Thoughts about thinking through breasts and so on

October 26, 2001

Feminist Theory: An International Interdisciplinary Journal Edited by Gabriel Griffin, Stevi Jackson, Sasha Roseneil and Robyn Wiegman Sage, three times a£34.00 (individuals) £160.00 (institutions) ISSN 1464 7001

To launch a new journal of feminist theory is a bold move. As an intellectual and a political space, feminism has seen something of a decline in energy and scale in recent years, despite the centrality of gender and family issues to contemporary social policy, and the intensity of contemporary cultural and political interest in representations of sexuality.

It is thus with an air of anticipation and curiosity that one approaches the launch of a new journal dedicated to the explication and the development of feminist theory. Will it succeed in invigorating familiar debates and initiating new lines of theoretical reflection and inquiry, and will it bring new contributors and new participants to the larger project of feminism? On the basis of this first volume, my answer would be "perhaps".

Feminist Theory presents itself as a "forum for discussion and debate within feminist theory" and stresses its interdisciplinary and non-sectarian stance. Each issue is divided into three sections: the first includes substantial original articles; the second features shorter interchanges; and the third covers reviews.

The editorial team specifically declines to define the parameters of either feminism or theory, beyond suggesting that feminist theory must at some level engage with women and with gender. The journal does allow a range of ideas about the parameters and priorities of feminist theory to circulate in the interchanges of the first issue, but no particularly vivid conclusion emerges from these. Across the volume, however, the project of Feminist Theory seems to be articulated largely in relation to the theoretical and methodological norms of the social sciences.

The first issue has a detailed discussion of the relations between Pierre Bourdieu's sociology of practice and contemporary feminist theory; an exploration of the theory and practice of collaborative feminist work in ethnography; an analysis of the relations between agency and embodiment; and a critique of the discursive and political effects of gendered social orders. In subsequent issues, questions of identity, collectivity, and creativity are explored through arguments about sexuality, corporeality and maternity. This includes articles on mothers as political activists, on "thinking through breasts" and on strategies of reading the figure of the sexual outlaw in lesbian fiction.

A number of contributors also consider the epistemological and political challenges of feminist theoretical work, engaging for example with the issues of a community of knowledge, or with the philosophical innovations enabled by a feminist identification. A range of contributions specifically address the power of theoretical argument to resist the divisions and conflicts generated by "situated knowledges".

There is some excellent work in the first volume, and it will certainly be of interest to academics in women's studies, in social sciences and in the humanities. It would, however, be very interesting to see the journal develop a fuller and more challenging reflection on its objects: feminism and theory, and encouraging a more historical sense of feminist theorisation as a continuing project with a significant and theoretically varied history.

Morag Shiach is professor of cultural history, Queen Mary, University of London.

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