Academic Conception of the Political
When I agreed to participate in the Women's Studies mainstreaming project at the University of Arizona, I already saw myself as "enlightened" with respect to feminist issues. Moreover, I felt I had previously developed a feminist perspective on the world and the field—political sociology—in which I work. Accordingly, I expected no major conceptual breakthroughs as a results of my participation. Instead, I was only hoping to gain: (a) systematic exposure to the recent feminist scholarship in my field, that I might incorporate it into my courses; and (b) feedback on ways that I might build gender as a variable into an ongoing study of political activism I was then working on. These more "modest" goals were, indeed, realized. However, so too was the type of conceptual breakthrough I had ruled out. So much for lowered expectations.
The object of this rethinking was the traditional academic conception of the "political" that forms a kind of assumptive backdrop against which research and theorizing in political science and sociology had traditionally occurred. While I had begun to rethink specific theories within these fields in terms of their gender implications and to build gender as a variable into my empirical scholarship, I had left intact the broad conceptual frame within which these theories and studies fit. While critical of the frame on other grounds, I had remained oblivious to its gender implications. Those implications now strike me as rather obvious and indefensible. In the sections that follow, I will attempt to describe the traditional academic conception of the "political," briefly sketch