This article analyzes the formation of women's and gender studies as an interdisciplinary academic field. The author draws on comparative case studies of three early-adopter women's studies departments from historical records and interviews with faculty members. Existing research on disciplinary formation focuses on the way practitioners forge institutional niches for new academic programs but not on sustained analysis of knowledge-making processes. Research on processes of knowledge construction focuses on established research situations, such as physics labs or literary seminars, as opposed to newly emerging fields and fields with politicized origins. The author combines institutional and practice-oriented approaches to explain the formation of knowledge-making agendas in new interdisciplinary research fields. In the case of women's and gender studies, practitioners' strategies for promoting the growth of their programs corresponded with the kinds of knowledge that they produced. In the period of adoption in the 1970s, scholars across the three units defined the intellectual goals of women's studies similarly in working to redress the lack of research on women in existing disciplines and to analyze social problems affecting contemporary women's lives. Each program acquired institutional stability, which involved the negotiation of budgeted faculty hires in specific research areas and the development of degree programs. Over time, practitioners at each program justified the continued existence of women's studies programs by claiming expertise in a diverse range of topics relating to human gender and sexual experience and by constituting their academic programs in relation to local intellectual agendas.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Cultural Studies
- Sociology and Political Science
- Social Sciences(all)