Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Culture at the Crossroads

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Culture at the Crossroads

Article excerpt

"The young feminists are different, they're into culture."

--Judy Rebick, "Fresh Air," CBC, 26 March 2005

A big divide? What is driving the wedge between the Humanities and Social Sciences? Formulated in the interrogative, our title resonates with many other questions about the current state of Women's Studies in the academy raised in recent publications. A rhetoric of crisis in these questions conveys an urgency beyond any permanent interrogation of disciplinarity or process of thinking out of bounds that opens to a future different from the present. The dystopic impulse in such titles as "Is Academic Feminism Dead?," "The Impossibility of Women's Studies" (Brown), "Women's Studies on the Edge" (Scott), or "Feminism Beside Itself" (Elam and Wiegman), to cite only some of the more pessimistic, discharges powerful affect. The stakes ate high indeed, for what these forensics deconstruct is feminism's problematic self-representation as a heroic modernist narrative of progress. Women's Studies is no longer just the program linking a way of looking at the world and a pedagogical method to a movement for social change that troubles the traditional disciplinary knowledges of the university. Now Women's Studies is itself in trouble, afflicted with an acute definitional instability as it is challenged from within as well as from without. As the authors of Troubling Women's Studies elaborate, Women's Studies currently suffers a "crisis of definition, of disciplinarity, of theory, of politics and even of feminism" (p. 10). And it is within this conjuncture, I propose, as both an effect of and a contributor to the malaise, that the uneasy relations of the Humanities and the Social Sciences within Women's Studies must be considered.

Restructuring Knowledge

The configuration of these diverse fields of knowledge in the crosscutting work of interdisciplinarity has had an enormous impact both within and across traditional departments. Women's Studies, along with ethnic studies, as Cathy Davidson and David Goldberg contend, has been at the forefront of the paradigm shift "from disciplinary questions to transdisciplinary problems" (p. 43) that has initiated "inquiry- of theme-based" forms of knowledge (p. 55) whose objects of analysis are socio-culturally chosen. Moreover, it was the "expansive humanist reach" (p. 43) which first challenged the borders of disciplines with intellectual practices oriented more by the demands of the object of analysis than by disciplinary protocols. Increasingly, however, as they point out, interdisciplinarity is being defined by university administratots in terms of the sciences and technology alone (p. 42) with a consequent loss of "culture" as a "critical diagnostic" for registering the complexities of contemporary life and knowledge production (p. 49). (1) Culture in this critical sense is concerned reflexively with contact, flow and intersection, rather than with the narrower national delimitations favoured by traditional disciplines. Culture functions, then, as dialectic in the convergence of the Social Sciences' engagement with the ethnographic and political and the Humanities' analysis of aesthetic and expressive form. In what follows, I will consider some of the diagnostics of the troubles in Women's Studies in the context of the current knowledge structures, particularly as these touch upon the position of the Humanities within an interdisciplinary model - interdisciplinarity constituting a chief characteristic of feminism's difference in the academy. I shall attempt then with reference to some specific examples to think critically about the contradictions of this claim as it clashes with feminist interventions in the disciplines and the materiality of their knowledge production.

The restructuring of knowledge currently underway in the universities undoubtedly lends weight to the sense of crisis affecting Women's Studies. A realignment of power is changing the legitimacy of what counts as knowledge and redistributing resources among the faculties and disciplines accordingly. …

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