LSE gender studies gives lie to narrative of loss

February 17, 2011

Gender studies is often perceived as a discipline in decline, but rumours of its impending demise have been greatly exaggerated, according to Clare Hemmings, director of the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics.

Her institute, which claims to be the largest of its kind in Europe, has just become an autonomous academic department.

But the "narrative of loss" has obscured many areas of growth, particularly at the graduate level and where gender meets major global issues of culture, media and development, she said.

The Gender Institute was set up in 1993 and formed part of the LSE's sociology department from 2003 to 2010. Over that period, the number of students and staff trebled.

It now has up to 90 master's and about 20 doctoral students and a staff of 10 women, who cover fields from economic geography to feminist theory.

The research programme is based on the idea that "all social processes are gendered".

"None of us thinks of gender as something you just add in and stir," explained Dr Hemmings. "It is hard to examine gender apart from other axes of inequality, and it always relates to issues of class, ethnicity and sexuality.

"Yet, although it's not really recognised as separate by the research excellence framework, it can't just be about people doing work in their own disciplines and then adding in a bit of work on gender."

Given that it is based at the LSE, the Gender Institute inevitably has a strong focus on the social sciences.

In this, it differs from units such as the Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies, which has far more geneticists and other natural scientists on tap to teach units of its MPhil in multidisciplinary gender studies.

Instead, it shares a strong transnational and interdisciplinary focus with the Centre for Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies and equivalent courses at the University of York.

Dr Hemmings admitted that undergraduate courses in gender studies were hard to sustain, since the subject is not taught in schools, but she was adamant that graduate programmes show every sign of flourishing.

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