Theorizing Women's History Disc/Dec 1997


Query From Lisa Connelly Cook LCC11@aol.com 02 Dec 1997

Can anyone suggest any books or writers that could help me understand what is going on in feminist theory, especially as it pertains to women's history? I'm a history graduate student finishing up a most miserable course in feminist theory this semester and I'd like to get a better understanding of how feminist theories have been applied (helpfully!) to the practice of women's history.

What surprised me in taking this class is how politicized this whole realm of feminist theory is, and how depressing ("There is no canon; we want no canon!"). Could somebody please tell me if they or anyone they know has ever used or benefited from post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-feminism or post anythingism?

All these funky philosophies seem so down on the old radical feminists, so it was really fun to read a recent collection of radical feminist essays _Radically Speaking_, eds. Diane Bell and Renate Klein) vigorously fighting back, even making fun of post-structuralism: "How many discourses can dance on the head of a pin?" Or is this too passe? Could anyone estimate how many people are even in on this discussion of feminist theory? Please tell me who cares about this and why?

One of the projects I'm attempting to work on is a theoretical approach to understanding community memory (loss and institutionalization)--a crucial aspect of women's history, as I see it. I would appreciate it if anyone could suggest resources on this topic. Thanks.

Responses:

From Val Marie Johnson vmj@escape.com 02 Dec 1997

Although it can be annoying as heck in some of its manifestations, I have found 'postmodern' and 'poststructural' thinking (it's problematic to group them
coherently, but anyway) fruitful in helping me methodologically to trace the complexity of women's identities, relationships, and actions in history. I don't embrace them as creeds, but rather as tools from them. These 'theories' are extremely multidisciplinary, which I also find fruitful (I would argue necessary) for understanding women's realities. I come to theory as a non-purist historian though, as I have always worked in both history and sociology.

I've simply read a lot of stuff over the years and absorbed it by osmosis. However, a few of the people who have influenced me are Michel Foucault, Gayatri Spivak, Judith Butler, Hazel Carby, Joan Scott (perhaps the most explicit example of these theories applied to history because she has tried to map her own methodology). Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's later work comes to mind. In Canadian history, Mariana Valverde (I think that's the name...) is also wonderful. I would consider David Roediger's work on whiteness postmodernish.

Specifically, for your work on community, you might find Iris Young interesting. The particular citation that comes to mind is her "The Ideal of Community and the Politics of Difference" in Nicholson, ed. _Feminism/Postmodernism_(1990).

I'm sure there's tons of stuff on community and community memory out there. They may not be strictly groupable under women's history or 'postmodernism,' Benedict Anderson's _Imagined Communities_ and Ranger and Hobsbawm's(eds) collection _The Invention of Tradition_ come to mind as old standards.

From Antoinette Burton fem.hist@jhu.edu 04 Dec 1997

Alex Epstein is very kind to notice my article, the full citation for which is "Who Needs the Nation? Interrogating 'British' Historian," _Journal of Historical Sociology_<10, 3> (September, 1997). I suppose it's a kind of feminist reading of national history, its limitations and possibilities, in light of new work in women's, gender, and feminist history, and postcolonial theory. I'd welcome any comments (probably most appropriately sent to me privately at the address below).

hiburton@jhuvms.hcf.jhu.edu

Other Cites:

Callinicos, Alex "Postmodernism: A Critical Diagnosis," _The Great Ideas Today_(Britannica, 1997), pp.206-255