DescriptionMy dissertation addresses the question of how feminist scholars define their field of inquiry. Most feminist scholars rely on a stock narrative of the history of feminist scholarship, which purportedly defines its processes and outcomes by decades—the white liberal feminist 1970s; the women-of-color, postmodern 1980s; and the poststructuralist, difference-focused 1990s, which they assume is adequate. My contention is that this stock narrative fails to adequately grapple with the complicated mix of forces that came together, and continuously collaborate, to create the event of feminist scholarship’s emergence. This emergence is the object of investigation for this dissertation. The study of emergence includes not only that which is visible and tangible about feminist scholarship in terms of its central ideas, concepts, theories, epistemologies, and methodologies, but also that which is not immediately or readily visible, such as the field’s animating intellectual and philosophical presuppositions and their relationships to time, space, temporality, and geography.
Identifying and demonstrating the deficiencies of the stock narrative of feminist scholarship, my dissertation develops several alternative accounts of feminist scholarship in its formation, contrasting the explanatory possibilities of approaches drawn from the history of ideas, the sociology of knowledge, and the Foucauldian archaeology. These three alternate accounts illuminate intricate and unexpected connections between academic feminism and geopolitical forces such as the Cold War, increased federal funding for higher education, changing priorities within philanthropic foundations, the emergence of development studies, area studies, and subfields such as Women in Development and Gender and Development. By complicating the narrative history of interdisciplinary feminist studies, the dissertation is able to offer a fresh interpretation of the centrality to academic feminism, particularly in postcolonial and transnational feminist scholarship, of key concepts advanced by U.S. scholars of color.