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Women in Theory

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Organizer: Erin Graff Zivin

Co-Organizer: Anna Kornbluh

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While the fields of gender, feminist, and queer studies receive limited institutional support within the academy, intellectual spaces in those fields—conferences, journals, books—allow for a plurality of bodies and voices. Yet, when it comes to spaces that emphasize critical theory and philosophy, gender imbalances and disengagement with feminist and queer traditions remain all too common. For women in theory, the putatively feminized humanities often operate comparably to the sciences: “manels” (male-dominated panels) abound; the leading voices in the fields rarely acknowledge their own sexing; and questions of gender and sexuality remain secondary or absent. Indeed, a recent study by Kieran Healy showed that four top philosophy journals boasted a publication rate of 87.5 percent male and that, of the 500 most cited articles, only 3.5 percent were of articles written by women. Feminist philosophers have founded the journals Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophyand philoSOPHIA: A Journal of Transcontinental Feminismin order to counter this tendency, though it is more difficult to find parallels in the other disciplines that compose critical theory. 


The organizers of this seminar propose an experiment: what would happen if “women” who work in “theory” (in the broadest, wildest sense of both terms) were to thematize and discuss the problem of women in theory? How does this problem inflect literary studies?  We invite students and scholars in all fields of world literary studies whose work emphasizes critical theory and philosophy (deconstruction, Marxism, psychoanalysis, critical race theory, classical philosophy, political theory, media theory—in short, areas of “theory” in which women are comparatively scarce) to engage with the problem from and through their methodological and conceptual areas of interest. We will publish a selection of the papers in a special issue of a critical theory journal, and participants will be invited to join a new network/collective that will meet annually and produce, among other things, an online bibliography to support inclusive citational practices.


Presenters are encouraged to propose papers on topics such as: reproduction and transmission in theory and thought; the rapport between theory and practice; literary sexuation and literature’s own theorizing; deconstruction and gender; black women in philosophy; feminism and debt; trans theory; the figure of the “woman” in philosophy; gender and abstraction; catachresis and impropriety; as well as gendered aspects of epistemological and methodological debates in literary fields (i.e. digital humanities; post-critique). Papers must have a metacritical aspect, in which the “problem” of women in theory is itself thematized and theorized, going beyond the anecdotal or statistical, and are encouraged to shake and unsettle identitarian or essentialist notions of “women,” “femininity,” and “gender.”

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