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The Question of Gender

Joan W. Scott's Critical Feminism

Edited by Judith Butler and Elizabeth Weed

Publication Year: 2011

A generation after the publication of Joan W. Scott's influential essay, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," this volume explores the current uses of the term -- and the ongoing influence of Scott's agenda-setting work in history and other disciplines. How has the study of gender, independently or in conjunction with other axes of difference -- such as race, class, and sexuality -- inflected existing fields of study and created new ones? To what extent has this concept modified or been modified by related paradigms such as women's and queer studies? With what discursive politics does the term engage, and with what effects? In what settings, and through what kinds of operations and transformations, can gender remain a useful category in the 21st century? Leading scholars from history, philosophy, literature, art history, and other fields examine how gender has translated into their own disciplinary perspectives.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: 21st Century Studies

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pp. 1-8

In a 2008 essay, Joan W. Scott relays a telling story about the academic discomfort that posing questions can produce.1 When she first submitted her essay, “Is Gender a Useful Category of Historical Analysis?” to the American Historical Review (AHR), the editors asked her to remove the question mark, explaining that question marks were not allowed...


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pp. 9

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1. Speaking Up, Talking Back: Joan Scott’s Critical Feminism

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pp. 11-28

I confess that this is not an easy task—to think about Joan W. Scott as a thinker—since it is different from what I usually do, which is thinking with Joan. This doesn’t mean that we always share each other’s view, but it does mean that I always have her in mind. How does one, then, transform one’s interlocutor into the topic of an essay? She...


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pp. 29

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2. Language, Experience, and Identity: Joan W. Scott’s Theoretical Challenge to Historical Studies

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pp. 31-49

This article highlights some of Joan W. Scott’s theoretical challenges to historical studies over the past two decades. This period has seen not only a theoretical and conceptual renovation of historical research, but also the increasing visibility of a new movement in historiography. Scott has been one of its most important architects...

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3. Out of Their Orbit: Celebrities and Eccentrics in Nineteenth-Century France

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pp. 50-79

What do you call a woman who sleeps in a coffin and keeps a pet alligator? Or a woman who harbors two lions in her backyard? In the nineteenth century, such a woman was called an “eccentric.” Two such French eccentrics were Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899) (fig. 3.1) and Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923) (fig. 3.2). Rosa Bonheur enjoyed international renown...

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4. Historically Speaking: Gender and Citizenship in Colonial India

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pp. 80-101

What, in terms of gender, has the colonial Indian past to offer?1 Or to put it differently: does gender as an object of inquiry or a tool of analysis in India merely play out a Europe an story with a bit of local color?2 These are some of the provocations for Third World histories posed by a historiographical project aimed at “provincializing Europe”: that...

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5. Gender and the Figure of the “Moderate Muslim”: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 102-142

The moderate Muslim is almost a Western invention. Since 9/11, she has been eagerly sought out as an ally in various causes and adventures that ultimately hurt Muslims more than help them. As the first quotation above shows, the “moderate,” “reform”-minded, “good” Muslims most celebrated in the West today also happen to be female. Strike that. They...

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6. A Double-Edged Sword: Sexual Democracy, Gender Norms, and Racialized Rhetoric

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pp. 143-158

How does “gender” translate into French? Linguistically, the answer seems simple enough: the word genre is a common term, thanks to the central role devoted to grammar in primary education since the Third Republic. Every child schooled in France knows about genre, not so much as a binary opposition between male and female, i.e., a polite way...


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pp. 159

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7. Seeing Beyond the Norm: Interpreting Gender in the Visual Arts

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pp. 161-186

Not so long ago there was much talk of “en-gendering” art. In the 1990s, nearly every session at the College Art Association conference included at least one paper that wrestled with issues of gender. Art historians concerned with those issues had already complicated their work by attending as well to questions of race, ethnicity, and sexual...

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8. Unlikely Couplings: The Gendering of Print Technology in the French Fin-de-Siècle

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pp. 187-205

I begin this essay with a trope of late–nineteenth-century French print culture—the erotic pictographic coupling of a solo female dancer with the star wheel of a lithographic press. Typically this mechano-sexual hieroglyph is used to distinguish “art prints” pulled by hand from those mechanically produced. But occasionally the pair is enlisted...

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9. Screening the Avant-Garde Face

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pp. 206-229

The term “gender” seems to me to harbor dangers and potential pitfalls that are rarely acknowledged in feminist discourse, perhaps because it is a term that is too easily taken for granted as self-evident, both in the social/cultural arena and in theory. The greatest risk has to do with its seemingly unavoidable contract with the notion of identity. Unlike...


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pp. 231

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10. The Sexual Schema: Transposition and Transgenderism in Phenomenology of Perception

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pp. 233-254

In Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty makes but a single reference to what might be called mixed-gender embodiment: “A patient feels a second person implanted in his body. He is a man in half his body, a woman in the other half” (PP, 77). This remark would not seem to promise much for thinking about non- normative gender...

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11. Foucault and Feminism’s Prodigal Children

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pp. 255-286

In her 2006 book, Split Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism, legal scholar Janet Halley tells a personal, theoretical, and political story about feminism’s wayward “offspring,” those “prodigal sons and daughters who have wandered off to do other things.”1 She herself is one of those children, though whether son or daughter is not quite...

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12. From the “Useful” to the “Impossible” in the Work of Joan W.Scott

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pp. 287-311

The Daumier lithograph on the cover of the 1999 revised edition of Gender and the Politics of History is printed in a cool grey-green, quite different from the warm rust color of the 1988 first edition.2 Indeed, in the 1999 version, a new preface and a new final essay cast a harsh fin-de-siècle light on the category of “gender,” finding it drained of critical...

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Thinking in Time: An Epilogue on Ethics and Politics

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pp. 312-318

This rich, erudite and imaginative collection of essays is testimony to the continued fecundity of gender studies and of Joan Wallach Scott’s work. Particularly striking is the authors’ reflexivity about gender analysis itself, as they continuously redraw and rethink analytic arcs and categories. This reflexive impulse, of course, is contoured...

List of Contributors

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pp. 319-320


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pp. 321-330

E-ISBN-13: 9780253001535
E-ISBN-10: 0253001536
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253356369

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 41 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: 21st Century Studies