Möser Cornelia | Gender as Subject and Object of Traveling Theories and Cultural Translations: the example of

the feminist gender debates in France and Germany


Gender as a category of knowledge has incited important changes within feminist research. A close analysis of the “gender debates” in France and Germany can provide insight in to the transformations of a distinct field of research with special regards to the stakes of cultural translation processes and traveling theories. In order to expose these stakes and to simultaneously approach a reflection on the transformations of feminist research that might help us understand those transformations in scientific fields more generally, I will first discuss gender as the product of theoretical traveling. After sharing my Ph-D research results on gender as a ‘traveling theory’, I will ask what this case might tell us about “epistemological ruptures”, and finally consider whether we can regard the “gender turn” as an “epistemological rupture” or if there are different conclusions to be made.
A close analysis of what I have called the “defensive debate” against so called “gender theories” in France and in Germany leads quickly to the impact of theoretical traveling processes on several levels. First of all, I suggest that defensive reactions against “gender theory ” have been so strong in France in large part because they are identified with a particular branch of feminist thinking in France – the writers and thinkers around the group Psychanalyse et Politique. Writings mostly by these thinkers had been imported and translated to t he USA under the label of French feminism throughout the 1980s. The debates about French feminism resemble those on “gender theories” in France in many ways. A closer look at which theories are designated by the label French feminism, however, leads us to another story of traveling theories: that of an important rupture in French philosophy throughout the 1960s. In turning to Nietzsche, Freud and Marx, ‘structuralist’ thinkers tried to quit the realm of Hegelian metaphysics. From this perspective, “gender theory” can be considered the result of these multiple travels that left their traces and were central to the formation of what is understood as “gender theory” today.
If the category of gender is already the result of such multiple traveling and translation al processes, it also traveled in the sense that it is often considered to be an import from Women’s Studies departments in the United States. Having become central in the vocabulary of national and international institutional funding, feminist researchers in France and Germany found themselves confronted with the concept of “gender” during the 1990s. This provoked not only intense debates but also important institutional changes, for example in the naming of feminist research departments, but also in the educational canon and even the very praxis of conceiving studies and analysis. Despite new possibilities and opportunities, many feminist researchers reacted very critically towards this development. They both feared a depoliticization of their militant accomplishments and were very skeptical concerning the deconstruction of their former central analytical category ‘woman’. In order to understand the strong dynamics of these debates and their proceedings it is helpful to consider the central arguments that were made.
To conclude I would like to show how these central arguments relate to the travels that produced the so called ‘gender theories’ and make suggestions about t he potentials and pit falls within t his globalized mode of knowledge production.