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Gender and the Politics of History by Joan Wallach Scott Review by: Karen Offen The Journal of Modern

History, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Jun., 1990), pp. 356-358 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 18/01/2012 10:24
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Book Reviews

of extended critique thedelusions historians of relieson thestrength amongthem of a communal code that rightly assertion their bars of private rights against pursuit a of truth. Johns HopkinsUniversity Scott. Genderand the Politicsof History.By JoanWallach Press,1988. Pp. x + 242. $29.00. New York:ColumbiaUniversity to an awaited perspective of This collection essaysby JoanScottcontributes eagerly of of It and in discussions historiography thephilosophy history. is less a report the inquiry thana book aboutone historian's research historical of results a particular amounts whatitsobjectis, and to, of history of rethinking whattheenterprise writing the to She historian. attempts stepoutside whatit meansto herto be a professional "History," Scott as putsit, and to its discipline scrutinize presuppositions itsmethods. of as attention itis a method analysis"(p. 3). From "is as much objectofanalytic the book. alone, it is an important thisperspective can Yettheessaysin Gender and thePoliticsofHistory also be readas intellectual in odyssey, thecourseof whichthe on report a continuing a personal autobiography, manyperils,and has now encounmany temptations, confronted has author already Scott has grappledwith their theory. teredthe siren songs of post-structuralist shore,withher on manner has arrived yetanother and seductive powerin a salutory task. visionof thehistorian's more complex and a powers enriched with riper, critical of analysis a of montage essays)offers thoughtful (and Her introduction theensuing of our can a theoretical perspective further understandingthe thewaysinwhich critical project. historical of and at of Joan Likemany historians hergeneration, Scottarrived thestudy power with its by social history, particularly way of labor history its politicsthrough In on of Marxist insistence theprimacy class andofproduction. thecourse hegemonic of concept gender, with feminist theory, itschallenging of herwork, encountered she terms) it of thesocial construction thesexes, or as Scottrephrases (in Foucauldian in and (p. aboutsexualdifference" its social organization 2). Research "knowledge for potential as of gender a concept extraordinary has women'shistory sincerevealed to the of our past.In attemptingrethink question illuminating understandingthehuman withthe herself wrestling Scottfound class and sex or gender, of how to prioritize At itself. thispoint,"in search the of of notion powerand with structure knowledge with on encounter the embarked a fateful of a moreradicalepistemology," author of and the theory, post-structuralist particularly concepts Foucault Derrida. Ratherthan privileging genderat the expense of class, which would be the of to categories, solution theconfrontationthesetwoanalytical feminist instinctively one seeksto as approach, that Scotthas optedforwhatshe perceives an overarching have domination/subordination relationships whereby span severalsuch categories remain of in beenestablished thehistorical past.Herconceptions powerandcausality above one of the She sidesteps challenge prioritizing category insistently multiple. thus to her powerof class even as theothers, thereby retaining allegiance theexplanatory to its sweep and its blindness genderissues. It becomes she critiques hegemonic to reluctant grant thatScottis extremely as apparent the book proceeds,however, issues confronts explosive the overclass. She never primacy any gender explanatory

Book Reviews


of sexuality, and sexual definition underlie category that the reproductive control, "women" andthehistorical have constructionsthepolitics gender, of of evenas these beenleft in of she Yet unaddressed thepolitics thehistories critiques. justthese issues in render suchconstructions distinctive from and, some wouldinsist, weightier the overallconstruction social systems of thaneither race or class. Scott'svoyageas a historian farfrom is of over;we awaitherconfrontationtheseissues. The book is dividedintofour from 1983 to the parts,incorporating essaysdating of in and present, most them Theseessays, previously published journals collections. have been substantially however, revised;one, an authoritative critiqueof E. P. Thompson's Makingof theEnglishWorking Class (New York,1963), is published here forthe first time. As collections a rarely do, the book succeedsin forming coherent whole. Part 1, "Toward a Feminist includestwo essays. In the first History," Scott delineates extant three to socialhistory, and approaches women's history ("herstory," gender In history) assessestheir and varied contributions weaknesses. thesecond and ("Gender: A UsefulCategory Historical of in Analysis,"originally published the American Historical Review[1986]), Scottdiscussesthree to theoretical approaches the analysisof gender(the "origins of patriarchy" approach,the Marx-Engels and from standpoint tradition, thepsychoanalytic and them the of approach) examines their to utility historians. Part 2, "Gender and Class," includesthreeessays thatcriticizeBritish labor historians their for reluctance grapple to withgender. thefirst, examination In an of recent work theChartists Gareth on by Stedman Jones, Scottis particularly critical of thewaysin whichlaborhistorians haveutilized new theories language, of branding these"superficial" "conservative." proposes rereading Stedman and She a of Jones's own workthatdemonstrates centrality gender of the concerns Chartist to political on thought thesubject class itself. of She asserts that Chartists' the of very concept class "equated productivity masculinity" 64) and conflated two. A and the (p. companion piece, "Womenin theMakingof theEnglish Working Class," likewise offers critique gender a of blindness E. P. Thompson's in landmark work.As with Stedman Scottcritiques Jones, construction "the working of Thompson's class" as a universalized male identity (i.e., men who work) and expertly illuminates the problematic place of women thisconstruction, in which underscored thevirtual is by absenceof discussion womenartisans of (not to speak of male artisans'wives) in Thompson's book. As Scottpointsout, however, thisabsence may have resulted from (paradoxically) Thompson's personal to commitment theequality thesexes. of Informed revisionist by scholarship, Scottchallenges boundary the drawn Thompby son between politicaland (highly the sexualized)religious critiques points and out Thompson's bias toward rationalist a politics, which seemsgrounded an exclusion in ofthevery movements attracted many that so enthusiastic nineteenth-century women. Even as Scottscoresone telling point after another, shouldbe pointed that it out her is critique notan unfriendly itsintent toextend scopeofThompson's one; is the initial project. Scottpoints theinvestigation thepolitics theconstruction meaning to of of of itselfas a way of breaking through limitations Thompson'sapproach.She the of concludes: "We cannot write aboutclass without interrogatingmeanings-not its only itsterminology thecontent itspolitical and of programs thehistory itssymbolic but of organization and linguistic representations" 90). Surelythis is an important (p. agendaforcritical workby historians. In part 3, "Gender in History," Joan Scott applies her theoretical insights to the rewriting history theFrench of working class. Thissection includes three case fine



on from in studies (published 1984, 1986,and 1988,respectively) Scott'swork French 1840 to 1860. the laborhistory during periodfrom of "WorkIdentities Men and Women"examinesthe intersection economic, for discoursesof women and men sexual, and politicalconcernsin the competing tradesduringthe couturieres, tailors)in the Parisiangarment and (seamstresses, gendered and interlocking 1830s and 1840s. Here Scottpointsto the distinctively of and in citizenship, gender, family thecontests of conceptualizations workidentity, in the speechbetween twogroups.A secondessayexposesthelack of neutrality an in of developedby the ParisChamber Commerce important of labor statistics set in case study the as readers mostamusing well as exemplary a 1847-48, offering to reveals extent which the of of Scott'sdissection thisdocument politics knowledge. of troubled advocates "order."The final the theimageof uncontrolled womanhood woman, or overtheouvriere, employed concerns discourse the essay in thissection earlier by developed on economists. Thisessayexpands thematerials among political associatedwiththe the of examining publications freetradepoliticaleconomists the theirpublication, Journaldes politique,through ParisianSocite d'&conomie for in lays the groundwork whatcould &onomistes. This latter chapter particular the connecting discourseof politicaleconomywithother become a largerstudy, of All question. three theseessays aspectsof thedebateon thewoman contemporary contextual witha sociopolitical of analysis Scott'sexpert coupling textual exemplify reading. in engagesproblems contemporary part, "Equality in Difference," The fourth of eye. In thefirst two essays, "The feminist and theory politicswitha historian's "equality binary opposition, SearsCase," Scottchallenges falsethecontemporary as the stance,asserting Here she assumesa fullydeconstructive versusdifference." a evenencompasses questioning differences which of necessity a strategy multiple for At point Scott's ofourusageofthecategories "men" and "women" themselves. this direction. unhistorical begins veerin a curiously to approaches reliance theoretical on the 1884- 1984," addresses issueof The second Women Historians, essay,"American the examining play of in historical profession, women's reception the American itself. HereagainScottexhibits in of 'difference" a politics thehistorical discipline with of "women" andtheproblems quality thecategory herdiscomfort themonolithic it for by and exclusion has created thoseencompassed it. of differentiation historical "seemstohavebeena crucial hierarchy wayofestablishing "Gender,"sheconcludes, of its and though definition use have varied-as the explainedin terms difference, historians of demonstrates" 197). Yet therelatively (p. history womenprofessional hereoperates obscure highdramaof sexualpolitics to the of neutral concept gender of the (not that characterized professionalizationknowledge onlyin thediscipline has contestaSuch forceful in societiessincethenineteenth of history) Western century. to have notbeen restricted therealmof war and diplomacy tionsover "authority" alone. and about this book is its author'ssimultaneous thoughtful What is important and the of with engagement thepolitics thepastandofthepresent, with wayin which I Scott's for and bothare constructed inscribed thefuture. And, although challenge of on to (and,yes,sex) powerofgender reluctance insist theprimacy theexplanatory the stance toward category her "women," I can in history, alongwith deconstructive for as and thePoliticsofHistory invigorating commend reading all Gender certainly historians. and practicing postulant University on and Institute Research Women Gender, Stanford for