Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader

By Sharlene Hesse-Biber; Christina Gilmartin et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

For three decades, feminist research has been explicitly connected with interdisciplinarity. This linkage was initially motivated by the recognition of two realities: the fields of knowledge that had sprung up within disciplinary terrains largely reflected male interests, and the artificial barriers dividing these domains obstructed a complete view of women's situations and the social structures that perpetuated gender inequalities. Many years before feminist scholars began to imagine that they might "engender" the disciplines, they set out to make the disciplinary landscapes more hospitable to feminist analysis and interpretation.

The theoretical work for this undertaking has mainly occurred in three localities: at the margins of the disciplines, in interdisciplinary women's studies programs,1 and in interdisciplinary journals like Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society and Feminist Studies. Over time a rich language has developed to describe the nature of feminist work in these disciplinary and interdisciplinary sites, revealing a variety of views. While some feminists, such as Joan Wallach Scott, focus their efforts on transforming their disciplines ( Scott, 1988), others call attention to the difficulties inherent in such undertakings. Deborah Steinberg, for instance, points out the problematic aspects of working within one's "home" discipline:

Most of us who are feminists forging interdisciplinary scholarship and pedagogy, I imagine, find it more the case that "home" is a place of profound estrangement and considerable danger. . . . Indeed, the metaphor of "home," if we consider the conventional sexual politics of home, is unfortunately appropriate. ( Steinberg, 1997:201)

Other scholars are less concerned with the dilemmas related to their disciplinary affiliations than with the viability of the interdisciplinary spaces they have come to inhabit. Both Jane Marcus and Gloria Anzaldúa portray these sites as unsafe, transitory places to which scholars have been exiled. Those who enter these sites, which have been "created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary," become "foreigners" and must assume "dangerous identifications" ( Marcus, 1989:23; Anzaladúa, 1987:3).

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1
In 1960, there were approximately sixteen courses devoted to the topic of women and gender. In 1970, the first women's studies program in the United States was approved at San Diego State University ( Stimpson, 1992:257 as cited in Klein, 1996:115). By the mid 1990s, the number of women's studies programs had grown to approximately 620 ( Howe, 1997:410). A study conducted by the American Council on Education found that 68 percent of American universities offered courses in women's studies, 48.9 percent of four-year colleges, and 26.5 percent of two-year colleges ( "Women's Studies", 1990:214 as cited in Klein, 1996:116)

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