Gender studies – what is it?
Gender studies is a multifaceted discipline that is inspired by other scholarly fields and transcends the boundaries between them. In recent years, gender studies has been expanded beyond its traditional focus on gender to also cover other power structures.
Gender studies is very much an interdisciplinary field, and as such it transcends the traditional disciplinary boundaries in research and education. This implies that the conventional boundaries are constantly challenged, which leads to the formation of new research fields and methodological approaches.
Ties to feminist activism
Gender studies has an important background in and link to feminist activism. A critical approach, an active, conscious and change-oriented relation to power and hierarchies as well as problematising of gender are core features of the field. This corresponds well to some of the most central provisions in the Swedish Higher Education Ordinance concerning students’ ability to engage in critical discussions.
The field of gender studies encompasses learning and knowledge relating to almost all aspects of society, including the labour market, economic issues and policy making. The part of the field that pertains to social science has a focus on the relations between humans, or government institutions, while the part that falls closer to arts and humanities has a stronger interest in cultural practices, texts and processes. The different subject areas are often intertwined, but may also lead to different choices with respect to research questions, theories and methods. Discussions about the way the research is structured help enrich the evolution of the field but also make it difficult to describe gender studies and gender research as a homogenous field. On the contrary, gender studies is a field in which a wide range of perspectives in relation to science, education, feminism, gender, power etc. co-exist.
Not just gender
Nina Lykke, professor at Tema Genus at Linköping University writes in a book titled Genusforskning – En guide till feministisk teori, metodologi och skrift [gender research – a guide to feminist theory, methodology and writing] that it is important not to impose boundaries on the field of and interest in gender research. Gender is a central theme, but without any excluding definitions. Judith Butler, professor of comparative literature and rhetoric and a key developer of queer theory, makes another point about gender studies as a discipline when she in the article Against Proper Objects. Introduction, published in A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, refers to gender research as a field without proper objects of study. Her point is that gender studies can and should study all sorts of things. These definitions of gender research are well in line with the view that it is not possible to separate power structures and ideas about gender, class, race/ethnicity, sexuality etc. This is one of the notions that has characterised the Swedish field of gender studies in recent years.