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  • Introduction:Intersectional Perspectives in Policy History
  • Eileen Boris (bio)

Recent scholarship in women and gender history and the history of sexuality is transforming not only the categories of citizenship but also how we think about policy history. Major prizewinners, such as Alice Kessler Harris's In Pursuit of Equity (2001) and Margot Canady's The Straight State (2009), mark the centrality of gender and queer analysis to the policy project.1 They are in keeping with the emergence of intersectionality as a reigning paradigm in feminist approaches across the disciplines. As political scientist Angie-Marie Hancock explains, "The term 'intersectionality' refers to both a normative theoretical argument and an approach to conducting empirical research that emphasizes the interaction of categories of difference (including but not limited to race, gender, class, and sexual orientation)."2

As a theoretical argument, intersectionality privileges the distinctions within political, social, and cultural categories, like men and women, to argue that identity is not additive, fixed, or multiple but rather that the coming together of race, gender, sexuality, class, and other factors creates distinct wholes. Although highlighting identity, it contains an implicit critique of identity politics precisely because it questions unitary approaches to group formation. Operationalizing complex or melded statuses has proven a challenge in fields dependent on large data sets in which the units of collection reflect singular characteristics like race or gender but not racialized gender. Although faced with quantitative materials with similar limitations, historians more successfully have applied the concept of inter-sectionality to analyzing the making, implementation, and consequences of law and social policy. [End Page 1]

As I previously noted in this journal, we can think of gender in policy history in terms of mobilization for or against legislation (and the administration of policies); as women or men as elected officials and members of administrations who inhabit such identities; and as the embodied meanings expressed through and by law and social policy.3 Although the overall number of articles we might classify as women's, gender, or queer history is small, the Journal of Policy History increasingly has addressed standard topics in women's policy history, such as the Equal Rights Amendment, Title VII, Section 213 of the Economy Act of 1932, and the U.S. Women's Bureau. The journal has considered aspects of social welfare from various perspectives, including gender. Only recently has gender as a form of analysis, and not merely as a variable, appeared in the journal, most notably Sascha Auerbach's discussion of hiring the "right sort of man" for British educational inspectors, a critique of maternalism in late Victorian reform, and Jonathan Bell's uncovering of the significance of the homophile movement to the building of California's liberal Democratic Party in the 1960s, an extension of previous work on social rights.4

The articles in this special issue build upon this foundation through the practice of intersectional analysis. They are revisions of papers presented at the 2010 meetings of the Organization of American Historians and the Policy History Conference. They focus on gender, manhood as well as womanhood, and race, class, and other identity categories. Some problematize taken-for-granted notions of normality through the lens of queer theory and disability studies, uncovering how assumptions about heterosexuality and the able body shape policy solutions to social problems. In focusing on various levels of governance as well as the classification and regulation of gendered and sexed bodies, they insist that we expand the boundaries of policy history in terms of players, tactics, and sites of policymaking. They combine institutional with intellectual or discursive approaches and legislative with administrative analysis. They suggest the fluidity of the very categories highlighted by intersectional theory.

These articles range from the 1930s into the 1980s. A number remind us that policy intellectuals, political actors, and social movement activists living through the 1970s may still have seen that decade as belonging to the long 1960s more than as a prelude to a more conservative political era. That is, while historians are deep in unearthing the 1970s as "rightward bound," as the turning point for neoliberal globalization and the devolution of the New Deal order, we are reminded that rights discourse did...


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