Gendering Theory/Theories of Gender: A Cultural Historical Perspective

Course information


Gendering Theory/Theories of Gender: A Cultural Historical Perspective


Erzsébet Barát

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Course description

Short description

This lecture course belongs in the field of Gender Studies. It is one of the three mandatory lectures for students in the first semester of their graduate studies, assisting their decision to choose one of the three specialization tracks in the MA in English Studies, in this case “Gender through Literatures and Cultures in English”. The course is designed to explore the difference a feminist perspective on various concepts and categories in cultural studies, media studies, visual culture, literary criticism, and applied language studies may make. We shall advance a dialogue about the implications of the various theorizations of the analytical categories of sex, gender, and sexuality used in these various disciplinary models from the 1970s to the beginning of the 21st century. We assume as its basic premise that these categories come to mean different things in different disciplines, however, our major focus is going to be on the difference between ‘talking about women’ and producing a feminist critique from a gender or sexuality perspective. Based on the critical readings of both classic and recent texts, we shall explore the insights and subversive potential we can gain from ‘gender’, the key concept of Feminism/s (as of the 1970s) and that of ‘sexuality’ as developed by (the 1990s generation of) Queer Theory. Our ultimate aim throughout the course is to destabilize the non-productive scientific practice of categorization in dichotomic binaries, including feminist vs. queer theorizations of women’s lived life, man versus woman; high culture versus popular culture; hetero versus homosexuality, public versus private domains of life; theoretical versus applied linguistics; fiction versus documentary writing, public service television versus commercial television; objective accounts versus subjective opinions, acts versus words, etc. This means that we are neither taking ‘women’ as a pre-given self-evident social group/category that is straightforwardly taken to be comparable with its cultural ‘images’, ‘representations’ ‘in’ cultural products. Nor are we going to accept the introduction of the semiotic construction of ‘femininity’ or ‘female subjectivity’ in its stead that hinges on an apparently non-mediated corporeal sexual difference. Instead, the course is hoped to seek a more integrative account of the complex intersections between (hegemonic) relations of gender and sexuality, destabilizing the (theoretically) assumed reductive continuities between anatomical sex, social gender, gender identity, sexual practice, sexual desire, and sexual identity. As a result, we shall not slide from a falsely universalistic ‘woman’ (social essentialism) to a falsely individualised ‘feminine identity’ (cultural essentialism) but argue for gender as a social relation and a principle of categorization to be integral to the formation of the cultural field, including the understanding of the most relevant conceptual terms, such as authorship, identity, post/modernism, the distinction between high and popular culture, co-operative and competitive language strategies.



  1. Introduction: Orientation and organizations.


  1. Social organization of life into public/private domains in modernity and late modernity.
    • Carol Pateman: ‘Feminist critique of the public/private divide’ in A. Phillips (ed.) Feminism and Equality. New York University Press, 1987.


  1. Differentiation of the cultural space into high culture and popular culture.


  • Andreas Huyssen: ‘Mass Culture as Woman’ in Modernism’s Other. Indiana University Press, 1986.


  1. Production/emergence of meaning/S.
    • Celia Lury: "The Rights and Wrongs of Culture: Issues of Theory and Methodology" in Beverly Skeggs (ed.) Feminist Cultural Theory: Process and Production, Manchester University Press, 1995.


  1. (Non)exclusionary Identity and the (non)possessive Self.
    • Linda Martin Alcoff: ‘The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory. In Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self. Oxford University Press. 2006.


  1. Anxieties and struggles over authorship and legitimacy.
    • Michel Foucault: ‘What is an Author?’ In Paul Rabinow (ed.) The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought. London: Penguin.
    • Bonnie Zimmerman: ‘What Has Never Been: An Overview of Lesbian Feminist Literary Criticism’ in Elaine Showalter (ed.) The New Feminist Criticism. Virago Press, 1986.


  1. Gender and genres in the media and visual culture.
    • Liesbet van Zoonen: ‘Politics as Soap Opera’ in Entertaining the Citizen: When Politics and Popular Culture Converge. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2005.
    • Lewis, Reina. “The lesbian gaze and fashion imagery” In Nicholas Mirzoeff (ed.) The Visual Cultural Reader. Routledge, 1998.


8–9. Gender and genres in literature and linguistics.

  • Susan S. Lanser: ‘Towards a Feminist Narratology’ In Style 1986, 20:3, 341-363.
  • de Lauretis, Teresa: ‘Desire in Narrative’ in Susana Onega and Jose Angle Garcia Landa (eds.) Narratology. Longman, 1996.
  • Deborah Cameron: ‘Straight Talking: The sociolinguistics of heterosexuality’ in On Language and Sexual Politics. Routledge, 2006.
  • Robin Lakoff: ‘Language, gender, and politics: Putting “Women” and “Power” in the Same Sentence’ in Janet Holmes and Miriam Meyerhoff (eds.) The Handbook of Language and Gender. Blackwell, [2003/]2005.


10. History of the women’s movement and feminist scholarship.

  • Rosemary Hennessy: ‘New Woman, new history’ in Materialist Feminism and the Politics of Discourse. Routledge, 1993.


11. Post-feminist (?) spaces in popular culture.

  • Kristyn Gorton: ‘The Politics of Equity and the Media: The Example of Feminism’ in Elizabeth Deeds Ermath (ed.) Rewriting Democracy: Cultural politics in Postmodernity. Ashgate, 2007. (Feminist Media Studies)



12. Differentiation of sex/sexuality/gender: Queer rethinking.

  • Judith Halberstam: ‘The Brandon Archive’ in In a Queer Time and Place. New York University Press. 2005.


13. Feminism and institutionalization of gender studies.

  • Ellen Rooney: Discipline and Vanish: Feminism, the Resistance to Theory, and the Politics of Cultural Studies. In Joan Wallach Scott (ed.) Women’s Studies on the Edge. Duke University Press, 2008.

14. Consolidation.





Requirements to get the grade

(1) Position paper (350-450 words) on one reading chosen from the weekly readings and written up by a team of two students. The quality (attempts at critical thinking invested in the writing) may put a grade up or down the student’s performance in their oral exam. There is NO late submission. Students should rewrite their summaries on receiving their feedback and bring along with them both versions (original with teacher’s remarks and the rewritten one) as prerequisite for taking the exam.

(2) The oral exam will be conducted as a discussion of a topic picked randomly from a list of topics in relation to the weekly readings. In short, the ultimate interest is to see how much students will have learnt to develop a point in a co-operative manner over the semester, to reflect on matters of scholarship they have encountered while reading and discussing the papers in their teams and in the classroom.


Reading list

See above in the weekly schedule.

Suggested reading list

All edited volumes the weekly readings are published in.