Sisters and continental relations

The European Journal of Women's Studies
February 24, 1995

Women's studies now exists in one form or another throughout Europe and indeed the world. The 1994 Women's Studies Network (UK) courses guide lists 85 institutions in higher education alone offering several qualifying courses - a startling growth (given the exigencies of funding) from the 66 institutions listed in the 1992 guide.

One clear indication of the subject's growing importance across Europe is its inclusion in the European Community's Third Action Programme for Equal Opportunities. A huge European women's studies databank (Grace) has been set up by the Commission of the European Communities, which acknowledges the wealth of feminist research and teaching.

What constitutes women's studies varies between countries not only in numbers but also in relation to national characteristics such as the take-up of higher education. For example, Denmark has state-funded women's studies research centres in all its universities, while in Italy, with more radical anti-institutional politics, women's studies flourishes in women's centres and through journals.

It is precisely women's studies' need to sustain coalitions through communication networks that makes the arrival of The European Journal of Women's Studies so necessary and so welcome. The journal emerges from one of the two European women's studies organisations - Wise (Women's International Studies Europe) - but its editorial board shows evidence of support from ENWS (European Network of Women's Studies) and the first issue gives a strong sense of the atmosphere of European feminism.

The editors set out ambitious but crucial aims for the journal by addressing the new European economic and political order both in terms of material realities but also in terms of "the more complex, metaphorical meaning of the new political order". This pan-European transformation, in which the position of women is central through their paid and unpaid work, may, the editors suggest, "offer feminism increased scope for social interventions". For this reason the journal proposes an exciting agenda including, alongside the customary articles, book reviews and conference reports, state-of-the-art articles on women's studies across Europe and comparative research between European countries. The need for Western feminists to listen to the voices of Eastern European women has never been so pressing. In addition, the many innovative intellectual investigations undertaken in Eastern Europe, for example the (former) East German oral histories and social science methodologies, are not well enough known in the West.

The first issue meets these ambitious aims by offering a menu of stimulating accounts of women's studies teaching and research from East Germany, Northern Ireland, Italy, Finland, Holland, Romania and Bulgaria. The value of comparative research is highlighted in Stretenova's account of Bulgarian feminism and her argument that social changes in Bulgaria should be of interest to other feminists "for they could be taken as an example on a small scale of developments that might place in the (former) USSR".

The key social and methodological issues that have fired feminist research over the past decades are well represented. Gillian Robinson, Norma Heaton and Celia Davis's account of women's paid employment in Northern Ireland is a sophisticated critique both of the very material hardships that many women suffer and the inability of conventional social science methods to represent women's needs adequately. For example there has been no research or public debate about the startling rise in employment of Northern Irish women with very young children. The conceptual politics of women's studies are also addressed in another keenly focused contribution by Diane Richardson and Victoria Robinson on the politics of naming: gender studies or women's studies. This debate, which featured in several recent THESs, is fully explored by Richardson and Robinson in a sparkling indictment of the "more general trend towards the marketing and packaging of feminism into a diluted and more widely acceptable form". Not only does gender studies, as the authors quite rightly point out, "take the heat off patriarchy", but for me the culture-specific nature of the term, its dualistic focus on gender differences at the expense of other differences such as race, class and sexual preference subverts the agenda of women's studies.

It is one of the great merits of this new journal that it shows how much women's research, teaching, politics and culture is multi-faceted, dynamic and fascinating. As the quotation from Margo Brouns in State of the Art: the Dutch Case suggests: "women's studies - how could we get along without it?".

Maggie Humm is co-ordinator of women's studies, University of East London.

The European Journal of Women's Studies: Volume One

Editor - Kea Tijdens and Mary Evansvvv
ISBN - ISSN 1350 5068
Publisher - Sage
Price - £15.00 (indiv.), £38.00 (inst.)

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