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Excerpts

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Extracts from the works of Joan Wallach Scott

From Gender and the Politics of History, revised ed., 1999.

Title cover: Gender and the Politics of History

“Under its aegis [gender], feminists asked how and under what conditions different roles and functions had been defined for each sex; how the very meanings of the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’ varied according to time and place; how regulatory norms of sexual deportment were created and enforced; how issues of power and rights played into questions of masculinity and femininity; how symbolic structures affected the lives and practices of ordinary people; how sexual identities were forged within and against social prescriptions.

This book is a product of that moment in the 1980s, when gender seemed a useful category of analysis precisely because it had an unfamiliar, destabilizing affect. When coupled with politics and history in the title of this book,‘gender’ served as a provocation to integrate the study of women into those traditionally compartmentalized areas of investigation.” (xi)

“Gender, in these essays, means knowledge about sexual difference. I use knowledge, following Michel Foucault, to mean the understanding produced by cultures and societies of human relationships, in this case between men and women… Such knowledge… is produced in complex ways within large epistemic frames that themselves have an (at least quasi-) autonomous history. Knowledge is a way of ordering the world; as such it is not prior to social organization, it is inseparable from social organization.” (2)

“This essay is an attempt to address a problem that seems to me increasingly evident and stubbornly resistant to easy solution. That problem is the one faced by feminist historians in their attempts to bring women as a subject and gender as an analytic category into the practice of labor history.” (53)

“It is in analyzing the process of meaning that gender becomes important. Concepts such as class are created through differentiation. Historically, gender has provided a way of articulating and naturalizing difference. If we look closely at the ‘languages of class’ of the nineteenth century, we find they are built with, in terms of, references to sexual difference.” (60)

“The garment trades permit a comparison of the kinds of appeals made to male and female workers, especially the ways in which the gender was contructed in these appeals.... The identities of garment workers were conceived as at once economic, sexual, and political. In this, of course, garment workers were not unique. They were participants in a larger culture and a more general political movement. Still, their particular formulations are worth examining closely for they enable us to see in detail how and in what terms gender was implicated in the articulation of a set of specific craft identities.” (96)

“The marginalization of women workers rested on and reinforced political economy’s presentation of its economic and moral science in terms of the ‘natural’ qualities of women and men; the invocation of nature legitimized certain precepts and put them beyond the bounds of dispute. This was the case for the discussion of women’s lower wages as a result of their ‘natural’ dependency (a function of motherhood) and the projection of a desirable moral/social order in terms of sharp lines of sexual difference.…” (162)

“How then do we recognize and use notions of sexual difference and yet make arguments for equality? The only response is a double one: the unmasking of the power relationship constructed by posing equality as the antithesis of difference, and the refusal of its consequent dichotomous construction of political choices.” (172)

“The only alternative, it seems to me, is to refuse to oppose equality to difference and insist continually on differences — differences as the condition of individual and collective identities, differences as the constant challenge to the fixing of these identities, history as the repeated illustration of the play of differences, differences as the very meaning of equality itself.” (175)


From Parité!

Title cover: Parité!: Sexual Equality and the Crisis of French Universalism

“But I would also insist that France is a particular example of a more general proposition: histories that focus on sexual difference cannot be written apart from the histories of politics within which they take shape and to which they in turn give form, whereas histories of politics are often illuminated by feminist critiques that, at their best, uncover contradiction and exacerbate it in an effort to transform the status quo.” (9).

“… France resisted ‘differentialism’ in the name of abstract individualism of republican universalism. Abstraction could overcome all differences, it was argued; that was the distinctive lesson of French political history. Although this was untrue… the myth of an unchanging revolutionary heritage strengthened as the pressure to represent differences increased.” (21)

“Reaffirming the enduring principles of the Revolution, universalism was offered as the only solution possible for the problems posed by the increasing cultural diversity of the French population.... There was to be no representativity, only representation. And if there was universalism…, how could there be discrimination? ... Was there some way of changing the notions of the individual, expanding its capacity for abstraction to include differences once thought irreducible? This was the challenge addressed by feminists who founded the parité movement.” (31)

“If legal recognition rested on some principle of universality (as it must in this French republican context), was this principle and individual (private) right to choose one’s partner, or a collective (social) right — that of any cohabiting couple — to the same benefits enjoyed bythose formally married?… For while parité worked within the familiar framework of individual rights… the PaCS (Pacte civil de solidarité — civil pact of solidarity, a type of registered domestic partnership) dealt with couples and with the terms of recognition granted to them by the state.” (100)


From “Against Eclecticism” [(differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies (2005)]

“What I am against is the notion, implied in the uses of eclecticism I have cited, that we are no longer foregrounding conflict and contradiction in our work, no longer subjecting the foundational premises of our disciplines, no longer subjecting the foundational premises of our disciplines or, for that matter, our era to rigorous interrogation, no longer asking how meaning is constructed and what relations of power it supports, but instead applying so many useful methods in a common empirical enterprise in which even radical insight is presented simply as new evidence and the conceptual foundations of disciplinary practice are left safely in place. Eclecticism, in the highly specific usage I have referred to, connotes the coexistence of conflicting doctrines as if there were no conflict, as if one position were not an explicit critique of another. The aim is to ignore or overlook differences, to create balance and harmony, to close down the opening to unknown futures that (what came to be called) ‘theory’ offered some twenty or thirty years ago.” (116)

“Instead of allowing the play of critical forces and living with the results (inevitable inclusions and exclusions, an uneven pattern within departments and across the academic spectrum), the academic bill of rights would eliminate critical exchange in the name of an imposed balance and stultifying sameness: all points of view, whatever their merit, equally represented in every classroom.” (124-125)

“Conflicts of values and ethics are part of the process of knowledge production; they inform it, trouble it, drive it. The commitments of scholars to ideas of justice, for example, are at the heart of many an important investigation in political theory, philosophy, and history; they cannot be dismissed as irrelevant ‘opinion.’ And because such commitments cannot be separated from scholarship, there are mechanisms internal to academic life that monitor abuses, distinguishing between serious, responsible work and polemic, between teaching that aims to unsettle received opinion and teaching that is indoctrination.” (125)


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