Structures in Women's Studies:
Interdisciplinarities, Languages of Power & Access, Generations and Careers
Katie King, Women's Studies,
University of Maryland, College Park
Introduction: Methods Coming-into-being across Fields of Power
This essay was written in the midst of my local feminist community's struggles to create a new Ph.D. program in women's studies, and as we labor over the difficulties of communication across disciplines and generations. Local historical developments contextualize these struggles. We have new faculty who come from different disciplinary, political, multicultural locations. Our university is restructuring economically and departments are being pressured to pay for some of their operating expenses with overhead from external funding, which means that some disciplinary studies have become more advantageous to the department than others. Our women's studies department is housed in the College of Arts and Humanities at a moment in which the humanities are less valued, for institutional structural reasons that have to do with having less access to such external funding, and for national political reasons that associate the humanities and universities, not to mention women's studies, with neoconservative and neoliberal critiques of political correctness, as their objects. Perhaps most compelling, because we have started up a Ph.D. in Women's Studies, calling upon a commitment on the part of our university to our field and department, we are simultaneously also in a situation of increased scrutiny and surveillance, externally and internally. As a women's studies faculty we are pondering how to train academics in graduate level Women's Studies, for what kinds of purposes; wondering who we will attract and want to attract; what we have to offer them and what they will have to offer to our field and to women's and other progressive movements.
Although these are struggles of local importance, that is local to our particular campus in a U.S. state university system, they are by no means singular to us. Other women's studies programs, not just in the U.S., also have concerns about the politics of women's studies, about its varying institutionalizations and resources, about its relations to knowledge production or discipline formation or interdisciplinary projects or professionalization or social justice movements. Indeed, these particular yet varying struggles might be said to constitute the "discipline" of women's studies. (for the U.S. academy see Howe, 2000) At the same time, globalization processes in their economic and political meanings are strong forces pressuring our local questions, pushing them into distinctive shapes at this particular moment in time. However local our questions appear to us, they are also enmeshed in layers of globals: national and international politics, large theoretical questions about knowledge production, social movements across the globe. Yet however similar the large theoretical questions might be to those engaged by other local women's studies locations on the globe, they are also shaped by particularisms in layers of locals: institutional particularisms, generational particularisms, and the multiple cultural intersecting political identities that inflect the politics and theories of women's studies in each location. [fn1]
Thinking simultaneously about both large conceptual questions and particularistic programmatic concerns is what women's studies programs today are doing, as are other departments. Universities today are thoroughly politicized and despite neoconservative rhetoric this is not a simple product of "tenured radicals from the sixties." Women's Studies programs are the result of large scale and small scale social movements and their histories (Howe, 2000), which influence legislatures, state and national, even as legislatures attempt to contain them via budgets and other institutionalizations. Guessing how to position oneself in relation to state missions is as important to U.S. academic women's studies as how to teach feminist theories of positionality. While micro engagements of power, such as within departments, have different ranges of influence and different forms of positioning than more macro levels of legislature and capital campaigns, let alone the macro structures of U.S. economic power, the pressure of issues can move in each direction. These are some of the layers of locals and globals that constitute the discussions today in women's studies about the meanings of interdisciplinarity, which have arisen for some around new institutionalizations, such as the development of Ph.D. programs, in the U.S. and internationally.
So this essay reflects that for the last few years I have been obsessed with several sites of struggle that come out of these situations in U.S. women's studies, only too affected by the ways such sites are politicized within and by feminist politics, within and by academic politics, within and by national politics. Sites of struggle that have particularly obsessed me include those within departments and activist cultures over academic languages of power, translation and accessibility; and those across campuses over meanings of interdisciplinarity in feminist generations in relation to various tides of institutional processes. Such varyingly "local" meanings--that is, centered in women's studies in the U.S. academy and its histories and institutionalizations over the relatively brief period of approximately three decades--are also of some global significance. U.S. feminism has operated at times as a speciously named "global feminism" both embraced and refused by other globally located local feminisms--sometimes in alliance and solidarity with or against the U.S., sometimes as hopeful visions of alternative possibilities for women modeled by the U.S. or positioned against the U.S., sometimes in hopeful anticipation of economic and social advantages vise a vise the global power of the U.S. or in rejection of such power.
Thinking in this way about what I call "layers of locals and globals" I consider one new feminist methodology among others, an element in what U.S. third world Chicana feminist theorist Chela Sandoval calls differential consciousness. (Sandoval, 2000) Sandoval suggests that globalization processes today are producing simultaneously both a new "democratization of oppression" (what others have called "hyperoppression") and a new "Global Citizen" with emergent forms of subjectivity, that is, agency created within and by new forms of subjection and resistance. (see also Hennessy, 2000) Sandoval's politics is about engaging liberatory possibility; neither wholly celebratory or wholly condemnatory, it is about wringing out possibilities out of the terrors of new subjectivities under globalization. For some feminists and progressives such a mixture of critique and visionary longing is considered "celebratory" or utopian, no matter its criticality and despite its distinct divergence from commercial utopianisms of technology, capitalism, and progress. (perhaps Ebert, 1996) For many progressives, any politics not engaged entirely in critical rejection of globalization processes is politically suspect as another form of neoliberalism, complexly implicated in new capital formations, and in the systems of hyperoppression that accompany them.
Nonetheless, Sandoval's phrase "democratization of oppression" intends a "third path" [fn2] that her description of "Third World Feminism" also points to: one that assumes that such purity of political statement and renunciation cannot capture the realities of the lives of unprivileged peoples, whose abilities to maneuver through the terrain of globalizations are the very condition of their survival. It is those abilities, a complex of collaboration, refusal, imagination, resistance, analysis of power, and the translations of power, that are the resources from which the liberatory skills of translating power in the future will come. That more and more people in the world are drawn under the web of oppression through globalization marks this strangely "democratizing" shift she names so frighteningly, meaning that to survive more and more people will have to learn the skills of analyzing power and translating it, thus bringing into being this new "Global Citizen" out of great and lessor terrors.
"Differential consciousness" maps out possible positions of power within a particular field of action and moves among them, shifting in emphasis and direction in opposition to dominant exploitative forces, exploring each position of power as a site of resistance, and laboring with difficulty to recognize and act upon its liberatory potentials. Mapping out layers of locals and globals is necessary then in a liberatory politics that understands itself as working within, constituted by and in resistance to processes of globalization. Thinking about and moving among layers of locals and globals is an element of the differential consciousness of Sandoval's new Global Citizen. Feminisms are complexly agents too in such global regimes of subjection and resistance, agents in layers of locals and globals, that is, in local movements and global travels, in particular meanings and in generalized ones, in theories that translate well and ill across fields of power.
Feminist methodology, such as thinking in layers of locals and globals, and theory, such as Sandoval's exploration of differential consciousness, such method and theory are just coming-into-being from acts of translation across fields of power. Often one learns to politically engage via newly emerging methods and ways of thinking about thinking--that is, learns to know them when one sees them, finding oneself and others using them--only in the midst of misunderstandings and struggles, when previously held assumptions are ruptured by micro and macro movements of power. Communities of struggle can be torn apart by such consequences even when they have birthed such methods and thinking. It is as passionate prophecy that Sandoval's scholarship and activism are animated. For myself as a theorist, for my students learning to theorize, Sandoval is able to produce those pivotal reframings of reality that shock us, shake us, enliven us. Indeed, provoke us to commit ourselves to participate in new orders of consciousness, and to create new social worlds. Sandoval takes us through and beyond what we have ever meant by critique, expanding the horizon of meaning and possibility of theory as a form of social change, of theory as the direct action of social movements (Sturgeon, 1995), of theory as that method through which we transform our relationships to reality.
(Inter)interdisciplinarity as Differential Consciousness: two eccentric models
Sandoval's first examples of differential consciousness are drawn out of a taxonomy of feminisms, the legacy of both political struggle and academic teaching practice. She describes four valorized forms of oppositional political consciousness that reflect tactics of political resistance: equal rights, revolutionary, supremacist, separatist. U.S. feminism has had its versions of these forms of oppositional politics, and Sandoval has deliberately named them in this way to emphasize feminism's location inside the struggles of many social movements, within the U.S and globally. I have critically described how these four forms have been canonized in U.S. academic women's studies as a history of liberal feminism, socialist feminism, radical feminism and cultural feminism. (King, 1994) But Sandoval also names a fifth form, which she calls the differential form, the form that moves between and among the other forms, "a political revision that denied any one ideology as the final answer, while instead positing a tactical subjectivity with the capacity to de- and re-center, given the forms of power to be moved." (59) She names as the agency developing such differential consciousness "U.S. Third World Feminism."
In my own women's studies department, attempting to communicate with colleagues with disciplinary trainings about my experiences with interdisciplinary training, I have offered this explanation of differential consciousness for two ways of thinking about (inter)interdisciplinarity in women's studies. First, in a conceptual mapping, as the kind of consciousness required to move among what I have called "layers of locals and globals," produced at this historical moment by the processes of globalization. Such locals and globals are pluralized and dynamic because they are always relative and relational to each other, that is, what is local in one context is global to another context and so on in layers. Thus we use differential consciousness as we work through the struggles in women's studies that are necessarily local and global in layers, particular to our programs, state and other institutions, U.S. academy and politics, international academies and international political struggles, grassroots, official, NGO-driven, and so on. Second, as another way to describe what one could also call "a principled relativism" required for communication across interests in committed groups with great differences: one neither that liberal toleration and pluralism critiqued by radicals and conservatives for being value-free, nor that god's eye view relativism accountable to no one and no culture. Instead such a principled relativism must simultaneously map out the layers of locals and globals, move among them, value all of them tactically, name them generously, and commit to one or more at the appropriate times with "strength, flexibility and grace," as Sandoval says of identity politics, "enough strength to confidently commit to a well-defined structure of identity for one hour, day, week, month, year; enough flexibility to self-consciously transform that identity according to the requisites of another oppositional ideological tactic if readings of power's formation require it; enough grace to recognize alliance with others committed to egalitarian social relations and race, gender, sex, class, and social justice, when their readings of power call for alternative oppositional stands." (60) I have urged within our department such a principled relativism--a kind of differential consciousness, which allows us to map many models of interdisciplinarity, move among them, value all of them tactically, name them generously, and commit to one or more at the appropriate times with strength, flexibility and grace--rather than an insistance upon that ever receding (and I would claim, imaginary) entity, the "truly" interdisciplinary, that which none of us ever instantiates.
In this spirit I describe two models of interdisciplinarity. I name these as two among many, and I have deliberately chosen ones I attempt here to describe in layers of locals and globals: I look to the work of two specific scholars for a particular example of each, but try to name them also more abstractly as models simultaneously. I have chosen these particular models to elaborate for two reasons. First and most personal, these are the models of interdisciplinarity that I use most often myself, both in my research and in my teaching. The two scholars I name as examples have been mentors to my own intellectual projects, trained in the same graduate program I took my own degree in, and are people with whom I have often pondered the micro and macro movements of power in U.S. academies and their epistemological consequences. The models each exemplify fundamentally structure my own projects and arguments. Second, these models are deliberately "to the side" of the ways of describing the interdisciplinary that center women's studies, deliberately chosen as both complexly outside and inside women's studies as it is institutionally instantiated today. In a U.S. academic women's studies still dominated by generations with disciplinary trainings for whom the "truly" interdisciplinary is often something imaginary, I hope that these models speak to actual interdisciplinary practices already working today. I want messy models that can capture the fact that at this moment women's studies can be simultaneously described as both an emerging interdiscipline and as various kinds of (inter)interdisciplines; messy models that help us theorize practices.
The first model I call "A PROJECT BECOMES A NEW FIELD" and the scholarly example I call upon is the work of William Pietz on Fetish Analysis. In this model an intellectual project requires a trajectory through several disciplines and / or interdisciplines, subfields, specialist areas, thematic analyses. The analysis of globalization processes themselves over a broad range of time are essential to this project. Pietz, in order to historically and materially analyze ideas and actualities of "the fetish," has to travel through the fields of religion, anthropology, psychoanalysis, economics, history, postcolonial theory, transnationalism, and politics. This doesn't mean the project requires mastery of all these fields or all of world history, but it does require being conversant with their materials and their practitioners, and to have some abstract, or "meta" location, in this case, paradoxically, the project's very specificity, from which to map these fields historically and epistemologically. Thus, a subject that is specific in meaning in particular fields, that is, "the fetish," is newly produced across them, and such specific meanings can be compared, then noticed to have relationships among them. [fn3] This project necessarily entails not only the use of several methods, but indeed, the development of new methodology. Such new methodology is abstract enough to travel through disciplinary and historical locations. Some other methods may be borrowed from one discipline to be used on what are the object of study understood in the usual area of another discipline. Methodological and theoretical eclecticism are preconditions for the development of this new methodology, in layers of locals and globals. As this methodological mixing occurs, the new object of study and the new field become virtually one new thing.
The new methodology developed becomes useful to other scholars who work in those disciplines, but who also come to locate themselves in this new field. In Pietz' case, his work and that of others, comes together in the book Fetishism as Cultural Discourse (1993). In 1995 he is invited as keynote speaker to an international conference on "Border Fetishisms" at the Research Center for Religion and Society at the University of Amsterdam, and in 1999 to other international conferences in London and Tsukuka, Japan. Pietz' training is in interdisciplinary methods with an emphasis on theory and "meta" analysis; that is, a training in development as well as use of new methods and theories. When such a training is successful it creates new forms of expertise. Pietz is an independent scholar today, with attendant freedoms of time and location, but also lack of institutional supports. He is also a labor activist with the Green Party in L.A.
The second model I call "DISCIPLINES AS WORLD VIEWS" and the scholarly example I call upon here is the work of Sharon Traweek on Particle Physicists. In this model an intellectual project develops an unexpected point of view in relation to what appears at first glance to be perhaps a conventional subject. Particle physics as an institutionalized practice--rather than the subject matter, practiced by physicists--is usually studied by historians or philosophers of science. Traweek deliberately takes up another "disciplinary" location--anthropology--to study "the people" of particle physics in two cultures, Japan and the U.S. The object of study shifts as the point of view alters how such study should be constituted now--"the people" of particle physics are emphasized and newly valued, as one discipline is "substituted" for another unexpectedly.
These defamilarizing effects however make it clear that this is not a simple substitution of one discipline for another, but a strategic intervention into the values and "world views" of several disciplines. Traweek's work calls into question the assumptions of the disciplines and interdisciplines of history of science, philosophy of science, particle physics, anthropology, area studies and science studies. All of these are called into question even as the point of view of anthropology is taken up strategically and allows for geopolitical comparisons. Traweek's meta-characterization of "anthropology" is playfully serious, highly self-conscious and meta-historical. At times she deliberately uses methods and visions of anthropology in their most traditional and mythic form. Such meta-analysis of the field is so self-consciously displayed that it approaches parody. This is in analog to the mythic forms of "the scientific method" that play prominent roles in her analysis of the values of particle physics and their material construction in the U.S., and, through the comparison to Japan, show up the local cultural assumptions embedded in such "global" abstractions as "the scientific method." Such display of this traditional form of her academic discipline is also pedagogically deployed: it allows her to explain her project to people not conversant with the most current methods of anthropology and its postmodernisms and allows her to spend her time explaining the particle physicists rather than this current anthropological methodology, just as the deployment of the idea of "the scientific method" allows scientists to more easily demonstrate complex projects to lay audiences, since each mythic form answers the expectations of those not in the fields of anthropology or the sciences.
A theory and history of disciplines is required to think about using and challenging disciplinary assumptions in this way, in layers of locals and globals. Such an approach is easy to misunderstand. It confuses those for whom their discipline's world view is unreflectingly "true": for example, after a public lecture on her work, Traweek is approached by a particle physicist who complements her description of the intellectual community but is troubled by the way she has framed her commentary, saying "it's all true, but I don't understand why you talk about it as if there could be some other way to do this...." Such an approach may also confuse those who see their discipline "parodied." Some anthropologists might misrecognize Traweek's investments in the most current debates in anthropology, misunderstanding the method of contestation and the reconceptualizations of anthropology and anthropological authority.
Indeed, this approach is about developing methods for new forms of interdisciplinarity and scholarly authority that are a collective political project. When the method is understood, it becomes a paradigm for a new approach in Science Studies, and a new subfield in anthropology. Her book, Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists (Harvard, 1988), has had just such an influence. One of varying interventions in Science Studies with their alliances and divergences, within the subfield feminist technoscience studies, Traweek's career has traveled: from MIT's Science, Technology and Society Program; to Rice University's Anthropology graduate program under the leadership of George Marcus in a new contested reconceptualization of the field and its inscriptions of itself; to UCLA's History Department, its History of Science subfield, and within that hired to help put together a new Center for the Cultural Studies of Science, Technology and Medicine; meanwhile always back and forth between Japan and the U.S. comparatively. To engage in this form of interdisciplinarity and comparative studies one must either be trained in interdisciplinary methods and / or in several disciplines, as Traweek was, in several graduate careers. This model of interdisciplinarity takes up studying how academics are trained in specific disciplines in specific nations under the regimes of globalization as part of the project, highly self-conscious analysis of the production of scholars in the relevant fields. Because the method is open to misunderstandings, it helps to have been conventionally trained in multiple fields so as to have the academic authority to be heard in those fields sympathetically, even while the production of such authority is analyzed. Such training when successful, creates new forms of expertise, and new geopolitical consciousness.
Using the Models: Discovering Assumptions in the Course of their Violation
My larger point is that people who do interdisciplinary work are likely to use several models of interdisciplinarity, at different times and to serve different purposes, that they move through them in a way similar to that described by Sandoval as the differential movement among forms of political consciousness. Although some models are more appropriate for the work of individuals (perhaps the two I just described in terms of the work and careers of individual scholars) and some are more appropriate for the work of groups (for example, the model some refer to as "multidisciplinarity," in which scholars trained in specific disciplines collaborate together on a project, and where, therefore, it is the project rather than the scholars that is interdisciplinary), in practice individuals and groups move among these models, sometimes very self-consciously, even with difficulty, other times rather seamlessly and unconsciously. Interdisciplinary programs are in fact reservoirs of multiple models of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity, and their denizens deploy the models sometimes carefully and sometimes carefreely.
Personally, I valorize those whose "interdiscipline" requires them to become beginners, over and over, to give up mastery and to open up to risk and experimentation, connection and mixing, enthusiasm and translation. These are also elements of women's studies that reemerge again and again, just as the impulses to mastery, depth, and certification also emerge in the processes of institutionalization and professionalization. Translation among disciplines and interdisciplines, among those preoccupied by risk and those preoccupied by professionalization, among those whose ideas of politics are outside the academy and those whose politics are inside it, such translation is the necessary ground for communication among the varying constituencies and multiple cultures of women's studies. What I have learned from doing interdisciplinary work in women's studies is how many assumptions about audience and about shared professional discussions I and others take for granted and, indeed, police. Again and again, I discover my own assumptions in the course of their violation, and my own impulses to forget again this knowledge.
Disciplinary and interdisciplinary workers necessarily keep rediscovering that others do not appreciate the very grounds for discussion, do not use words the same ways, do not value the very forms of argumentation. Sometimes we pull together closely in our specific subdisciplines, or our particular interdisciplines, our intellectual communities, our political communities, to counter these terrible discomforts, closely negotiating language, evidence and argument. For some, such close negotiations come to define women's studies, or interdisciplinarity, or good politics, or good scholarship, or a good Ph.D. program. But we have to constantly reframe and reconsider how will those of us interested in intersections in women's studies speak? to ourselves? to each other? to which particular "each others"? how will we become aware of, locate and teach each other our own languages, tacit argument-forms, jokes and techniques of representation? when will we center ourselves and our groups and when will we decenter ourselves? when will we feel left out and when will we aggressively include ourselves? In women's studies these truths become only too obvious at particular moments in time, in particular locations, and in relation to highly contested political engagements. Feminist experiences require that our tolerance for such wide-ranging misunderstandings be fairly high; indeed we all have to take them rather as the very condition of (inter)interdisciplinary communication.
My own research projects tend to depend upon the model in which a project becomes a new field. To some extent I see work in women's studies very broadly understood within this model, created over time by many people who have worked in multiple sites and with multiple agendas. Some intended to create a new field, some find themselves within this new field without having intended it, a few may even feel forced into this field when their own ways of understanding their work might name it differently, or when another job opening would have been preferred. Similarly, I see work in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered studies (its newly institutional naming in my local location) also very broadly understood in this way. Both women's studies and LGBT studies are the results of social movements in their layered local and global manifestations. Yet for a long time I have also seen myself laboring with others to create an overlapping new field, what I call Feminism and Writing Technologies. In the course of engaging in my own intellectual projects I come to understand them as connected in intention, materials and methodologies, I see them within several intellectual and disciplinary and interdisciplinary traditions, associated with and critiquing several newly connecting bodies of literature, and with an intellectual mission. I desire to make connections to other scholars working on similar critiques, similar materials and methods, with comparable or competing intellectual missions and visions. Thus I come to believe that my and others' projects are converging in this new field and I labor to create materializations of such a field: previous essays, talks and collaborations, my next book, web sites, classes; in the future perhaps conferences, collections, and so on. To what extent others will share my vision or provide other competing visions or shift the terms of collaboration and materializations is happening now and in the future, and those contestations will or will not produce this new field, or other intellectual possibilities. Other interdisciplinary consolidations of fields also in convergence with this new field but not equivalent to my vision of it might be named in phrases like "the history of the book," or "cyberculture studies," or "studies in orality and literacy" or "cultural studies of science and technology."
At the same time, the disciplines as world views model is one I move in and out of constantly as well, and the one I am most likely to use pedagogically. I find it particularly useful for training graduate students in women's studies. [fn4] The self-consciousness about disciplinary and interdisciplinary training that the world views model emphasizes is useful for different students. For those who see themselves taking a certificate as a form of certification and professionalization, and especially for those who intend a Ph.D. in Women's Studies, we are able to consider the meanings of professionalization through a feminist analysis of the gender, race and class constitution of the academy, in the U.S. and elsewhere, over time. Thinking of disciplines as world views allows students to think of themselves as resources from their disciplines, interdisciplines, various trainings and activist experiences to their feminist cohort, translating materials and forms of argument and evidence from all their varying fields to others, thus also learning a self-consciousness of such disciplinary and political specifics. This kind of self-consciousness makes it possible for students to consider how to critique the methods and values of their fields (including women's studies), and to reflect on the internal and external critiques of feminists and others. It gives them some handle on the canonized critiques of other disciplines that create their own disciplines' and interdisciplines' boundaries and analytic languages and to consider how feminism participates in these border disputes. It raises the possibility of women's studies as an interdiscipline in the making, as well as an intervention into existing disciplines and as many (inter)interdisciplinary projects. It raises issues of fields produced within relations of power and hierarchy and generations, and how graduate training reproduces those relationships or alters them. [fn5]
Reflecting on the world views and contestations of disciplines and interdisciplines, inside and outside of particular fields and institutions, allows students to consider their own beliefs and biases. Especially it allows us to track the movements across fields of feminist concerns, subjects, methods, themes, and to ponder the similarities or difference in their meanings as they move from one disciplinary site to another, from one political generation to another. This allows us to see how even disciplinary misunderstandings or misrepresentations can lead to feminist insights, or to be sophisticated about the possibilities of analytic problems in this kind of movement. It helps us to think in complex ways about what it means for feminists to translate work across disciplinary ranges. It makes it possible to map out disciplines and interdisciplines, move among them and reflect upon them in layers of locals and globals, using differential consciousness.
Similarly, to discuss the (inter)interdisciplinarities of women's studies, one has to see women's studies as both local and global in layers, as one possible "global" category that might be materializing as a new interdiscipline in the U.S. academy and elsewhere, as many locals of institutionalizations particular to specific places and activist histories and academic structural integration, as varying political and scholarly visions, well and incompletely instantiated, as many globals in many countries with different feminist agendas and different histories of what counts as feminism, work on women, and political change, and so on. Interdisciplinary methods and models in women's studies are complexly inside and outside and overlapping these various layers of locals and globals of women's studies. This is why I do not feel the necessity to choose for the two examples of interdisciplinary models two scholars working specifically in the field of women's studies or in programs or departments in women's studies. Indeed to do so, mis-shapes these complexities in practice.
In layers of locals and globals "women's studies" is both larger and smaller than women's studies programs and departments, is also inside, outside and overlapping with them and with "feminism" in its many varying meanings. To restrict examination of women's studies, feminist theory or feminist (inter)disciplinary methods to those inside specific institutionalizations of women's studies is to misrepresent the practices of women's studies locally and globally, now and in the future. Traweek's work is explicitly within the intellectual communities named as Feminist Technoscience, within Gender Studies as a rubric, and includes studies focused on women in particular, yet women's studies as an institutional location has not figured prominently in Traweek's career. Pietz' work is not explicitly feminist nor focused on women or gender as valorized nodes of analysis, but it is continually about power, about historical and materialist analysis, and is progressively political and activist. He has consistently collaborated with feminists and used, valued and promoted feminist scholarship, and his work has proven to be fundamental for those who are explicitly feminist who have produced versions of fetish analysis that participate in the new scholarship on women, on gender and sexuality, and in women's studies. Women's studies in layers of locals and globals moves differentially among the instantiations of gender and sexuality studies, feminist theory, studies of power, social structure and racial and class formations, and a variety of social movements in overlapping alliances, coalitions and political generations, inside and outside the academy.
Reframing Feminist Politics of Access, Accessibility and Languages and Technologies of Power: Not the Dream of a Common Language
"The Culture Wars" is one way of naming struggles in layers of locals and globals for positions around education and its materialities of knowledge production (including disciplinary battles over empiricism and deconstruction), generationally different histories of activism and academic labor, globalization of information technologies and new forms of intellectual property, and passionate and spirited politics, revolutionary and religious, intellectual and anti-intellectual, on the right and on the left. (Inter)interdisciplinary struggles in women's studies are also layered in locals and globals around academic technical languages and technologies and their political meanings. Anti-intellectualism and progressive movements have a long companionship in U.S. politics, through critiques of elites: their educations, their consolidations of power through social relationships, their access to privilege, their ideological and economic control of media and property; broadly, the conditions of labor and educational technologies. U.S. universities and education itself figure as both instruments in the reproduction of elites and as democratizing destabilizations of elites. Women's Studies as a creature of U.S. universities, struggled for in the cauldron of social activism in political generations from the sixties into this next century, is also implicated in the formation of elites and in their subversion. "The politics of difference," "diversity," and "multiculturalism" are overlapping and politically inflected ways of promoting versions of identity politics and their destabilization of elites within women's studies, the U.S. academy and "American" cultural ideology.
Feminists have often practiced various politics of renunciation: from contemporary commercial boycotts in the recent past against Nestle baby formula and current boycotts against products produced by child labor, to hunger strikes in the histories of struggles for suffrage. When I teach my course on feminism and writing technologies, many of my students' political impulses are to practice such politics of renunciation in relation to "new technologies" as they define them: as too "male," as not available democratically to all, as elements in globalization processes that contribute to hyperoppression globally. Through such political analysis and practice, students struggle both to rationalize and to challenge the anxiety and avoidance of certain "technologies" they feel, as the recipients of processes of socialization of subordinated social groups. At the heart of the course is an intervention into the assumptions students bring to the term "technologies." My point is to convince students that technologies are something they use without these conscious and unconscious anxieties all the time, although they may not think of these objects as "technologies" in the sense they consider those alien, "male," anti-democratic technologies. The point of the course is to analyze technologies--especially those like the alphabet, a pivotal writing technology with many ideological meanings--as sites of struggles for power that feminists should engage rather than renounce.
Trying to persuade students to struggle with even the analysis of technologies is flying in the face of both their anxieties and avoidances as well as their renunciatory politics. Both they and I have strong material considerations: many of my students are commuters, often with less access to computer equipment and software as members of particular socioeconomic groups, or with little time to use labs at school given that they have to work and / or have demanding family responsibilities. These people are often not the market that the so-called "new technologies" were manufactured for. Not surprisingly, as members of disadvantaged groups, they are very concerned with the ways new technologies create new forms of inequality. They are not in a position to spend large amounts of income on new commodities that become outdated very quickly, and they feel, rightly, that these concerns are justifiably feminist, anti-racist and politically progressive. Still, commuters who do have access to computer resources find that doing many kinds of work from home on their computers helps with their time and distance problems, students who don't have their own computers find some camaraderie in collaborating with others working in the computer labs and helping each other out, and overall, most find that the kinds of work and research they do using the internet and the web at the very least makes everything just a bit more fun, more enlivening. For those who care about activism, many kinds of identity politics are now proliferated on the web and the meanings of local and global politics shift when groups can connect with each other. Others discover web pages as ways of communicating with the world (sometimes realistically, sometimes romantically). Teaching with and about technology more and more requires teaching strategies that do both questioning and justifying learning new technologies, addressing social concerns for those who have not thought about them at all and those who are sometimes virtually paralyzed by them, and that include a lot of coaching and handholding as well as encouraging risk-taking and rewarding mistakes--if we are not to allow the knowledge of such new technologies to be the principle apparatus of stratification by, race, gender, class, nationality, ability and geography.
Such questioning and justifying, coaching, handholding, and addressing social concerns is substantially similar to what I have to do to teach feminist theory as well. My students are also not sure that "theory" is not some "male" educational technology that they should properly renounce. They find the technical and / or disciplinary languages of some theories very difficult to learn, and the kinds of thinking involved not intuitively comfortable. This leads them to wonder if perhaps "theory" (in the singular) is not inimical to women and, more generally, to all socially disadvantaged peoples, part of the educational apparatuses that stratify by race, class and sex, and that work to reproduce elites (and, of course, there are times and places for and kinds of theories that might properly be described in exactly these ways). Feminist distinctions between theory and practice often convince them that theory-in-the-singular is opposed to political practice, that one does either one or the other, one inside the academy, the other outside. Nor it is it only students that feel this way about new technologies or this singular "theory." These are concerns broadly held in women's studies, where the politics of accessibility in the U.S. is linked with multiculturalism, with that long standing progressive concern about intellectualism and the reproduction of elites, and where the renunciation of theoretical languages is often held to be a political good.
"Accessible language" as a key phrase in women's studies is also invoked in interdisciplinary contexts. Feminist journals with both academic and political histories may explicitly instruct their authors to write in language not particular to a specific discipline, but also implicitly mean language that fulfills a feminist injunction against elitism as well. What language it is that does that, however, calls to mind Adrienne Rich's title, The Dream of a Common Language (1978). In practice such guidelines are fulfilled within negotiations by specific political and academic communities, and may involve unreflected upon disciplinary and interdisciplinary assumptions. Communication in feminist journals across disciplines is tricky: how do you convince folks in another field that what you are talking about is worth their knowing? In your own field, there may be some consensus that this subject matter is important, but that can be a presumption. Having to realize that, and having to come up with ways of persuading other feminists why (you think) they should care about your research and its intricacies, can be frustrating for scholars. Beyond that, having to explain to activists why this scholarly concern is of importance to their community projects (and it may not be) can be even more difficult. Earlier in the life of women's studies in the U.S., when a single scholar / activist could read a large proportion of the work written in English by a still relatively small number of feminists with access to publication, distributed in one's local area, perhaps interdisciplinary feminist work was written with fewer disciplinary presumptions, but also it was received with greater generosities of time, interest and political affinity. But given the proliferation of international feminist scholarship, no scholar can read it all, and no one can afford not to be rigorously selective.
Particular feminist theories (explicit and implicit) may be vehicles of selection, and / or translation devices among such communities of interest. They may be abstract enough to move among subject areas and be of use with different contents to name and reframe political values and assumptions. They may be the languages through which negotiations over feminist and scholarly value can occur. Some activists may appeal to feminist and other theories themselves to conceptualize political projects, to understand why and how they work and don't work, to make coalitions between social justice projects and communities, to understand their local practice within an larger, "global" analysis, to create intellectual communities that will practice activism together with a common set of political visions and values; or they may simply and complexly instantiate such presumptions, what Noel Sturgeon calls "direct theory". (Sturgeon, 1995) Accessible languages, accessible theories, accessible technologies are sites of struggle within feminism, struggles for authority, for power and agency, for usefulness and efficacy, for careful (full of care as well as authentic and precise) thought and action. These issues of accessibility are critical to my students and to many of my feminist colleagues across my university, and communicating and justifying my own work is almost always also a communication and justification of my uses of technology, theory and language, not to mention interdisciplinary methods. [fn6]
For some of these students and colleagues the investment in accessible language instantiates an ethic of giving back to communities that have supported and / or been the subject of their work. For others the care for accessible language is about hoping to be heard finally by individuals and communities that have never supported their intellectual longings. For some feminist scholars, writing for one's "Mother" is a pattern of accessibility that signifies both giving back and longing to be heard. But the phrase "accessible language" (especially in the singular) begs the question, "Accessible to whom?" [fn7] Indeed, that "dream of a common language" that motivates presumptions underlying some forms of mass movement politics, begs the question of whose language gets to be the common one? Historically such common languages are usually the result of unequal powers in collision, in which the losers surrender their distinctive languages. Such common languages are the languages of the powerful. (Similar to so-called "global feminism.") Indeed, the imposition of a single official language in nation-states may actually be repressive, or alternately, may be the result of the negotiations of different cultural communities striving for complicated national identities after a period of colonial rule. Mostly, single official languages in nation-states signal a history of colonialization, either as a colonial power or under the rule of one. A feminist "Dream of a Common Language" requires us to forget such questions as Whose language is this? what is its history, its politics? what are its disciplines of reference, its communities of practice? Indeed, it assumes that the "ownership" of such languages is obvious, rather than in the flux of struggle.
Several Chicana feminist theorists have offered alternative metaphors and political visions that entirely reframe this politics of accessibility. Gloria Anzaldúa and others emphasize the spiritual, political and creative meanings of dialects, ideolects, pidgin and creolized languages, and their salience, both material and metaphorical, in border negotiations of globalization--current and historical, in colonialisms, neocolonialisms and postcolonialisms. (Anzaldúa, 1987) In such an understanding feminist theory could be simultaneously an infrastructure of many such translations, and also different "objects" in feminist communities of practice where membership is based upon commitment to a specific and particular "object" feminist theory. (King, 2001) The politics of accessibility shifts then, from the dream of a commonly understood, "clearly" stated kind of pedagogical explanation for large common audiences to a much more complicated and difficult matter of translation across fields and disciplines of power, where at every moment power, and the struggle for it, is refigured and moves, and in which the outcomes desired shift and change. (Pérez, 1999) Here again, differential consciousness comes into play, a valorized ideological strategy becomes one among many, layers of locals and globals are self-consciously analyzed or dynamically and tacitly intuited and instantiated. Complexity is not renounced or made "clear" but is recognized as hard necessity.
Especially salient then are the partial failures of communication among the multiple cultures, generations and (inter)interdisciplinarities in feminisms, in layers of locals and globals. I have learned terms and ideas from the work of feminist technoscience theorists Leigh Star (1999) and Lucy Suchman (2000) useful for thinking about these problems. From Star descriptions and discussions of "infrastructure" and "communities of practice" redraw what is at stake for those inside and outside specific feminisms. (see also Bowker & Star, 1999; and my discussion King, 2001) From Suchman I find a model of knowledge that refuses to "hand-off" ideas from one site of production to others, refusing to reinforce the limited spheres of knowledge we have about each other, and the sometimes crude conceptualizations we have about the work of others. She argues instead that claims on mutual learning and partial, always inadequate translations demonstrate the need for new divisions of professional labor, altering assumptions about knowledge production. [fn8] I wonder about how we can actualize such new working relations among interdisciplinarities, how we can, in Star's words "queer" the infrastructures within which we work in (inter)interdisciplines. (1997)
A pedagogy of accessibility that depends too uncritically upon the dream of a common, clear language suffers in its own powers of generative thought. [fn9] A better pedagogy is one that continually reinvestigates the changing meanings of underlying assumptions, and shows how to make new translations, rather than to be the unknowing recipients of politicized meanings packaged as explanation. Such feminist theoretical work produces students as agents in theoretical practice, not consumers of pedagogical product. Working with the materialities and metaphors of translation values that ideas in different languages are not exactly equivalent, even if translatable. Partial translations, good-enough translations, literal translations, poetic translations, the sense of the idea for a particular audience, or from the sensibility of a particular translator, become analogies of communication among feminist (inter)interdisciplinarities, uses of feminist theories, traveling feminist methods. Mistranslation, deliberate, inadvertent, unavoidable, or even fortunate, becomes an understood, if at times lamented, condition of (inter)interdisciplinary communication. Artificial and invented languages, as also jargons and technical languages, are explorations and conditions for new crossings of boundaries, or are creations of fields coming-into-being and of new methods of thinking about thinking only just barely grasped individually and collectively.
U.S. Feminist Political Generations and Oppositional Consciousness
Pedagogical practice reifies a particular understanding of generational differences in U.S. academic feminism. Two models of generational difference (as if each were unitary, and as if each were mapped upon the other) are unselfconsciously mobilized: teacher-student and mother-daughter. These models make generational political differences appear to be diadic, pedagogical, age-stratified, successive, and mutually exclusive; they make power differences among generations of feminists appear relatively benign and "familial" (despite feminist critiques of the power-laden institution of the family) and generational control appear pedagogical (despite feminist critiques of male-structured pedagogies). [fn10]
Mid- and late-nineties examinations of feminist generations both mobilized and subverted these two models in U.S. scholarly registers; for example, Nancy Whittier's 1995 monograph Feminist Generations: The Persistence of the Radical Women's Movement and Leslie Haywood and Jennifer Drake's women's studies / cultural studies 1997 edited collection Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism. Whittier's book is a historical sociology of feminisms and feminist institutions in Columbus, Ohio from about 1969 to around 1988. Third Wave Agenda describes its collection of essays written by "feminists born between the years 1963 and 1973." Each U.S. university-press-published book is highly self-conscious in its use of the terminology of generations; each depends upon different (inter)disciplinary traditions and practices for discussions of U.S. feminist generations. Each defines itself against the term "post-feminist," and against the media-saturated critiques of U.S. feminism by authors like Naomi Wolf and Katie Roiphe. In doing so, these authors deliberately locate themselves as grateful inheritors of the activisms of earlier generations, disassociating themselves from the "rejection of the mothers" in some versions of the mother-daughter model. As grateful inheritors each book differently deploys the mother-daughter model, and within the academic settings each describes, also the teacher-student one. However, the diadic and mutually exclusive assumptions of these models are made more complicated, and the assumptions of successive age-stratifications become highly unstable in these analyses (even though age-grade is used as the principle of selection in Third Wave Agenda).
That feminist generations are defined by age or life cycle stage is challenged by Whittier, who self-consciously sees herself as developer of this generational approach to social movements. Not age, but entry into activism defines Whittier's generations, the moment when initially politicized. "Thus members of a political generation have roughly the same 'activist age,' although their chronological ages may vary. Political generations are made up of multiple, overlapping micro-cohorts that enter the movement during the same era and share some commonalities." (Whittier, 1995, 84) Within themselves generations are divergent, volatile in "micro-cohorts." Micro-cohorts are defined by function in relation to changing institutionalizations of feminist movement, and one could imagine extending Whittier's analysis, examining other micro-cohorts defined by principles overlayering those she discusses. I think especially of multiple cultural and political identities, those with membership in several social movements, circulating in the differential movement Sandoval names. (see earlier discussion of Sandoval, 2000) Such additional layering of micro-cohorts (and others could be imagined) might dynamically refigure women of color and women of other identity politics, or those who define themselves against identity politics, in U.S. feminist generations.
Whittier names these micro-cohorts for the feminist generations in her study, and clearly she intends to generalize from Columbus, Ohio, to the U.S. more broadly, perhaps with implications for other national feminisms. This is a tacit generalization, however, without explicit discussion of what would be divergent in various geographical locations even within the U.S., although her use of the term "overlapping" suggests that the years she mentions might be somewhat different in varying locations. Nor does she examine what membership in multiple movements might mean for these micro-cohorts. The historical categories she comes up with are: initiators (1969-1971), founders (1972-1973), joiners (1974-1984) and sustainers (1979-1984). These four micro-cohorts make up one political generation in the U.S., what many have called "the second wave." Within the "next wave"--the next U.S. feminist political generation, what some have called "the third wave"--she identifies two micro-cohorts, tentatively the first two that she can see and describe. They do not have names in quite the same way, not like these other functionalist categories. Rather together they make up a new "post-feminist" generation in the U.S. The first micro-cohort, reluctant to use the term "feminist" because of its media associations, believed that feminist action had been beneficial yet was convinced by early eighties media that feminism had completed its political tasks. Whittier says this micro-cohort rethinks these assumptions over their next ten years, becoming outspoken and pro-feminist. The following micro-cohort more quickly reestablishes its continuity with the second wave and especially with radical forms of feminism, that is, with disruptive social and cultural action. Together, however, they redefine meanings of "feminism," creating conflicts with the "second wave" generation, thereby producing a new moment in feminist movement in the U.S. Whittier's interviews suggest there "are relatively few connections between the incoming political generations of the 1980s and the 1990s and longtime feminists, and they have constructed collective identities that differ in key ways." (256)
What creates these generational and micro-cohort differences are local and national historical conditions, layered in locals and globals: the state of the movement itself including the frictions between micro-cohorts and generations, but especially the kinds of resources available for feminist institution building, which shape whether and what forms of institutionalization occur. For example, Whittier reframes the development of so-called "cultural feminism," analyzing it not as a political tendency (as Alice Echols does in Daring to Be Bad , 1989; indeed there, a degeneration of radical feminism) but rather as a shift in sites for feminist action as levels of resources shift in Reagan and post-Reagan "America." "Many women's movement organizations folded, but feminist culture, which had never relied on external funding agencies, survived...." (246) Indeed, Whittier challenges sociological analyses of social movements and their tendency to devalue cultural politics, insisting: "[c]ultural events sustain feminists' collective identity, recruit new women to the movement, and provide a base from which participants organize other forms of protest. More directly, cultural challenges undermine hegemonic ideology about gender by constructing new ways of being a woman that are visible to outsiders as well as insiders. Far from being nonpolitical, such efforts are central to the survival and impact of the women's movement." (250)
Boundaries between feminists and non-feminists, women and men, lesbians and non-lesbians, and between micro-cohorts can be permeable or rigid, can vary in meaning and importance, are ambiguous and shifting. In these terms Whittier discusses changes over time in feminist rejections of sexist language, divergences from and alliances with gay men, and the emergence of bisexuality as a valorized political identity. These are all examples of shifting boundaries between communities of practice that become more permeable over time. (Whittier notes that rigid boundaries are appropriate for small cadre organized politics but hinder mass recruitment.) Whittier maintains that while all these other boundaries have become more permeable over time, generational boundaries have not. The differences among micro-cohorts is rancorous at particular moments, but "[a]t some point, separate micro-cohorts cohere into a distinct political generation when the similarities among them outweigh their differences....[in the early 80s] differences among second wave micro-cohorts paled in the face of both the antifeminist climate and the divergent attitudes of younger feminists" (81)
I think of these feminist generations in analogy as overlapping kinds of identity groups within the identity politics Whittier assumes. Such multiple identities are privileged examples of the processes of differential consciousness, requiring, as Sandoval has it, strength, flexibility and grace in moving among them. The metaphor of rigid and permeable boundaries assumes that both sides of the boundary are equally rigid or permeable, but I speculate that boundaries between the micro-cohorts described by Whittier and the identities of various groups in identity politics are not always equilaterally rigid or permeable. Thinking of Nancy Henley's analysis in Body Politics (1977) I wonder whether a difference between boundaries, in which on one side, they are either rigid or permeable and on the other side, quite the opposite, signals important power differentials. As Henley claims that it is the more powerful person who gets to touch or to move into the space of the less powerful person in certain kinds of social contexts--say male boss touches female subordinate, or pushes subordinate back up against a wall--I would speculate that rigid generational boundaries might be maintained by a more powerfully institutionalized generation over more permeable boundaries maintained by a subordinated generation, say, students in the academy. As Sandoval says that differential consciousness will be learned by those newly oppressed under a "democratization of oppression," and draws its form from U.S. third world feminists' movements beyond the political divisions of the "white women's movement--I think of subordinate academic feminist generations more likely to move between and among, knowing about, and sometimes identifying with, the generational political concerns of the micro-cohorts of the second wave, learning this differential movement. This subordination has pedagogical effects--as Sandoval notes, differential movement produces a kind of knowledge--and academic pedagogies allow, indeed require, students to recapitulate the political histories of their feminist teachers. Of course, teaching and learning are power-laden activities, with particular inflections today in institutions under shifting globalized economies. (see especially Bousquet, 2002) Rather than a diadic teacher-student, second wave-third wave political generational boundary though, Whittier's analysis and notion of micro-cohorts, and the extension of her analysis through the ideas of differential consciousness and movement among social activisms by those with multiple identities--these would suggest that many layers of activist "ages," of experiences in different social movements with differing histories, are elements in academic feminist "generations" and (inter)interdisciplinarities in women's studies.
In Waves: Being Feminist, Doing (Academic) Feminism in (Inter)interdisciplinarities
Different disciplines were "politicized" by women's studies, or "transformed" by the new scholarship on women, or "transfigured" by gender studies, in layers of locals and globals: in particular institutions and departments and across them by diverse cohorts of feminists with a range of activist histories, generations and visions, according to when the field was most directly engaged by feminist scholarship and teaching. In other words, some fields may have different feminist "activist ages," as Whittier uses the term, than others, and some fields may be dominated by different feminist generations and cohorts than others. (And similarly for particular departments in particular institutions in their own local histories of lengths of activism and patterns of hiring and resource allocation.) Patterns, practices and traditions of professionalization within fields will have a great deal to do with these ranges of feminist possibility and contestation and domination. In some fields the possibilities of feminist work are inextricably tied to interdisciplinarity, while in others there are depths of very disciplined feminist scholarship; or these divergences may be generational, or may characterize subfields or particular objects of study. Acts of translation from one disciplinary site to another, indeed from one subfield or set of interdisciplinarities to another, are crucial to feminist scholarship. Inherently involved in contests over and about disciplinary values, how to take into account in such translations also the generations of women's studies is likely to be insightful and full of mistakes, labor intensive, enthusiastic and frustrating, and always contentious. (compare Suchman, 2000)
Whittier's 1995 book--like two subsequent feminist books, Noel Sturgeon's Ecofeminist Natures: Race, Gender, Feminist Theory and Political Action (1997) and Stacey Young's Changing the Wor(l)d: Discourse, Politics and the Feminist Movement (1997)--intends an intervention into sociological and political analysis of social movements revaluing so-called "cultural" politics. In various disciplines and interdisciplines of U.S. women's studies, disciplinary generations may differ across a feminist / non-feminist boundary, or within feminism and feminisms; that is to say, in some fields there exist more than one feminist generation (and / or salient differences across Whittier's micro-cohorts) or there may exist only one feminist generation, depending upon the history of feminist scholarship in that field. Younger scholars and activists in the U.S. (these three, as also the editors of Third Wave Agenda, are identified at the time of publication as either assistant professors in U.S. universities, or in Stacey Young's case, an international activist from the U.S., with, for the most part, this their first academic book), such younger scholars and activists intending disciplinary interventions may need to negotiate U.S. feminist generations and feminist (inter)interdisciplinarities as well as disciplinary world views and values. Whittier's discipline of reference is sociology, Sturgeon's interdisciplines of reference are women's studies and American studies, Young's is government and politics and Heywood and Drake's are English and women's studies. For all them, across disciplines and interdisciplines, claiming cultural politics as an appropriate form of political action for feminists is a project with generational investments. While Whittier, Heywood and Drake all name themselves in the "next wave" or "Third Wave," such a generational location in Whittier's terms is not especially clear for either Sturgeon or Young, not claimed by either and probably not appropriate. As with other kinds of "identity groups" in identity politics, however, it is tricky to create names or identities, to name oneself and to name others. These are all political acts in identity politics. [fn11]
I said earlier in this essay that "The Culture Wars" in the U.S. names the kinds of struggles in layers of locals and globals for positions in philosophies and materialities of knowledge production. Indeed I began by talking about my questionings of the sites of struggle in U.S. women's studies and the ways all are politicized within and by feminist politics, within and by academic politics, and within and by national politics. These are some of the historical and institutional conditions that "the next wave" generation of feminists are created by, within and resist, and that their differential consciousness has enabled them to survive, in 2002 "America," the feminist academy, and various social movements. They have had to translate, for themselves and for others, across disciplinary and generational fields of power within feminist scholarship and activism, and these texts embody such political acts. They are courageous, conciliating, tactical, offensive, belabored, brilliant, eclectic, dogged and rigorous.
I match these examples of U.S. feminist generational political action to comparable action in another arena of activist scholarship overlapping women's studies, that is, in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered studies, and the rancorous struggles over the politics of the term Queer. Here I am using the term "generational" more loosely than Whittier, highlighting her "micro-cohorts" as generations as well as her two generations in "waves." In my own experience "micro-cohorts" are still contentiously in struggle and although I respect the interpretations Whittier places on her interview materials suggesting that the boundary between generations is more rigid than that within generations, I believe that such boundaries are not as stable as this suggests. In micro-political terms they are rigid and permeable situationally and in relation to structures of power, indeed tactically rigid and permeable, even differently so on either side of the boundary, and differ in their intensity as institutional and activist processes alter from place to place, from discipline to discipline to interdiscipline, and from activism to activism.
Indeed when I read Whittier I found it very difficult to place myself in only one micro-cohort. In various ways I felt I was properly in all four micro-cohorts of the second wave. I speculate that one element of this ambiguous self-identification might have to do with experiencing several social movements simultaneously, movements that overlapped in constituencies and in time periods, but which had different histories and different rates of development and institutionalization, different activist practices and traditions, and different political visions and strategies. [fn12] I also believe that my experiences of multiple overlapping social movements and multiple political identities requires a kind of differential movement similar to what Sandoval describes, and I speculate that such differential consciousness is a kind of knowledge others in similar circumstances might also struggle for. I do not think that differential consciousness is only experienced and struggled for by particular identity groups or particular generations or particular movements, although I do believe Sandoval is quite right to valorize U.S. third world feminism as the pivotal agency of differential consciousness in the last three or four decades of U.S. feminism. (Sandoval, 2000) I do think though, that as we experience over time what Sandoval calls the "democratization of oppression" later generations are more likely to know differential consciousness intimately, as are other groups whose relations to power shift over time, and that among groups and individuals this experience of differential consciousness is uneven and not necessarily consciously reflected upon, although learned though its mobilization, as Sandoval says, for "survival."
Earlier I mentioned that the teacher-student and mother-daughter models make generational political differences appear to be diadic, pedagogical, age-stratified, successive, and mutually exclusive; they make power differences appear relatively benign and "familial," and generational control appear pedagogical. Queer activists have worked hard to challenge these apparent "benign" elements of intergenerational politics. The term Queer is one of great instability, and this instability is the very condition of its intensive productivity now. Uses of the term Queer vary from discipline to interdiscipline, from one activist generation to another, and from one political vision to another. I would contend that in no sense does this instability of meanings and politics make the term meaningless. On the contrary, Queer is a concept coming to have material consequences and powers. For example, for academic historians of sexuality, the term Queer might be used to distinguish present-day categories of identity and analysis from historically specific social-erotic behaviors and identities of the past, in a politics that emphasizes historical discontinuities and a pedagogy that works to demonstrate the "otherness" of the past. Thus "Queer" provides a clear global "meta-language" that can be kept distinct from a historically specific and local "object-language." [fn13]
In terms of political vision, Queer can also stand for new liberatory practices not yet possible but envisionable, or even not yet envisionable, but longed for. In global activisms, gay liberation, feminisms and lesbianisms, human rights activism, the term Queer may function as an inclusive meta-term that similarly might distinguish among global political visions and local sexual and social behaviors and identities, or that might refuse to make divergences among identities and behaviors, or among kinds of sexuality, or not privilege institutionalized practices at the expense of more fluid meanings, histories, and acts, and / or create alliances among those whose interests center in one or another of these tactics of meaning and resistance. At the same time, Queer may also be critiqued as a term so saturated by globalized commerce and capitalist appropriations of sexual identities as to be only a creature of late capitalism, without contemporary liberatory value. Queer may be primarily associated with academic cultural analysis and rejected as theoretical and trendy; or Queer may be primarily associated with disruptive avant garde activisms and rejected as politically self-destructive and / or elitist. In various forms Queer may be critiqued for overvaluing a discontinuous history of sexual politics rather than one with powerful and material continuities.
As a generational politics the term Queer refuses earlier political visions, institutionalizations and generational power. For example, Queer as a self-identification can represent a politics that refuses dichotomies between heterosexual and homosexual, or among those heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and transgendered, or that allies with sexual and sexual-ethnic minorities otherwise reduced by the term heterosexual. It can valorize "coming-out" earlier in one's life, during socially liminal periods of childhood or adolescence, perhaps made more possible with greater social tolerance, and create generational cohorts with such similar experiences. It can refuse the institutionalized authorities and knowledges associated with women's studies or with gay studies and the politics of their institutional actors and their pedagogies. Such generational meanings may be conflated with postcolonial concerns as well, and thus refuse the imperializations of gay liberation as a global movement, of human rights discourse as a liberation within neoliberal paradigms, refuse feminisms and women's movements from so-called developed countries and their resources for representation and propaganda. Queer may also be used as either an internal or external critique of identity politics. It can refuse what it calls "labeling," as an implicit critique of identity politics or as a valorization of individualism. Queer sexualities may be understood as sexualities that do not produce identities, or as sexual politics that do not lead to identity politics or refuse it. Queer may mark anti-essentialist political intentions, either within identity politics or in a critique that assumes that all identity politics are essentially essentialist.
Conversely Queer may be used in a strategic essentialism to produce new collectivities and alliances. In a generational politics of refusal, Queer may be used in a limiting move, rejecting globally whole systems of political alliance and academic and political literatures, as a way of processing overwhelming weights of materials, inheritances, and illegitimate uses of generational and geopolitical power. Such generational refusals have been critiqued as well: for example, some generations of feminists might refuse as inaccurate and inadequate such global political assumptions about the powers and resources of women's studies, feminism and women's movements, as too various, generationally, geographically and internationally, and in institutionalizations, to be made monolithic and unilaterally rejected. Critiques of the term Queer might practice their own generational politics, constructing a self-valorizing history of political movement now misunderstood and not valued by subsequent generations, although indebted to it materially and politically (similar to a critique of the term "post-feminist"). [fn14] The term Queer may create alliances across nations and across generations, either political generations in activist ages, or across age-grades more locally. [fn15]
"Next wave" cohorts / generation of feminists inhabit a landscape intimate with the meanings of the term Queer and especially the uses of its instabilities, and some may consider themselves simultaneously feminist and Queer, or may reject the term Queer and its politics, perhaps in a solidarity with other generational feminist critiques of the term. But whether they identify with it or reject it, it still offers its generational critiques, especially of women's studies and gay studies, as a resource for analogous generational dissatisfactions and conflicts among feminists. Indeed for some feminists of the second wave cohorts / generation Queer and post-feminist are politics suspect for very similar reasons: they call into question the assumptions of multicultural feminist identity politics in its pedagogical histories and institutionalizations, and may insist upon seeing generational difference as the deployment of illegitimate power, and generational pedagogies as the containment and control of new political agencies. An appreciation of feminist generational politics though, also has the potential of creating alliances across generations, those of activist-ages and of age-grades, as the term Queer can sometimes also do, under new terms of generational power. And of course, generational power shifts over career and life cycles as well too, in differential meanings of the term generational.
Careerisms in Feminist (Inter)disciplines
A lyrical narrative of the seasons of academic life, female and feminist, is described in a essay by U.S. feminist education philosopher L. Lee Knefelkamp (1990). She uses the metaphor of seasons to revise both age-grade and stage theories of life span and career paths. Such "a matrix of developmental 'seasons'" are revisited over and over, each time with new epistemologies as resources and as consequences. Each season is understood in the feminist idiom of community service, and such service is understood to produce forms of knowledge and configurations of value. Knefelkamp describes them in terms of "a virtue, a vulnerability and an essential gesture" in order to articulate the seasons as arising from "the internal dynamics of the individual" rather than from "external tasks or expectations." There are eight seasons in the matrix. The first four are expressed in terms somewhat role-oriented and classroom connected, while the second four are expressed in terms of complications and contradictions. Their cyclical character suggests that an individual goes through all at some point, but the intention to recognize that there is "no rhythm that fits every single person, no order that can be predicted" suggests that the sequence is logically descriptive rather than experiential. The metaphor of seasons casts an elegiac image of waxing and waning in turn over the matrix.
The first season is "The power
of ideas" and its virtue is joy, its vulnerability the realization that
knowledge is not Truth, and its essential gesture engagement in searching, in
ongoing conversation and in language. Second is "The faculty role"
defined by passion, by being overwhelmed and by teaching itself. Third is "The
student" in which wonder, attempts to master students, and making connections
are engaged. Fourth is "The public self" moving beyond the classroom
via publication, service and administration; its virtue is instrumental caring,
its vulnerability careerism and its essential gesture putting theory into practice.
The next set of seasons complicates these roles, rewards and consequences. The fifth season is "Multiple and competing commitments" defined by will, guilt and continuing to work. The sixth season describes "The need to stop out" within the virtue of rest, the vulnerability of shame, and with a call to "plan for, allow, and reward" fluidity in academic roles. The seventh season is "Marginality." Its virtue is mutuality and its vulnerability is isolation. Marginality is the occasion to confirm "diversity in all its complexity" and to create meaningful communities built around commonalities. The last season is "the courage to act in spite of fears." Knefelkamp calls this "the most important season...in which we must give up the notion of privilege, mastery, and control and venture into the uncharted territory of creating new educational cultures." Its virtue is "courage to go into the unknown," its vulnerability despair, and its essential gesture the refusal to give up. Although these seasons are described as individual, Knefelkamp calls the curriculum itself "our collective autobiography" and these seasons also suggest a history--past and future--of feminist transformation of the academy. The essay is a plea for new systems of rewards and support for "a new ecology of academic life," rethinking "our present practices of faculty induction, socialization, tenure, and promotion."
In a contrast that should be jarringly evident Sharon Traweek talks about the narratives of career told by U.S. particle physicists in her study, Beamtimes and Lifetimes. (1988) I recount Traweek's framework so as to use it by analogy and contrast, along with Knefelkamp's, to sketch out a possible description of the careers of women's studies academics. But I invoke Traweek's framework for another reason as well: to include in the analysis a shadow of the expectations of high level academic administrators in the U.S. of what an academic career is. Although the U.S. particle physics community's narratives are specific and local in the many practice communities of science, they can still broadly stand for the kinds of careers expected by scientists more generally, and to some extent by social scientists as well. On my own campus, the top level administrators are regularly drawn from the sciences, and their expectations of what makes sense in scientific academic career practice (as well as in contemporary corporate career practice) is the model upon which changes are being imposed on the university as a whole under new systems of academic management, with particular contrast to historic practices in the humanities. Such systems of scientific and corporate practice are currently promoted in the U.S. as more efficient, better suited to an academy complexly situated inside globalization processes, and are mobilized to reallocate funding resources within universities and to find new sources of funding outside for universities (from, say, transnational corporations). They increasingly operate as the standards under which tenure and promotion are awarded as well, in a U.S. university that assumes that to tenure all its assistant professors is a failure of academic standards, as well as, more covertly, the loss of opportunities to restructure departments, colleges and divisions, and strategically to deploy graduate student, untenured and non-tenure track teaching staffs for financial reasons. (compare Bousquet, 2002) Traweek's model is salient then for women's studies in layers of locals and globals.
Traweek describes a career with stages within stages: the first twenty years are divided into two halves, 10 years of training and 10 years of reputation building. Training occurs in three stages: as an undergraduate students learn that facts are not challengeable, that the scientific past is one of errors but also of geniuses, and that to delve too much into scientific history and thus error is debilitating to the grasp of contemporary scientific fact. Undergraduate training develops anxieties about one's capacities in the face of error, genius and fact. Graduate students are introduced into the community of particle physics by avuncular advisors (indeed, their families are socialized as well), learn the subfields of physics, and often treat knowledge as a commodity. Graduate training develops anxieties about how one's time is being used up on the research projects of others. Research Associates or "postdocs" are initiated into oral knowledges, are groomed to be competitive and aggressive, to disdain the work of others as a form of self-assertion and bravado. Their initiation requires their overcoming a difficult double-bind in which they are held to contradictory values simultaneously: they work in groups in which cooperation is necessary but they also see that they achieve advantages only through competition. Postdoctoral training develops anxieties about the future, about one's own research, about competition and cooperation. Each stage associates emotional states with activities, and altogether they produce a system understood as a meritocracy, and preoccupied with the obsolescence of knowledge. Those successfully initiated become group leaders at top research institutions; those not so rewarded may leave the field, may teach at institutions on the "periphery," or may become staff members at one of the major labs. So passes the first ten years. The next ten years are spent developing a reputation while group leader of a lab and becoming a senior physicist. Senior physicists see themselves as being wholly committed to their field and fear that younger colleagues lack the same levels of commitment, instead are lured by trends, glamour, excitement. Around age 50 senior physicists cease an active experimental career. They become statesmen of science, recruiting students, accumulating funding and attending to public understandings of science. Although honored in public spheres, inside physics they are seen as spent, indeed, their commitment to scientific reason contaminated by the necessities of public persuasion.
Self-consciously cyclical rather than linear and exhaustive, Knefelkamp's model presumes that one cycles through these seasons more than once. It envisions a future of fruitful progression, of the proper apportionment of time, energy, vision; a sense of return to possibility and harvest. A grand procession, elevating any individual career, it assumes that all pass through all stages in varying degrees and with varying effect, in a mythic narrative of completion that continues, all stages important, valued, shared. The contrast with Traweek's analysis could not be greater, and indeed, the mythic element of Knefelkamp's model is intended precisely to envision another, quite alternate vista of what an academic career might be. Not intended to be the same kind of anthropological description that Traweek's is, rather it paints a psychological landscape of possibility and difficulty.
Knefelkamp's model says something about what some feminists might like a career to be, and what it is not. Most feminist scholars in the U.S. are professionalized into various disciplines and interdisciplines, from feminist biologists, to feminist sociologists, to feminist classicists, to feminists in women's studies, comparative literature, American studies, health sciences and so on. Most U.S. feminist scholars find positions in the same fields in which they hold a degree, although some with interdisciplinary degrees may find positions in a variety of fields, and some with disciplinary degrees may "travel" (literally and metaphorically) to teach and research in other locations. Barely a handful or so of people with a position in women's studies today has a Ph.D. in women's studies, in the U.S. and in other nations with developed programs in women's studies, although many more may have degrees in interdisciplinary feminist scholarship of some kind, or have some sort of concentration on women in a discipline or interdiscipline. Although more common than in the past, in the U.S. it is still relatively rare for feminists to hold appointments solely in women's studies; most women's studies appointments are joint positions with another discipline or interdiscipline. Even women's studies scholars with sole appointments in women's studies, however, still wear multiple "hats" in institutional terms, traveling across structural institutional boundaries of many kinds in the academic practices of women's studies. Given this complexity of disciplinary and interdisciplinary locations common to all women's studies programs and to the smaller number of departments, a single career narrative for a feminist academic is impossible, and accounts for the mythic and internal psychological register of Knefelkamp's narrative. Each discipline's and interdiscipline's career narrative is going to be meaningful for its feminist scholars, but the complexity of their particular institutional location, especially in relation to women's studies, is going to inflect it or even transform it. And of course, not every feminist scholar in the U.S. and internationally has or desires ties to women's studies either. Nor does every scholar working in women's studies consider herself a feminist. Although these are common connections they are not universal.
In a very impressionistic way I am going to "draw a cartoon," structurally more in analogy to Traweek's narrative than Knefelkamp's, of varying nodes in a feminist career. Drawn against Traweek's framework it overvalues perhaps the normative expectations to which feminists are actually often in resistance, to which their careers may, in the spirit of, say, Mary Catherine Bateson's Composing a Life (1987), actually create alternatives, deliberately and inadvertently, at times hoping to aspire to something in the spirit of Knefelkamp's vision and pleas. Given the brevity of the institutionalizations of women's studies, the likelihood that women's studies scholars have non-traditional career paths ("traditional" in specific disciplines especially) is high. So this "cartoon" is considerably less data driven than Traweek's analysis, and at least as mythic, although for different purposes, than Knefelkamp's. It attempts to capture what the career path might appear to be now to those newly professionalizing in women's studies in 2002 in the U.S., about which we have more guesses than data, although drawn from experiences over the last two decades. [fn16]
Given the range of disciplines and interdisciplines of U.S. women's studies there can be no set time frame understood for the training of a feminist scholar. Ph.D. programs just now developing in the U.S., as is ours, have to accept whatever new normative time frameworks their institutions require, or replicate standards currently instantiated by "neighboring" graduate programs. We are granted five years, although I know my own training took twelve years, which I understand was the norm in the humanities at that time I got my degree (1987), a Ph.D. in the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. There I completed course work and scholarship in interdisciplinary feminist theory, in what amounted to two successive graduate careers in two locations. I see myself as having a degree that comes as close to a Ph.D. in women's studies as one could get at that time (1975-1987). This conviction on my part is shared by some of my colleagues and not by others. How much my graduate training can count as "a" model for an interdisciplinary women's studies scholar is contentious in my department. What will count as a women's studies graduate degree will continue to be up for grabs for some time, as we all continue to create this still new interdiscipline; we in my local community, and we in many varying instantiations of women's studies in many layers of other locals and globals.
Considering Traweek's stages of training, I would locate three stages of training of a women's studies academic scholar in the U.S.: undergraduate, graduate and untenured junior faculty; subsequent stages as tenured junior faculty and senior faculty. But in fact the different instantiations of women's studies create a more complex landscape than that institutional path. We call our women's studies entity at College Park "the women's studies program and department" because we are simultaneously both a small institutionalized department, with all the advantages and disadvantages of that size, and a very large program historically, with affiliate faculty throughout the university teaching courses that are required within our undergraduate certificate, major, graduate certificate and now Ph.D. Beyond this faculty structure, women's studies is complexly connected to the President's Commission on the Status of Women, the Consortium on Race, Ethnicity and Gender, the Curriculum Transformation Project, the undergraduate Women's Circle, and various forms of connection with equity officers throughout the campus, human relations administrators, campus life service professionals and their projects, the journal Feminist Studies, and so on. We are an academic unit, reiterating that over the decade and a half I have been at Maryland and before, that reiteration required because of these extra academic connections that other departments do not have. At some universities women's studies is associated with research centers, with women's centers on campuses and off campuses, may have community members as well as faculty (sympathetic and unsympathetic) on advisory boards, may mandate work with local communities. Thus, people staffing these varying institutionalizations, some as ladder faculty, some from other professional and credentialed locations including administrators at all levels, some from trainings specific to particular institutions, some as clerical and other support service professionals, not to mention graduate teaching, research and assistance, and various adjuncts and other forms of untenured teaching; all these folks have important structural relationships to women's studies, and their local salience varies dramatically according to each institutional history of women's studies. Perhaps the kinds of institutions exemplified by the land-grant universities have the strongest and longest lived women's studies programs in the U.S., while private institutions associated with greatest status in the U.S. academy may have the most conventionally defined paths for scholars, may be more thoroughly disciplined and may be more recently created.
Traweek's analysis of stories told about careers by particle physicists privileges the most elite version of the career path as promoted by and (at least somewhat) instantiated at the most elite research institutions, and such valorization is part of the very set of values she is studying. Women's studies in contrast figures in a different academic landscape, with challenges to elitisms part of its core understanding of itself, however inadequately effected. Similarly, the analysis of power is fundamental to women's studies, which accounts for an ambivalence about academic institutionalizations and for the range of institutional experiments of women's studies in local versions. Such experiments (although limited in scope) and creative and necessary conceptualizations of how to use limited resources are reasons for varying versions of programs and departments in women's studies. (for some U.S. histories, see Howe, 2000) So, to the extent that a "tenure-track" establishes one sort of normative career path in U.S. women's studies, it is always inflected by this complexity of actual institutionalizations in divergent particularisms. To imagine a career as a newly professionalizing women's studies scholar in the U.S. is to move among these complexities of normative requirement and particularistic histories, sometimes self-consciously with great political sagacity, more often pushed and pulled by many claims and visions of those with micro and macro power.
Similarly, Traweek's career path is intended to produce one most valued trajectory from which all others are lesser divergences, a function of the production of a single elite. Women's studies is shot through with elites, but also as a challenge to elitisms, views itself as producing both scholars and activists. Each node of an academic career then is alternately a gateway into a non-academic women's studies location, that may or may not be professionalized, that may or may not be perceived as "lessor" to an academic career. For example, not getting tenure at a U.S. institution in women's studies may result in leaving the academy but not an activist life, either in another profession or not; may result in getting tenure elsewhere, usually in an institution of less status in an elite hierarchy, which may or may not match the vigor of its women's studies programs; or may even result in a lawsuit, which may or may not reinstate the faculty member; may result in continuing to teach in a women's studies program, even in some places gaining the non-tenure track equivalent of security of employment and functioning with great agency in one's women's studies program, although never with the kind of institutional authority or financial reward granted by tenure; may result in moving into administrative or other professionalized service positions, possibly in the same university or the same community, or in others. For some such "lateral" movement may be second best, especially after the rejections of not getting tenure; others might never seek tenure, finding such occupational locations far preferable and more supportive of their own political visions of women's studies and feminist activism; others might never have gotten tenure-track jobs in the first place, deliberately or disappointingly in a difficult "job market." (for a critique of the notion of "job market" see Bousquet, forthcoming) Others may have been facilitated by soft money appointments after receiving a Ph.D. and before getting a tenure track job, or with post docs; while others have had to accept these for long years possibly rewarded finally with jobs, or not. In some disciplines graduate education is valued most when reproducing academics; in others this is only one valued career outcome among several, still possibly hierarchicalized. It is unclear now what sort of interdiscipline women's studies will be, whether the field's status in the academy will be dependent on prioritizing the reproduction of academics or possibly, in an age of economic cutbacks and appeals to public utility, the fields' importance will rather be dependent on convincing students to turn to many careers, and facilitating multiple professionalization. (for a highly critical view of this outcome in English Studies, see Bousquet, 2002) Unlike Traweek's analysis of the possibilities of "contamination" by the requirements of persuasion in public life of the physicist, in the U.S. one is more likely to be deauthorized within the value system in women's studies by too pure a commitment to the academic life, held to be debilitating of one's commitment to social justice issues. Proving such commitment is another motivation for the renunciation of "theory" and a continual personal and institutional self-critique. Some disciplines are understood to be more consistent with promoting social justice issues and are valorized in a women's studies (inter)interdisciplinary education, as may be internships and other forms of promoting activism or engagement in non-academic professions or women's communities.
Within a women's studies program academic status is very important (despite protestations or hopes to the contrary), but it is only one field of power that matters. Demonstrations of commitment to social justice issues are also of great importance, to colleagues, to students, and to activists. What counts as such demonstrations of commitment vary considerably, are indeed, relative and relational, in layers of locals and globals. For some, this is defined by one's very disciplinary interests (some disciplinary locations may even be held to be debilitating in this regard), for some by histories of activism (and whether inside or outside the academy may matter considerably), for some one's location in identity politics may be pivotal in attributing social justice meanings to activities of teaching and scholarship as well as to non-academic activities. The length of time one has been involved with women's studies may be taken as indicative of such commitments, or similarly, involvement with various social movements and their academic examples (such as, say, African-American Studies or Ethnic Studies). Community service may be most highly valued in some programs, and to varying extents is important in all. Administrative activism may be valorized, sometimes over scholarly work, which may even be understood as rather self-indulgent and careerist in comparison. In some programs contentious activist histories are most important, while in others an "ethic of care" and its professionalizations may matter more, similar to the register in which Knefelkamp's narrative is described.
To arrive as a new untenured junior feminist scholar in a new job in women's studies in the U.S. is to learn quickly both how common such concerns are, and how differently they can be inflected in any particular place. No training, formal or informal, can prepare one for the variations possible in such micro-politics; and indeed, in all disciplines and interdisciplines such micro-political knowledge is part of tacitly communicated patterns of mentorship, orally alluded to, privately intuited or sometimes collectively guessed at in peer groups. That such knowledge is sometimes officially discussed, even part of graduate education in women's studies is one example of attempts to challenge elitism in the academy, if a limited one. To arrive as a new tenured senior feminist scholar in a new job in women's studies in the U.S. may also be to arrive in a kind of "(disciplinary)culture shock." In each case the generational politics may be especially difficult to assimilate. Also in each case the temptations to reduce the new particulars to already understood previous experiences is high, and perhaps totally necessary. But living in layers of locals and globals is nonetheless the reality that one will of necessity experience. How, in "strength, flexibility and grace" one will negotiate them, is the double-bind one will experience in women's studies. Occasionally double-binds are transcended by the creation of new knowledge, and often they are not, leaving everyone, at best, in a kind of unvoiced struggle, perhaps punctuated by brief moments of strength, or flexibility or grace.
Careers and careerisms are a knot of meaning understood differently across feminist political generations as they are also inflected by (inter)disciplines, moments in career path, age-grades and life stages, activist histories and understandings of commitments to social justice projects. It is no accident that some of the critical meanings of "post-feminist" have essentially been accusations of careerism and / or elitism. Highly self-conscious analysis of career paths by graduate students and junior faculty are sometimes interpreted by senior faculty as a lack of commitment to women's studies and to social justice projects, as may also be attempts to constrain intensity of time commitments to, in some cases, service or teaching, in some cases, research, in some cases, administrative activisms. Time given to friendship and family life in particular, under the speedup workaholism of U.S. multicapitalism today, is made as difficult in women's studies as in any other part of the academy under regimes of globalization.
In the grand procession of seasons of an academic life, a women's studies program or department would have people spread out among the seasons, such that the program itself would be enriched by a diversity of political generations, age-grades and life stages, social justice commitments and rank and career moments. With or without such diversity, that principled relativism I spoke of before, a kind of differential consciousness, is required to allow us to map these differences, move among them, value all of them tactically, name them generously, and commit to one or more at the appropriate times, and to empathize with the necessarily and properly divergent commitments of others. "Interseasonal" and intergenerational women's studies is as important as interdisciplinary women's studies; it instantiates the kinds of differential consciousness we have as our resource for liberatory possibilities, the modes of possibility that we must struggle to know when we see them, to value when our assumptions are ruptured, power we must give up to enliven our realities.
[fn1] In the context of on-going department and programmatic concerns, these large questions--theoretical, political, methodological--are raised concretely in the midst of concerns about local particulars: how do we decide which job candidates are the "most" interdisciplinary, and for which ones of us does that matter? should we hire a junior or senior person, and what sort of generational political, institutional and methodological affiliations will they have? how do we describe the curricular structure of our new Ph.D. degree, and whose specialties will be emphasized, who will be best positioned to work with graduate students, who will teach what kinds of courses? what will count as feminist theory, and whose varying visions of the uses of feminist theory will be mobilized in the new curriculum? what disciplinary and interdisciplinary experiences will be valued by the department as a whole, and looked to or dismissed as models for our new program? will senior faculty have the most power in the design of the new Ph.D. because they are the ones writing the proposals, shepherding them through and having to defend them in high level committees, consulting with their generational cohorts at other institutions with comparable concerns, and getting outside grants? will we discuss these issues only as such local particulars, not wanting to take the time or risk the conflict of raising them more abstractly, or will we make them the occasion for struggling over questions of process and differences in the department? what forms of process will work to allow for struggles without exacerbating current and potential conflicts and what do they reveal about our political histories and visions?
[fn2] One that significantly predates and preempts any neoconservative claims using this or similar phrasing.
[fn3] Thus illustrating what Leigh Star and Geoff Bowker call "boundary objects":
"Boundary objects are those objects that both inhabit several communities of practice and satisfy the informational requirements of each of them....plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints...yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use and become strongly structured in individual-site use. These objects may be abstract or concrete....The creation and management of boundary objects is a key process in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting communities....[they] arise over time from durable cooperation among communities of practice... " (Bowker & Star, 1999)
[fn4] In our institution today students who want to do feminist work in several specific disciplines can do so, for those departments have strong feminist faculty with lively and influential scholarly projects and tracks of study precisely for such degrees. So graduate students in those particular disciplines have had reason to take our graduate certificate primarily if they intend to do some interdisciplinary work with us. Other students, however, may have had rather different motives. They may be getting degrees in departments in which there exist no such recognized tracks for work in the new scholarship on women in their fields. Their department may acknowledge such work, but not have many faculty to teach it, or indeed the department may resist such work, although having some faculty struggling to do it, or the department may feel that such work is outside its mission, in its understanding of its discipline and / or in its instantiation of the discipline in this particular university. Students may discover active hostility to feminist work or work about women, or simply ignorance or disinterest or even a feeling that such work is best done in the women's studies department. For any of these reasons students might want to take our graduate certificate in order to find a refuge from their department or discipline, to find community with other women's studies scholars as teachers and mentors and as peers, to learn methodologies not taken up in their departments, to share political concerns, and to engage in intellectual and political work to alter the fields they are training within, therefore wishing to learn how such change has occurred elsewhere in the academy. Finally, in the past some took the certificate only because we did not yet offer a Ph.D. Today they can get such a degree with us, they can center their work in women's studies "itself."
[fn5] See new work on academic labor recently proliferated in literary and cultural studies, such as that published online in the electronic journal Workplace at: http://www.workplace-gsc.com/
[fn6] This idea of "accessible language" may presume that anything can be said in clear language, that such "clarity" is the mark of importance, elegance, truth, intelligence, education, care, reality. Renouncing the opaque, the displeasing and labored, the jargon-laden, the boring, it may presume that transmission of knowledge and communication pleasures are top priorities in writing. It may presume that mass movement politics and propaganda are the most successful forms of political action. But writing can also be a way of working out ideas only partially accessible to the thinker and an often inchoate appeal to others for collective thinking-in-progress, sometimes in small cadres of politicos, artists or intellectuals. "Clarity" may require alternatively: the total control by a single author of textual production, the editorial corrections of many in stages of production, or may require the difficult to control breakthrough understanding of an entire intellectual community who, as both authors and audiences, read, write and exchange their thinking-in-progress. Unreflected upon presumptions of "clarity," may depend upon highly conventional ideas of access and communication pleasure, dependent upon narrowly shared assumptions within linguistic and cultural communities, may even privilege certain traditions without examination of the political effects of traditional practices, or of the development of traditions and conventions in particular feminisms. (Star, 1999) Alternate, avant garde feminist cultural practices instead are often predicated upon transgression against the traditional, the conventional, and the pleasurable, challenging presumptions about a proper transparency of language, valuing instead opacity for its defamilarizing effects, for the political, conceptual and psychological labor it requires; instead attempting to reframe what counts as accessible and / or pleasurable by teaching these values and skills to people who do not yet have them. Assumptions of transparency can ignore contests for power, mobilizing specious generalities and insensitivities to context; one person's "jargon" can be another person's crucial technical language of explanation. Languages of explanation, description or analysis are also political, and instantiate different political visions. They are most transparent to those who agree with them. For them, they embody "clarity."
[fn7] Who can use this thinking and writing? What purposes does it serve and who needs it? Which longings does it embody? Which communities have supported this work and which have provided reference for explanation? With whom is this thinking and writing properly exchanged and for what other kinds of thinking and writing and longing? Is this thinking and writing an academic and scholarly project? Is it an activist project? Is it a kind of bridge between academic and nonacademic activisms? between disciplines and interdisciplines? between intellectual and activist projects? Is it intended for a small group with shared concerns, languages and forms of argument? Is it intended to contribute to struggles over which concerns, languages and forms of argument ought to shared, with whom, and for what reasons? Can it (and should it?) be read by audiences other than those for whom it was intended? What does it feel like to impersonate the reader this writing presumes? What does it feel like to have one's political visions instantiated in this writing? or, not instantiated? Are the local answers to these questions properly or improperly "globalized" or generalized? What layers of locals and globals are made invisible by a too simple appeal to "accessibility"?
[fn8] Suchman's description of the circumstances of communication in a local project I use to think across movements, interdisciplines, generations: "... an increasingly dense and differentiated layering of people and activities, each operating within a limited sphere of knowing and acting that includes variously crude or sophisticated conceptualizations of the others....Gradually, however, we came to see that the problem lay neither in ourselves nor in our colleagues, but in the division of professional labor and the assumptions about knowledge production that lay behind it.....What we were learning was inextricably tied to the ongoing development of our own theorizing and practice, such that it could not be cut loose and exported elsewhere....In place of the model of knowledge as a product that can be assembled through hand-offs in some neutral or universal language, we began to argue the need for mutual learning and partial translations. This in turn required new working relations not then in place." (Suchman, 2000)
[fn9] It over relies on the explanation of already developed knowledge, theory and method, and inhibits some generations of new forms. As explanation it may over rely on the condensation of broadly synthesized literatures, relationships, communities of value, and leave out the contestations of meaning and politics among them. Pedagogically motivated, it may present ideas as if already stabilized, when they are still in political and intellectual flux. See my criticisms about taxonomies of feminisms that present themselves as neutrally descriptive, rather than as machines for the production of tendentious political identities, or for the reproduction of past political histories of institutionalized pedagogues. (King, 1994)
[fn10] For analyses that embody these assumptions: Kamen (1991) depends upon the teacher-student model and explores academic, journalist and political policy landscapes; while Glickman (1993) depends upon the mother-daughter model of generational difference in a psychological register. Both challenge media stereotypes of feminists and feminisms.
[fn11] They produce and refuse alliances, recreate political identities, build theories; directly in action (Sturgeon, 1995) and abstractly in thinking about thinking. "Feminist theory" includes all these. (King, 1994)
[fn12] These movements are difficult to name, the names contentious and changing across time. Nonetheless, indicative of my "activist ages," they are: the anti-war movement against imperialism, the gay liberation movement, the women's liberation movement, the children's liberation movement, the mental patient's liberation movement.
[fn13] Alternatively, histories of sexuality that celebrate or focus upon historic homosexualities in a politics emphasizing historical continuities use Queer inclusively to create identities and historical subjects across time. Which will function as global meta-terms, for what political purposes, are among the contests around Queer. Queering can emphasize history and politics showing how social constructions come-into-being within fields of power. Or Queering can represent new methodologies that emphasize such epistemologies. As such an unstable concept, Queer is especially useful in histories of sexuality marking pre-institutional processes and formations inside a history of social constructions.
[fn14] Some lesbians critique Queer as a speciously "unmarked" category, adjunct to the term "Man." ("Man" epitomizes the "unmarked" category in liberal humanism, the realized instrumentally active individual with political agency, able to represent all humans. It creates "marked" categories: humans who can stand only for themselves as a particular kind of human (eg. women) or beings only sometimes and contingently human (eg. slaves and women). Which categories are marked and unmarked shifts depending on the universe of discourse: white women as if able to represent all women, or heterosexual women more "universal" than lesbians. Gay and Queer may position themselves as unmarked terms, able to stand for many kinds and genders of alternative sexualities, as specific political interventions into several collectivities, and have political consequences in oppositional politics of resistance to unmarked (hetero)sexuality. But "Lesbian" has not functioned to include men, although Gay has sometimes claimed to include women. Some Queer activists contend Queer revises this history, is inclusive of multiple marked categories without claiming to stand for all. Some critics contend that Queer not only recapitulates this specious unmarked use, but depoloiticizes it, a mere range of consumptions. Some lesbians contend Queer is "male," and criticize its generational politics.
[fn15] I am inclined to use the term Gay for some of the purposes that the instability of the term Queer allows, for largely generational reasons. (King, 2000) But I understand both as alternate terms which could each work as a global meta-category to the other. My politics emphasizes historical epistemologies of social constructions and a longing for ways to enliven the dynamic relations between unmarked and marked uses of Gay, Queer, Lesbian. I emphasize the materialities of globalization and local agencies and powers in a self-critical anti-essentialist identity politics accountable to changing movements of power, a conceptualization-in-process that I designate under "layers of globals and locals."
[fn16] Although it could emphasize generational antagonisms globalized economies of U.S. universities structurally produce today, which matter enormously in understanding illegitimate uses of power institutionalized, I point to rather than center this dimension. (see especially Bousquet, 2002) I hope to build generational alliances that work together against illegitimate uses of generational power through such analysis. This essay began within local conversations intended to increase such communication and analysis in a new Ph.D program in women's studies, calling upon "a principled relativism" required for communication across interests in committed groups with great differences.
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