The most interesting developments in the last 20 years in gender studies
Within the last 20 years, women’s studies/gender studies as an academic discipline, particularly in the region of Central and Eastern Europe, has undergone a period of intensive growth. While in most North American universities and in a number of West European countries, women’s studies/gender studies were introduced in academia in the 1970s and the 1980s, in Central and Eastern Europe, this generally happened in the 1990s. The creation of programs in gender studies required not only deep changes in the understanding of the very nature of academic life, but also the creation of a new generation of academics, educated to teach in these new programs, and to be able to promote a new type of research.
The CEU Department of Gender Studies has been enormously important in supporting these processes—not only because it was one of the first accredited programs in gender studies in the region, but also because it has developed a large international network of scholars, thus bringing together regional and more global perspectives. In the last 20 years, the majority of women’s studies/gender studies programs in the region have in some way been associated with the CEU Department of Gender Studies (or the previous Program in Gender and Culture, before we had the status of a department) through various forms of cooperation, including short-term or long-term visiting scholar appointments, Curriculum Resource Center programs, Summer University courses, and research collaborations. In addition, a number of former CEU Gender Studies students have been given appointments at universities in the region.
With respect to the history of the discipline more generally, the past 20 years witnessed a full expansion of gender studies in all areas of study and research, primarily in the humanities and social sciences. During this period, important differences developed within gender studies on the theoretical level and in the context of practical research and were accepted as a sign of maturation of the field. The initial grand narrative of “Feminism” was challenged in the 1980s in various ways, which allowed for a more complex understanding of differences among “feminisms” in the last two decades, with a focus on theories of difference and on complex questions about how gender should be addressed from different disciplinary, theoretical and methodological perspectives. Of particular note is the broad awareness that has emerged in gender studies that gender cannot be considered in isolation, but must be studied in relation to other social categories such as race, class, ethnicity and age, a recognition that has reinforced the interdisciplinary nature of both research and teaching in the field.
The most important contributions of the Department of Gender Studies and its members to the field
The contributions of the department and its members are relevant both from the point of view of gender studies as an interdisciplinary discipline, and from the point of view of particular disciplines in which members of the faculty are primarily located.
The work of gender studies faculty reflects both local and global perspectives, enabling faculty to engage in transnational debates on global/local dynamics on the levels of research and theory; this dual perspective also distinguishes the department internationally.
Research in the department is broad in scope and variety, representing important innovative contributions to the field. Women’s historians at the department, Francisca de Haan, Susan Zimmermann and Andrea Peto, have gained noteworthy recognition in challenging West-European centrism in women’s and gender history. They have contributed significantly to the development of women’s and gender history in the region, with a number of comprehensive studies on Central and Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries (S. Zimmermann); work on the methodology of teaching women’s history (A. Peto); and the publication of a pioneering lexicographic work (designed and edited by Francisca de Haan, with Anna Loutfi (now a Gender Studies faculty member) and Krasimira Daskalova as co-editors): The Biographical Dictionary of Women’s Movements and Feminisms (a Choice “Outstanding Academic Title” for 2006), and the founding of the peer-reviewed Aspasia: The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern and South Eastern European Women’s and Gender History (F. de Haan),which promotes knowledge production on the region and provides a showcase for the work of regional scholars.
Allaine Cerwonka has written about nationalism and space, the practice of ethnography, and on feminist theory and cultural studies; in recent work, she has focused on feminist epistemology and traveling theories, challenging conventional thinking about hierarchies in knowledge exchange between feminists in “East” and “West.” Sociologist Eva Fodor researches the feminization of poverty, one of the key global issues of contemporary women’s studies/gender studies, bringing into focus particular perspectives from Central Europe in both the socialist and post-socialist periods. Elissa Helms does anthropological research in Bosnia, focusing on women’s activism and representations of gender and nation in the aftermath of war. In her earlier work, historian Anna Loutfi analyzed gender relations in 19th century European family law, focusing on the case study of nationalizing Hungary, where pluralism undermined the legal codification of gender norms.
Erzsebet Barat contributes to feminist linguistics and media studies by analyzing Hungarian discourses on gender and sexuality. Anthropologist Hadley Renkin does research among LGBT activists in Hungary and elsewhere in post-socialist Europe. Eszter Timar works at the intersection of queer theory, political theory and literary studies. Jasmina Lukic’s work on women’s writing in South-Slavic literatures makes an important literary corpus visible internationally.
This list is by no means exhaustive, as there is a great deal of other research within a broad spectrum of topics being undertaken at the department. Linda Fisher, for example, contributes to the development of feminist phenomenology, and Judit Sandor brings a gender perspective to biopolitics, law and reproduction. The selection of these examples, however, illustrates several points. First, the department has played an important role in the the development of gender studies in the region in both research and teaching. Second, research conducted within the department brings local-level insights into comparative perspective with scholarship on other regions and on global trends and patterns. Finally, the department’s work brings together regional and transnational debates, and in that sense, participates in global processes of critical redefinition of the nature of knowledge production, its sources and its meaning. At the same time, the diversity of the research done by the gender studies faculty also reflects the diversity of the field, which calls for a continuous dialogue on theoretical and methodological questions; this dialogue is an important aspect of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives that characterize both the teaching and research at the department.
Emerging/new developments in gender studies (general points)
- The past two decades have been characterized by the further development of “theories of difference” in feminist and gender theory, as well as in related disciplines, including queer theory, postcolonial theory, cultural theory, and migration studies. This is a trend that continues to be of importance in the field.
- Also continuing to develop are the processes of “probing the boundaries” among different areas of research, along with close cooperation between women’s and gender studies and other “interdisciplinary disciplines,” such as queer studies, cultural studies, post-colonial studies, area studies and migrations studies. Most of these areas are represented in the teaching and research of our faculty.
- Gender studies has been contributing to the production and academic disciplinization of new areas of study, such as queer studies, masculinity studies and body studies. Both in teaching and in research, the department contributes to their development in the region.
- Theoretical and methodological reflections on intersectionality and its relevance in research across disciplines are given particular importance in the current debates in gender studies.
As an approach and as a method, intersectionality has been developed within gender studies, and it can be seen as a specific contribution of gender studies to interdisciplinary research. Always very much aware of its interdisciplinary nature, gender studies in the last 20 years has moved toward an understanding that different social categories like gender, race, class, ethnicity, age and education do not simply co-exist and influence each other, but mutually co-constitute each other. This means, in practice, a need to develop specific methodological tools and to build a new theoretical awareness of the complex interrelations that have to be taken into account when dealing with any of these categories. Gender theorists from Patricia Hill Collins to Donna Haraway have discussed intersectionality within a wide range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary frameworks. In keeping with these trends, it is important to note that intersectionality has also become an important aspect of teaching and research in this department.
Department plans for the CEU 20th Anniversary celebration
CEU gender studies faculty are eager to participate in the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the University by presenting their cutting-edge research work to the CEU community in a series of public lectures to be held in 2011-2012. The series, entitled “Voicing Genders, Engendering Voices,” shares our diverse faculty’s most recent research with the wider academic community and showcases the multiple and interdisciplinary ways in which our field contributes to the themes of CEU’s university-wide celebrations: disciplinary self-reflexivity and academia’s social responsibility.