Academic journal article Hecate

Women's Studies in Northern Europe

Academic journal article Hecate

Women's Studies in Northern Europe

Article excerpt

In Australia, the Women's Liberation Movement has made an undeniable impact upon tertiary education. Women's Studies courses, of one kind or another, have appeared in most post-secondary institutions. Women's caucuses in the Political Science and Sociology Associations and in ANZAAS have established forums for feminist research. The biennial Women and Labour Conference draws women involved in teaching, research, movement activism and a host of other fields together to discuss issues currently concerning feminists. And the list could go on. Setting out from this environment to spend the last three months of 1982 investigating women's studies in Britain, France and Scandinavia, we anticipated that we would meet a similar range of activities. But we also wondered what evidence we would find of recession and reaction working against them. We did encounter research of many kinds. Some of it appeared to accept dominant institutional assumptions governing research, to establish research on women (as a subject area) as a legitimate academic pursuit. Some, by challenging those assumptions, signalled exciting innovative approaches to knowledge, derived from feminist theory and practice. But we found comparatively few Women's Studies courses which attempt to break down the conventional boundaries between academic disciplines.

Perhaps that should not be surprising. All of the courses that we found face difficulties and insecurities arising from their institutions' unwillingness to commit to them substantial, continuing funds, and full-time staff with no other demands on their work time. Almost all (Bristol's extra-mural courses probably being an exception), encounter also the contradiction inherent in the endeavour to establish women's studies as a field of academic study: contradictions between specifically feminist concerns with women's lives and androcentric bias in the world of learning, and the academic criteria to be met by courses in institutions of tertiary education. One facet of this contradiction surfaced in a discussion about assessment, during a one-day conference on Women's Studies in London. One woman said: "If assessment is not serious, the work remains marginal." Another replied: "But if assessment is serious, the work becomes non-feminist." Such a contradiction will disappear only when the world of learning, and its institutions have changed more radically than is easy to imagine at present.

We encountered only three courses taught in universities, that labelled themselves Women's Studies. Two are in England: a course-work M.A. at the University of Canterbury in Kent, and a course offered by the Open University. The Open University provides opportunities for mature students, including people who have no formal educational qualifications, to take University courses. The Kent course, by contrast, is open only to graduates, selected from the large number of applicants. Its co-ordinator, Mary Evans, has edited a book called The Woman Question: Readings on the Subordination of Women (Fontana, 1982) which will undoubtedly be a central text for the course. The readings are grouped under eight headings: `Feminism,' `Women and Men,' `Female Sexuality,' `Domestic Life and Labour,' `Women and Paid Work,' `Women and the State,' `Culture and Ideology' and Cross-cultural Studies.' It is a comprehensive text which should help students integrate the approaches and information offered to them in the range of disciplinary based units, taught by people who are also employed full-time in traditional departments in the university. The Open University's course is, likewise, inter-disciplinary. But there, students use material prepared by a Course Team which is acutely conscious of the difficulty of producing, within an academic curriculum, an inter-disciplinary course which does not reproduce the conventional divisions between disciplines. A central text for this course, The Changing Experience of Women (Oxford, 1982), edited by Elizabeth Whitelegg and others, includes not only reprints of important papers, but also (unlike the Evans text) articles specially commissioned for the book. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.