Social Science Approach to Gender & Sexuality

Feminist intellectual work of the second wave began with high theoretical hopes, seeking to understand why there is gender and why gender so often means inequality, domination, and difference. Gender scholars in the social sciences were at the forefront of these feminist intellectual projects, and led the way within their disciplines for thinking anew about what counts as theory, evidence, and methods. They explored what it would mean to take gender as a category of analysis. Feminist work in the last two decades has questioned universalism, the idea of a gender revolution as total social transformation, second-wave explanatory ambitions, and the usefulness of certain kinds of analytic categories -- first and foremost, “women” and gender. Yet, particularly within the social sciences, there are deep investments in explanation as an intellectual project, and some scholars are struggling to develop more situated knowledge. One form this takes is turning from origins and overarching explanations of gender systems (if such exist) to explorations of the processes by which gender is “accomplished,” performed, constructed or practiced – the how of gender, or gendering. Another strand of work claims a historicized project: why do gender relations take specific forms in particular times and places, and why and how have these practices and structures changed or stabilized? Others pursue a Foucauldian-inspired strategy of genealogical explorations, or explore the varieties of psychoanalytic approaches for clues to understanding gender. In this seminar, we will discuss what these diverse intellectual issues mean for the projects of using gender as an analytic category in the social sciences and for understanding gender.