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Reviewed by:
  • Feminist Waves, Feminist Generations: Life Stories from the Academy
  • Carol Mason
Feminist Waves, Feminist Generations: Life Stories from the Academy. Edited by Hokulani K. Aikau, Karla A. Erickson, and Jennifer L. Pierce. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2007.

One of the richest resources the University of Minnesota held for me as a graduate student in the late 1980s and early 1990s was the variety of feminisms embodied by faculty and students there. It is a shame that a book using Minnesota's academic community as a case study to "reimagine difference within and between generations" (23) of feminists tends to homogenize rather than showcase these differences.

As a compilation of "life stories" of academic feminists connected with Minnesota's now defunct Center for Advanced Feminist Studies (CAFS), the book disrupts an image of the third wave as ungrateful daughters who have little in common with founders of women's studies. Careful attention to the metaphor of "waves" and the familial connotations of "generations" is helpful for reconceptualizing how to talk about academic feminisms. The diversity of contributors from different decades and backgrounds is another way the collection flies in the face of antifeminist platitudes about women's studies as outdated and ethnocentric. In these ways, the book is extremely useful as an additive or antidote to some of those trade-publication introductions to feminism; assign it alongside Full Frontal Feminism or Manifesta in undergrad courses. For a grad course in gender studies, teach it with Women's Studies On Its Own or Disciplining Feminism.

Some parts of the essays, however, are too localized to elicit broad implications. For example, reading about the "anatomical irregularities" that junior faculty develop distract from the larger point of how under-funding feminist programs creates a "public sector within the corporate university" (146). And a heroic story of overcoming the decision to deny tenure to one of the book's editors is too dominating a subtext of this publication. Above all, these essays fail to examine differences among feminists because they are imbued with a particular epistemology that characterized CAFS. The embrace of "personal narrative" as the book's methodology readily accommodates identity politics and interpellates feminists through confessional stories. So it is not surprising that this book does not include stories of those of us students and faculty from several generations and a variety of feminist communities in the Twin Cities who chose not to affiliate with CAFS because we felt essentialist or therapeutic presumptions about gender and feminism pervaded its course offerings and pedagogy. Only Dawn Rae Davis's essay interrogates it. Her critique of prevailing presumptions about women's studies as a feminized, domestic refuge called "home," about professionalism precluding activism and indicating conservatism, and about the idea of feminist studies as something always inherently oppositional despite its institutionalization rang true as bona fide trends I've seen on the Minnesota campus and elsewhere. I would adjust Davis's critique, however, to recognize these presumptions as a consequence not necessarily of generational perspectives, but of differing intellectual frameworks and political stances.

Especially when read critically and comparatively, these scholarly personal stories can serviceably provide more nuance than "a synthetic historical account" can (3). On their own, however, they fail to offer a compelling analysis of the predicaments that academic feminisms now face. [End Page 105]

Carol Mason
Oklahoma State University


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