Challenges of the Interdisciplinary Character of Women’s / Gender Studies



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Challenges of the Interdisciplinary Character of

Women’s / Gender Studies


- Cases of the Czech Republic, Macedonia & Turkey -

Ayten Alkan*, Tijana Milosavljević-Čajetinac** & Victoria Gavritova***



Introduction

Traditional (classical) social sciences, being established and improved in a “disciplinarily divided structure”, have been implying a particular style and way of “knowing”: That is, trying to reflect on, understand, and produce the knowledge of the society by dividing it into compartments. This perspective has itself formed a certain paradigm. Swerving from this dominant paradigm, women’s / gender studies’ claim to (or dream of) interdisciplinarity, has in fact derived from a basic conception of –academic- feminism:

“[I]nterdisciplinarity as an epistemological choice referring to the unsplitable integrity of the society, derives from a basic assertion of feminism which puts ‘gender’ as one of the main factors establishing and interpreting the societal phenomenon. In other words, the sphere named as the ‘societal’ is entirely structured and restructured by gendered relations; there is no other sphere external to this structuration –no sphere which is not gendered, which does not comprise power through the masculine / feminine dichotomy.” (Sancar, 2003)

So, interdisciplinarity itself can be considered as a new paradigm, a new style of knowing which should bring together new epistemological / methodological ascensions –like the contest to the division of the knowing subject / object dichotomy, new institutional structures –like interdisciplinary departments, and new political formations –like the cooperation and relation between the outside and inside, between the academia and the social, between knowledge and politics.

This paper aims to trace (i) the degree and content of realization, (ii) advantages and disadvantages of such a positional contest via a comparative study of women’s and /or gender studies1 in the Czech Republic, Macedonia and Turkey. To this end, firstly, the notions of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity will be revised. Secondly,


  • the history of WGS’ introduction to the academia, -if so- in parallel to the improvement of feminism and women’s movement(s),

  • the existing concerned institutions / units –i.e. departments, curricula, modules, centers, and bodies inside and outside the academia in each country is outlined.

Thirdly and finally, the actual situation of WGS with regards to interdisciplinarity is evaluated.

When questioning a (or, the) scientific-academic sphere one has to take into consideration the three main aspects of scientific knowledge cumulation:



  • its history (the ways and the specific conditions of its development)

  • its philosophy (its structure, epistemology and methodology)

  • and its sociology (attitudes and values of the scientific-academic communities)

In this text, these three aspects are taken as cross cuttings of the debates of disciplinarity-interdisciplinarity, and of WGS.

Disciplinarity / Interdisciplinarity Revisited

A considerable body of critics targeting WGS has been about the area’s inability to be(come) a discipline. These critics depend on limitative arguments like the structure of knowledge, lack of specific methodologies and concepts, claims of subjectivity and the so-called impossibility to change the existing institutionalized structures... At this point, one shall question if disciplines are totalistic, uniterian and homogenous structures. Many disciplines offer “different knowledge structures” within themselves. Fort example, we cannot claim that experimental, clinic, freudian, cognitive, etc. approaches within psychology are perhaps complementary, but never coherent approaches. Thus, differentiations within disciplines are not less than that of interdisciplinary areas, and interdisciplinary differences. We can argue the same thing for the concepts too. Besides, disciplines themselves, their methods, subjects, concepts change in time, like the expansion of geography starting from natural sciences –physical geography- to social sciences, and to human geography and economic geography.

Disciplines are of course different from each other; but why and how do we consider the lines between disciplines, to say, the most important categorizations / divisions of knowledge? In order to have the answers, one has to look at the notion of discipline itself.

Existing literature on the notion demonstrates that many of the discipline’s definitions are instrumental and mechanistic, (for ex. Pfinister, 1969; Scott, 1979) while others approach the concept critically, drawing on legitimizing epistemological and socio-cultural, historical concerns (for. ex. Becher, 1981; 1989; Lattuca, 2002).

From an instrumental and mechanistic perspective, “a discipline” corresponds to an idea of an essential, legitimate and coherent corpus of knowledge, which is structured around a specific subject or problematic via a specific methodology. On the other hand, from a critical point of view, a discipline is an artificial, historical and contingent construct, which is determined by power and authority relations to a great degree. And from an approach focusing the socio-cultural aspect, the notion is defined as “scientific communities”, “tribes of the academia” and / or the means framing inter-personal, inter-institutional, cultural and intellectual activity.

Here, we take the traditional disciplinary scientific-academic structure from a synthesis of the latter two perspectives, to name as: the critical socio-historical perspective. As Boxer (2000) puts the issue:

“…powerful authoritative voices, largely male, that two centuries ago ... began to corral all kinds of knowledge into the disciplinary forms that came over the last century to structure academies of higher learning.” (from, Caruana & Oakey, 2004)

Modern social sciences having born and developed in a disciplinary divided structure were alluding to a specific “knowing style”: reflecting on, understanding, and producing the knowledge of the society by dividing it into compartments. Moreover, this approach and structure itself has established a certain paradigm. WGS, with its claim to interdisciplinarity, has been diverging from this dominant paradigm as it has been


  1. offering a strong critic to the gender-blindness and gender-biasedness of traditional disciplines

  2. highlighting the invisibility and / or secondarization of women’s life stories, experiences and problems

  3. depending on new epistemological-methodological perspectives which have been indistincting knowing subject / object, knowledge / society, science/ politics dichotomies.

Within the process of the development of WGS, the new pieces did not fit to the existing puzzle. Because the problem which was carried to the academia by feminism was not a problem of how to add a new research title to social theory; it was not an issue of “me too me too-ism”. The problem was related to the dominant definitions of the concepts (from “work” to “human rights”), to how we approach and from where we approach (impossibility of objectivity), and to the analitical tools that we use (like “class”).

Improvement towards and / or within a -desired- interdisciplinarity arose due to such a reconstruction of the puzzle. Because traditional modern thought and disciplinarization creates serious problems when one attempts to understand women’s lives and gender relations. Sancar (2004) gives an example that excellently highlights the critical importance of interdisciplinarity to overcome these problems:

“The notion of human rights is developed in face of the violation of the individual’s rights by the State: it depends on principals like the immunity of one’s body, private life sphere, the prohibition of confiscating one’s labour. Concerning the relations between individuals and the State, it is central to protect the norms grounded by the notion of human rights, and the knowledge of this sphere is analyzed in the framework of law and political science. However, once you start to research domestic violence, which is a basic problematic for women, you realize that this sphere is invisible as a violation within the notion of human rights developed by law and political science. Once marriage is established by a contract depending on reciprocal ‘consent’ in the framework of private law, it is exterior to the definition of the ‘public’, and thus the ‘political arrangement’, and becomes a sphere indisputable via the notion of ‘rights’. So, domestic gender-based violence, which is the most widespread gender-based power mechanism all over the world has been prisoned only to psychology’s area of ‘behaviour disorders’ for long time, and this phenomenon has maintained its existence as one of the ‘invisible’ gendered social phenomena. The fact that women are subject to gender-based human rights violations has become definable, searchable and analyzable by insisting feminist studies questioning the spheres of law, political science, sociology and psychology.”

So, as an epistemological choice or necessity, interdisciplinarity creates its grounds of legitimacy in the context of WGS. However, just as the notion of disciplinarity, the notion of interdisciplinarity too, is argumentative in many ways. Lattuca (2003) depicts interdisciplinary scholarship as a continuum from informed disciplinarity to conceptual interdisciplinarity (from, Caruana & Oakey, 2004):

“The former involves issues which are motivated by a disciplinary question but teachers use examples from other disciplines to help students make connections between them, the latter engages with issues and questions which can only be answered by using a variety of disciplines, implying a critique of disciplinary understandings of an issue or question, akin to the feminist and post-modern approaches. Overall, proponents of integration-based definitions argue that interdisciplinary work achieves a higher level of integration than multidisciplinary work that merely concatenates or juxtaposes disciplines in such a way that their separateness is preserved and the only unity sought is in the form of a person’s education itself.”

A step further than “integration” hidden is the potential of politicizing and transforming the dominant disciplinary paradigm, which is termed by Bird (2001) as “critical interdisciplinarity”. Here, the borders between disciplines themselves become “struggle spheres” between different “essential structures” or “reality regimes”. Thus, critical interdisciplinarity may be regarded as a form of intellectual empowerment where knowledge is redefined, not through a process of integration, but rather through a process of dismantling.

In order to understand where on this continuum WGS inhabits in three countries, we have to review the area’s development and institutionalization orienting towards / within the university, interlaced with women’s / feminist movements. After the following two chapters, aiming at this review, we will return to the question of interdisciplinarity.




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