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Feminist Theory/ Feminist Conversations (WS 751R)

Emory Institute for Women’s Studies

Spring 2004, TH 2-5, Candler 125
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

Candler Library 128G, 404-727-7282 , Office hours: TH 11:30-1:00 and by appt.

Our purpose in this graduate seminar is to engage thoughtfully and critically, both as individual critics and as an intellectual community, with several foundational and vibrantly contested conversations within feminist theory. The course is organized around several “keywords” (to borrow a critical strategy from Raymond Williams), each of which is a central concept within feminist theory. Some of the conversations that we will enter take the form of debates, such as the essentialism/constructivism debates. Other conversations revolve around questions, such as “what is a woman?” By focusing on the contradictions and confluences in and among these conversations, we can avoid balkanizing feminisms into competing and mutually exclusive categories or periodizing feminist thought into a progress narrative composed of “waves.”

The keywords are organized to form a logical exploration, starting with perhaps the most fundamental concept of feminist thought, “patriarchy.” The readings gathered together explore each keyword by forming a conversation about the concept. The readings for each keyword challenge, support, augment, or contradict one another–illustrating that feminist theory is never monolithic, but rather is a polyphonic, often conflicting, always self-reflexive, conversation. In addition, the arrangement of the keywords is designed to form a larger conversation that will encourage us to consider and contest the keyword discussions we have already had as we move through the syllabus. I have arranged the readings for each key word in a suggested order to be read so that they “talk” to each other and have designated secondary readings most days so that you can manage the reading load according to your time and interest.

The readings included in this syllabus not only comprise a conversation, but reflect a range of academic disciplinary perspectives, methodologies, assumptions, and discursive styles so that we can consider a variety of feminist discourses. We will reflect as well on the politics and practices of language, methods, style, and interdisciplinarity. The readings are eclectic, covering feminist theory from the nineteenth-century to the present, with an emphasis on the last thirty years in western feminist thought. This centering on western theory is a limitation of my own expertise, although I have aimed for much diversity within that particular arena. The readings range from feminist classics to less known, or even obscure pieces. All the readings are essays or excepts from feminist books. This plan allows us to experience a variety of authors and approaches, while still focusing on a set of concepts. This cafeteria-style syllabus will encourage you to read more of the texts or authors that compel you or that pertain to your projects. Taken together, the texts, collections, and the required “Kolmar reader” are a rich resource for your own teaching and scholarship.


The only ordered text available at the Bookstore is Feminist Theory: A Reader, eds. Wendy Kolmar and Frances Bartowski, (Mayfield, 2000), simply because it contains several of pieces on the syllabus and is a good, comprehensive reader. You may wish to buy this because it is a good resource or you may wish to share with someone.

All other readings are available through on-line reserves.

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