Historicizing Discourse and Experience
The starting point of this article is the ongoing and uneasy encounter between feminism and poststructuralist theory across the disciplines. I explore, here, the implications of what has come to be termed the linguistic turn for the history of women and gender and analyze the controversies among feminists about its far-ranging consequences for historical research and writing. The very interdisciplinarity implied by the term linguistic turn constitutes one of the uneasy moments in this encounter: the boundary crossings between disciplines have challenged the foundations of individual fields while at the same time creating new domains of interdisciplinary inquiry that seem to render obsolete the familiar tools, concepts, and epistemologies of the traditional disciplines. Indeed, because much of the provocative rethinking and recasting of these terms has taken place outside of history, attempts to redefine keywords in the vocabulary of social history and women's history -- experience, agency, discourse, and identity -- must be embedded in debates across disciplines. 1
However fruitful the fracturing of disciplinary boundaries has been, it has also opened up difficult questions regarding the meanings and methods and historical practice in the wake of the linguistic turn. For this reason it is imperative to grapple with the poststructuralist challenge not only across the disciplines but also specifically on the terrain of history by reexamining the historical narratives, concepts, chronologies, and boundaries that have been displaced in the context of our own historical research and writing. In this article, therefore, I rethink the contested terms discourse, experience, and agency through a study of gender and the politics of work in the German textile industry during late Imperial and Weimar Germany. I focus in particular on two moments of crisis and transformation in German history that intertwine the histories of experiences and discourses: the emergence of female factory labor as a new social question in the
Kathleen Canning, "Feminist History After the Linguistic Turn: Historicizing Discourse and Experience", Signs 19:2 ( 1994): 368-404. Reprinted by permission.