Axis 1 - Epistemology and Gender Theories

Genesis and genealogy, categories and modes of analysis

Gender theories have a complex intellectual, cultural and political history, the origins and developments of which we are only just beginning to understand and study. Their emergence and productive intermixing are due to, on the one hand, an epistemology of sexual and gender differences, as it was developed starting with the first studies on sexuality and sexual difference carried by late-nineteenth century Western psychopathology and including the American studies on intersexuality and trans-sexuality in the 1950s and 1960s and, on the other hand, a certain strand of "feminism" that gradually made its mark and imposed its themes in the intellectual and political field.

From the struggle for women’s suffrage to the women’s movement of the 1970s, from the publication of de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex to the recent translation of key American works on gender and sexuality into French — works that are themselves a kind of critical "digest" of what is sometimes called the "French theory" — feminist thought and the languages in which it was articulated in the 20st century were for the most part French, English and American. It is essential to think about this "cultural axis" and, more generally, about the relationship between, on the one hand, a particular politics and a conception of gender and, on the other hand, the languages, cultures and socio-political contexts in which they have been elaborated.

However, although gender epistemology and theories first emerged, spread and were developed in the West, they have been wonderfully enriched, complexified and modified through contact with non-Western political and cultural contexts, as well as with other fields and modes of analysis emerging either simultaneously or not long after. Today’s researchers therefore focus on studying the cultural, intellectual and political contexts of the production and reception of gender theories, their modes and rhythms of moving through different cultural and linguistic areas, between different political spaces, but also within and in-between disciplines.

Finally, it is important to analyse the way in which a set of axioms and conceptual tools of the given gender theory or theories have been constituted, to study the genealogy and transformation of their languages, their modes of inquiry and the methodologies available in this field. We should also examine the way in which gender theories are (or are not) revised and reformulated in response to the critique of their own assumptions or procedures, critiques which sound either from within their own field ("queer" thought and theories, black and subaltern feminisms) or from the outside: cultural theories, postcolonial studies, but also the cognitive sciences, philosophy of language, pragmatics and linguistics, new research in biology, and so on.