Sue Wise and Liz Stanley (2003) Review Article: 'Looking Back and Looking Forward: Some Recent Feminist Sociology Reviewed'
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Received: 29/8/2003 Accepted: 29/8/2003 Published: 31/08/2003
Feminist SociologySara Delamont
Sage Publications: London
0761972552 (pb); 0761972544 (hb)
£17.99 (pb); £60.00 (hb)
xi + 195 pp.
Gender and Social TheoryMary Evans
Open University Press: Buckingham
0335208649 (pb); 0335208657 (hb)
£16.99 (pb); £50.00 (hb)
viii + 138 pp.
Feminist Research in Theory and PracticeGayle Letherby
Open University Press: Buckingham
0335200281 (pb); 033520029x (hb)
£15.99 (pb); £45.00 (hb)
Feminist Methodology: Challenges and ChoicesCaroline Ramazanoglu with Janet Holland
Sage Publications: London
vii + 195 pp.
"...in the second half of the twentieth century (...) sociology moved from the fringes of UK academic life into the mainstream. British sociology has also provided a home for movements that have renewed and challenged the discipline...Some of these developments have become sub-disciplines whilst yet others have challenged the very basis of the sociological enterprise. Each has left their mark. Now therefore is a good time to take stock and to scan the horizon, looking back and looking forward."
2 See here Leonard Barker & Allen 1976a and 1976b; and see also the later compilation from these in Leonard & Allen 1991. We both 'became sociologists' at this point (narrowly missing the Aberdeen conference because of research commitments), while, of the authors whose books we shall be discussing, Mary Evans, Sarah Delamont, Caroline Ramazanoglu and Janet Holland are all UK sociologists of similar vintage to ourselves, with Gayle Letherby one of the 'first generation' heirs of this early 1970s wave of feminist debate, publication and teaching.
3 We discussed why we think these issues are crucially important in Stanley and Wise 2000.
4 We commented at the time that this and related models were seriously out of synch with the actual state of theory and 'positions' (Stanley & Wise 1979, 1983).
5 A note on the presentation of Evans' and Delamont's books is needed. Firstly, both books are shockingly badly proof-read; indeed, we find it difficult to believe that they have been proof-read at all. The result are some hilariously funny mistakes that will not only cause serious embarrassment to the authors, but also give ammunition to those who need no excuse to treat feminist scholarship as slipshod. The final responsibility for this lies with the publishers and we wonder why both these books show no sign of having been professionally proof-read. Secondly, both of these books, as well as those by Letherby discussed shortly, have bibliographies that use only initials to identify authors. If all publishers adopted this practice, then - very ironically indeed - the analysis of gender patterns in publishing that supports much of Delamont's argument would not have been possible. Two of the books discussed here come from Sage: one uses full names (Ramazanoglu with Holland) while the other uses only initials (Letherby), demonstrating that there is flexibility within a publisher's 'house style'. We feel strongly that authors should challenge academic publishers by insisting that there are good intellectual and political reasons for using personal, as well as family, names in bibliographies, as well as a decent level of professional proof-reading by the publisher, of course.
6 Interestingly, there is no separate entry in the index for sociology, or for anthropology, psychology, social policy... and its contents are unfettered from specifically disciplinary considerations. Only one chapter (83-104, sub-titled 'The impact of postmodern thought on feminist methodology') out of eight is concerned with the theory, methodology and method relationship. While another chapter takes off from the 'difference' debates within feminism, this is not concerned with the theory/methodology relationship but rather with how notions of 'otherness' can be handled both practically and in relation to matters of interpretation in research processes. The only sustained consideration of the practicalities of 'doing a feminist research project' comes in the last chapter in the book, written in a quite different 'voice' from the other chapters and comes across as something of a 'by the way' inclusion.
7 These are: freedom from scientific method, from binary thinking, in decentring the subject, from essentialism, from universality and ethnocentrism, from material embodiment, and from seeing power as a possession to seeing it as a production.
8 This exchange took place in 1997 in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society Vol 22 No 21.
9 Given Letherby's interest in the auto/biographical and experiential, the book considerably underplays the role of, interest in and adherence to sociological approaches concerned with such matters, both historically and contemporaneously.
10 There is also the considerable irony here that these four books are written, and also reviewed here, by women who are more akin to Titans than the humble oppressed types conjured up in some of their pages.
11 This is very different from the approach to theory and generalisation taken by Ramazanoglu with Holland, although there is considerable agreement between Letherby's rejection of the relativist implications of postmodernist thinking and retention of a basically foundationalist position which sees the feminist researcher as adding 'knowledge' that is in some sense superordinate over that of research participants and theirs.
12 We are pleased to note that we were not among this number, in early work already identifying precisely these issues (in, for instance, Stanley & Wise 1979, 1983).
13 We discussed the alternative we are interested in (developed initially in Stanley & Wise 1993) as a 'feminist fractured foundationalism'.
14 She references Ann Oakley 1998 here (and see also Oakley 2000). While we ourselves have been on the receiving end of Oakley's sometimes serious butchering of feminist positions different from her own, we still find the absence of any discussion of Oakley's work from Ramazanoglu with Holland's book (and their bibliography) rather odd, given Oakley's importance to these debates.
15 As discussed in Stanley & Wise 2000; some other articles published in this journal have also been concerned with the reconfiguartion of feminist theory, but the large majority is utterly conventional and 'mainstream' in its approach and style. Concerning the place of theory in sociology, again, we are not claiming there is no work of this kind, more that it is seen as lying outside of theory itself.
16 In the UK, for instance, undergraduates on a mass introductory course, PhD students in a 5* department, junior and contract lecturers in a further education college, and Oxbridge research fellows, might with some confidence be expected to have very different experiences and understandings of what 'sociology' is.
17 We're not saying here that these ideas originated through feminism - clearly ideas about reflexivity, for instance, pre-dated feminist reworkings of them - but that feminist work both championed them and has added considerably to their present meanings and usages.
18 See Stanley & Wise 1993(pp. 186-233); and also the contributors to Stanley 1990 for a set of examples of what this might look like, which range across different methods, different theoretical position, topics of inquiry.
LEONARD, Diana Barker & Sheila Allen (eds. 1976b) Dependence and Exploitation in Work and Marriage London: Longman.
LEONARD, Diana & Sheila Allen (eds. 1991) Sexual Divisions Revisited London: Macmillan.
BERGER, Bennet (1990) Authors of Their Own Lives Berkeley, USA: University of California Press.
MOUZELIS, Nicos (1996) "After postmodernism: a reply to Gregor McLennan" Sociology 30, pp.131-5.
OAKLEY, Ann (1998) "Gender, methodology and people's ways of knowing: some problems with feminism and the paradigm debate in social science" Sociology 32, pp.707-32.
OAKLEY, Ann (2000) Experiments in Knowing: Gender and Method in the Social Sciences Cambridge: Polity Press.
RILEY, Martha (1988) Sociological Lives London: Sage.
Stanley, Liz (ed, 1990) Feminist Praxis: Research, Theory & Epistemology in Feminist Sociology London: Routledge.
STANLEY, Liz & Sue Wise (1979) "Feminist research, feminist consciousness and experiences of sexism" Women's Studies International Quarterly 2, 359-374.
STANLEY, Liz & Sue Wise (1983) Breaking Out: Feminist Consciousness and Feminist Research London: Routledge.
STANLEY, Liz & Sue Wise (1993) Breaking Out Again: Feminist Ontology and Epistemology London: Routledge.
STANLEY, Liz & Sue Wise (2000) "But the empress has no clothes! Some awkward questions about the 'missing revolution' in feminist theory" Feminist Theory 1, pp.1-261-88.