Gender and Feminism in the Social Sciences

Gender and Feminism in the Social Sciences: Equity, Excellence and Knowledge in the Disciplines

In improving the status of women in the social science disciplines, some areas have done better than others. The effect of feminist critique on shaping these disciplinary histories, and contributing to their widely differing gender profiles is largely unknown. This project takes an inter-disciplinary approach to consider gender and feminism in the social sciences across Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science and History.

The project has two main interconnected aims:

  1. To investigate the relationship of the gender profile of these disciplines and their incorporation of feminist critique and knowledge
  2. To investigate the influence of the university as an institution, on the shape, content and practice of these disciplines. In particular, the project will examine the tension between the goals of excellence and equity.

The project leaders are:

This project is funded in 2012 by the Australian National University Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS), Gender Institute (GI), and by a College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) pilot grant awarded to Fiona Jenkins in 2011.

ARC Funding

ARC funding of $397,514 has now been been awarded for the project 'Gendered Excellence in the Social Sciences' (DP1501104449) with Jenkins, Keane and Sawer as Chief Investigators and Claire Donovan (Brunel University) as Partner Investigator.

The project is both cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary. It involves collaboration between researchers who have expertise on gender and feminist knowledge in all four disciplines and is based on comparison between the disciplines.  Its methodology and theoretical frameworks draw on the interdisciplinary approaches of feminist research. The project will involve the analysis of quantitative data, the collection of qualitative data, archival research, textual analysis, and conceptual analysis.  Theoretical resources will be drawn from the sociology of knowledge and education; feminist and critical epistemology; feminist theory; educational theory; policy studies and disciplinary studies.

The project is being conducted in three stages:

Stage one

The project will begin by investigating the status of women in the disciplines in Australia and mapping the changes that have taken place over time. This will require locating, collating and synthesising data and reports from a wide range of sources.

Stage two

The second stage will be an investigation of the specific norms, conventions and beliefs which structure legitimate and authoritative knowledge in each of the disciplines and in the overarching field of the social sciences. This will include a comparative survey of how each discipline has responded to feminist critique and the extent to which this critique has reshaped the shape, content and practice of the discipline.

Stage three

The final interpretive stage will involve analysing the relationship between the gender profile of the disciplines and their incorporation of feminist critique and knowledge. It will include analysis of the institutional features of the university as an influencing factor on the disciplines, with a particular focus on how the goals of excellence and equity are conceptualised and put into practice.

Professor Marian Sawer

Marian Sawer has examined the role of separate institution-building in advancing the status of women in political science, as well as the tensions between disciplinary specialisation and mainstreaming gender perspectives. She has organised a workshop on the Advancement of Women in Political Science being co-sponsored by the Australian Political Studies Association and the School of Politics and International Relations to be held in September 2011.

Professor Ann Curthoys

Ann Curthoys has reviewed gender in the social sciences for the Australian Academy of Social Sciences in 1999 and continues to write on women in the discipline of history.

Professor Ann McGrath 

Ann McGrath has led the way in ensuring gender is a central category of historical analysis; she co-authored the first feminist history of Australia, Creating a Nation (1994) which won the Human Rights award for non-fiction.

Dr Fiona Jenkins 

Fiona Jenkins is leading a project on the specific challenges faced by women in philosophy, funded by a 2011 CASS pilot grant. She is convenor of the sub-committee on the Status of Women in Philosophy for the Australasian Association of Philosophy

Dr Helen Keane

Helen Keane has an extensive background in feminist theory and gender studies.

Relevant publications

More publications will be added as they become available.

In 2014 a Special Issue of Australian Feminist Studies, 29 (80), was published on the project. The Special Issue was entitled 'Gendered Excellence in the Social Sciences" and had  the following articles:

  • Fiona Jenkins and Helen Keane, 'Gender and Feminism in the Social Sciences: Equity, Excellence and Knowledge in the Disciplines' 
  • Ann Curthoys, 'Gender in the Social Sciences: Field of Study or Form of Inequity?
  • Carol Johnson, 'Hard Heads and Soft Hearts: The Gendering of Australian Political Science'
  • Marian Sawer, 'Feminist Politics and Feminist Political Science'
  • Lorraine Code, 'Ignorance, Injustice and the Politics of Knowledge'
  • Fiona Jenkins, 'Epistemic Credibility and Women in Philosophy'
  • Dorothy Broom, 'Feminism in the Social Sciences of Health and Illness'
  • Helen Keane, 'Feminism and the Complexities of Gender and Health'
  • Joy Damousi, 'Does Feminist History Have a Future'
  • Ann McGrath, 'The Loneliness of the Feminist Historian'

There was also an Afterword by Raewyn Connell, 'Feminist Scholarship and the Public Realm in Postcolonial Australia'


Other publications stemming from the project include:

Marian Sawer and Jennifer Curtin (2016), 'Organising for a More Diverse Political Science: Australia and New Zealand', European Political Science, forthcoming.

Cowden, Mhairi, McLaren, Kirsty, Plumb, Alison, and Sawer, Marian (2012), Women's Advancement in Political Science Workshop Report

Gerard, Elizabeth (2012), 'Gender in the Social Sciences: Political Science and Sociology Curriculum at the Australian National University', prepared for the Gender in the Social Sciences project, Australian National University

Goddard, Eliza, et al., (2008), Improving the participation of women in the philosophy profession, prepared by the Committee of Senior Academics Addressing the Status of Women in the Philosophy Profession

Hutchison, Katrina (forthcoming), 'Sages and Cranks: The Difficulty of Identifying First-Rate Philosophers' 

Fiona Jenkins (2013) 'Singing the Post Discrimination Blues: Note for a Critique of Academic Meritocracy', in Fiona Jenkins and Katrina Hutchison (eds) Women in Philosophy: What Needs to Change?
New York: Oxford University Press.

The American Philosophical Association, (2010), APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy

Other links

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