institutionally and, if we do so, is this 'selling out', setting boundaries and constraints for ourselves? Within this special issue of the Journal, contributors consider the boundaries we have crossed, the boundaries still to cross, the boundaries we wish to maintain and the boundaries we self-impose.

Within the academy, boundaries are often tightly drawn around disciplines and subject specialisms. …

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