A Brief History of Gender Studies
An Interdisciplinary Field of Study - Emerging from Activism
Even though Gender Studies is a relatively new phenomenon in higher education, it is today well established as an interdisciplinary field of study which draws on knowledge from both the humanities, the social sciences, medicine, and natural science. The basis for the academic field of Gender Studies was in many countries laid in the 1970s, when women in Academia protested against the ways in which academic knowledge production made women invisible and ignored gendered power relations in society. Interdisciplinary study environments started to mushroom, among others in many European countries and in North America, where so-called Women’s Studies Centres were set up, gathering critical teachers and students who wanted to study gender relations, and women, in particular. A common denominator for the development was strong links to women’s movements, activism, feminist ideas and practices. The research agenda was emancipatory, and the aim was to gather well founded scholarly arguments to further the political work for change in society, science and culture.
Whose Science? For the Benefit of Whom?
The aim of the academic project of Gender Studies was to generate a new field of knowledge production which could gain impact on science and scholarly practices and theories.
Against this background, a critical and innovative approach to existing science and academic scholarship is one of the characteristics of the subject area. The relationship between knowledge, power and gender in interaction with other social divisions such as ethnicity, class, sexuality, nationality, age, dis/ability, etc. is critically scrutinized in gender research.
From the beginning, there has been a lively debate among those who identify with the field about its contents, conceptual frameworks and theories: What is Gender Studies? What is the "object" of study? Is a delimited "object" of study needed? Is it more interesting to ask critical questions about the role of the subject of scholarly knowledge production? What about the impact on research of the ways in which the subject "behind" the research is embedded in gendered, sexualized, class-defined, ethnically and nationally located power relations? Questions such as: Who is doing science? For which purposes? And who benefits? has been key issues in the unfolding of the academic project of Gender Studies.
A Diversity of Research Traditions
Since the start in the 1970s, gender research has been inspired by and embedded in many different and sometimes partly overlapping scholarly traditions, such as empiricism, marxism, psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, critical studies of men and masculinities, critical race theory, critical studies of whiteness, intersectionality and postcolonial theory, queer studies, lesbian, gay, bi and trans studies (so-called lgbt studies), critical studies of sexualities, body theory, sexual difference feminisms, black feminisms, ecological feminisms, animal studies, cyborg theory, feminist technoscience studies, materialist feminisms. The field of study has grown and expanded rapidly on a worldwide basis, and given rise to a diversity of specific national and regional developments.
Last updated: 2011-03-15