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Gender and Social Relations of Sex:

Combined within the CRESPPA, the GTM, the CSU and the LabTop bring together researchers investigating gender issues in their manifold dimensions who come from various intellectual traditions and disciplinary backgrounds: political sociology, science and theory, philosophy, literature, arts, cultural studies, demography, economics, intellectual history, and the history of science. The issues raised by these studies pertain both to social practices (social order and political order) and symbolic practices (languages, arts, cultures), cutting across the different fields of thought and knowledge. Their treatment requires a simultaneously multi- and trans-disciplinary approach, a complex process which is in itself the object of an epistemological questioning. They form a space for the production of new objects, knowledge, and perspectives on the understanding of social reality. As one of the major catalysts for the coming together of these three teams, gender studies and research on social relations of sex will allow the Cresppa to become the largest laboratory in France working on these issues.

Epistemology and feminist and gender theories

Feminist epistemology aims at analyzing social relations of sex in their historical, social, political, and cultural dimensions so as to better understand the mechanisms underlying the production of hierarchies, of gender and sexual discriminations, and more generally of categorizations. To do so, it focuses on the construction of gender categories, the different forms and modes of implementation of the sex/gender system in their historicity and their cultural multiplicity. It calls into question established historiographies and their implicit assumptions (including in little questioned fields such as art historiography) and reexamines the production of gendered knowledge, thereby contributing to the development of feminist methods and theories. Finally, it seeks to study and evaluate the changes induced within human and social sciences by the introduction of issues of gender and sexuality. The 1970s witnessed the emergence of a feminist epistemology which accompanied, extended, and inflected women’s movements. Thanks to the elaboration, over the last forty years, of a genuine feminist archive and a corpus of works conveying multiple approaches, methods, and perspectives, feminist epistemology can now further the critical analysis of the production of knowledge.
Based on this account, projects in political science, economics, and art history will be instigated to extend an analysis, already carried out in the field of social sciences, regarding what gender “does” to our disciplines’ concepts, objects, and methods. For instance, the purpose of the critical revision of the history of economic thought through a gender lens, focusing in part on the genealogy of theoretical apparatuses and concepts, will be to find out to what extent a gendered approach can be developed within orthodox economics while at the same time retaining a heuristic value, or if such an approach necessarily leads to a distancing and an external posture with respect to the dominant paradigm.
Feminist epistemology also seizes on feminist critiques of historiography and of the production of standards and periodizations. Beyond the comparative perspectives which it has developed and renewed, its purpose is to study in their historicity the different cultural translations and interpretations of theories and struggles, so as to critically revise the different histories of thought (regarding for example politics, the economy, sexuality, coloniality, racialization etc.). Drawing from the theoretical tools of Black feminism, subaltern studies, queer studies, post-colonial studies, and cultural studies, research in feminist epistemology will be conducted as part of a larger project for a self-reflective and critical analysis on the production of knowledge. In intellectual history and in the history of science, research on the tools and categories of analysis of social sciences already conducted by the three teams will extend into a review of the historicity of concepts (freedom, emancipation, class, sexuality, sovereignty, empire), of their evolution throughout the theories handed down to us by the history of ideas and the history of science, and of their heuristic potential for the understanding of the contemporary world.
Among the media used for this research, we may mention the interdisciplinary book project “Gender Epistemologies,” for which support from the GIS Idg-Gender Institute is being considered. It will include a critical anthology of texts by canonical Western philosophers, as well as a series of books revisiting “classic” authors from the social sciences through a gender lens, revealing both their frequent blindness to this issue and the theoretical contributions which nevertheless fostered gender research.

Body, gender, sexuality

Putting together various disciplinary and epistemological approaches in research on the body and sexuality opens the way to new lines of inquiry, developed in two main directions which echo each other:

  • Description and analysis of social, symbolic, and social identity-based practices – still little addressed by feminist and gender studies – involving the body and/or sexuality (sexual practices, experience of maternity, various athletic or artistic practices, the role of sexuality in political life and social movements). The point is to shed light on substantial shares of the social world which have been largely left unobserved, and, through what these objects reveal, to contribute to the emergence of new questions (relationship to norms, representations of femininities and masculinities, heteronormativity, constructions of majorities and minorities). These projects thus partake of an epistemological reflection fostered by the history of science, queer theory, and trans approaches.
  • Description and analysis of the conceptualization of gender and sexuality as interdependent. The point is to analyze processes of pathologization of sexual identities or their transformation, as well as the establishment and perpetuation of heteronormativity, including with regards to corporeities. How does sexuality become an object for science over the course of history and which truths do these sciences hand down to us in respect to corporealities, identities, practices, and perceptions of sexual emancipation? What is underestimated, overlooked, or trivialized in these issues?

A program of reflection on the division of reproductive and nonreproductive sexual labor will be implemented, through which we will develop approaches pertaining to philosophy of law, ethics, history of science and technology in order to grasp the present and future transformations of legislation on the access to assisted reproductive technology (ART) for lesbians or “single” women, or to surrogacy. Starting from a transnational analysis, the point will be to examine the division of reproductive sexual labor, its ethical justification, and its legal framework.

Work, occupation, careers

In close connection with the “labor and social classes” unit and following from the sociological research conducted by teams from the Cresppa on employment and the sexual division of labor, many gender-based investigations have emerged on topics such as career trajectories, the evolution of occupations, relationships to work, but also on more recently addressed issues: the international division of labor, market inequalities and career paths in the broad sense (professional, but also activist, or deviant paths), gender malaise in the workplace. This body of research will be organized within the new laboratory according to various lines of inquiry:

  • Mutations of the sexual and racialized division of labor and power. In the field of culture, recent studies have focused on occupations pertaining to cultural production (performing arts, literature, visual arts, film, cultural mediation, etc.), showing how the cultural field is permeated through and through by dynamics of social relations of sex and, conversely, how symbolic representations modify or reify these social divisions. They question the effects of the feminization of certain professions on processes of invisibilization of the dominated, on their strategies of professional recognition, on shifts of inequalities, and on the new resistances to which these shifts give place.
  • Gender malaise in the workplace: how does gender identity alter this malaise or how does it result in revealing or mastering it differently? The question is not explored in terms of equality/inequalities in relation to health, but in terms of differences.
  • Contemporary economic transformations, migrations and consequences of the globalization of gender policies. Conducted in an international and comparative perspective (Algeria, Haiti, Central African Republic, Great Britain, Brazil, Japan...), this research explores the interconnection of social relations (of gender, class, and race) and the impact of competing scales of power (local / national / global). Projects that are currently being envisaged include a study on the feminization of migrations in the Maghreb, as well as a project whose purpose is to observe and analyze, in the framework of the Observatory of Transformations in the Arab World (OTMA), the transformations linked to the “Arab Springs” from the standpoint of gender.
  • Research on “careers.” The aim is to reflect, on the long term, on pathways of commitment (in political, community-based, or feminist activities, etc.), and the biographical impact of such commitment on the professional and personal trajectories of its actors, of intellectuals, etc. This perspective highlights the mechanisms through which deviant paths emerge and brings out the gendered dimension of social regulation.
  • The politics and the ethics of care. This research will develop according to several lines of inquiry focusing on the sociology of work and on the globalization of the sexual and racial division of care. The problematization of the sphere of “services” will include new research on “sexual services” (to what extend can we envision a right to sexuality, in particular for disabled people? Is sexuality a form of practice, or even of therapeutic work?). We will interview members of disability organizations, especially disabled women, in order to connect the positions of care-givers with that of care-receivers in the analysis of care policies. Developing the idea of a politics and ethics of care demands that we reexamine not only the gendered division of care work, but also the division of power and responsibility between care-givers and care-receivers, on different levels (both local and transnational). This project is part of a wider program on the division of sexual labor (see below).
  • Comparative studies on gender policies and their instruments – which include databases and indicators – in terms of gender conventions and the emergence of gendered institutions. Behind the technical aspects of assessment and quantification, normative issues will also be examined. We will focus on the justifications which support the development of these policies and instruments, on the way in which they are received and implemented, on their institutional impact, but also on the way in which social actors seize or resist them, and sometimes divert them from their purposes to use them for other ends.

Culture, nation, and coloniality of power

As part of a renewed research on the nation, nationalism, racism, and the racialization of social relations, as well as part of the emergence of colonial and postcolonial studies in France, a number of investigations in the field of gender studies have developed an approach which, far from isolating social relations of sex from other social relations, considers gender as an exemplary tool for the cross-analysis of domination: “co-extensiveness/co-substantiality” of social relations of sex, class, and race, “subalternity,” “intersectionality,” “whiteness,” “identitary corporeal capital.” Parallel to sociological and historical approaches, relations of power are explored in connection with a corpus of philosophical, literary, or artistic works, as well as unorthodox objects and fields (relating to “popular culture,” to mass cultural productions – hip-hop, video games, toys, pornography – to the media, to political communication), thus tackling head-on issues “in crisis” (“the crisis of representation,” “the crisis of the suburbs,” “the crisis of values,” or “the crisis of secularism”).
Based on these tools, several topics will be reexamined:

  • The sexual and racialized division of labor, care policies, and post-colonial immigration;
  • The relation between gender, sexuality, and spatiality of social relations (in terms of urban sociology, articulation of issues of gender, sexuality, class, and rurality);
  • Gender as a catalyst for imagined communities (grasping how culture, tensions between national language(s) and a so-called “mother” tongue, as well as gendered allegories foster and renew national or imperial mythologies and narratives on the continuity and purity of the nation: “European civilization,” “French exception,” “Christian roots”). This reflection and these analyses, which received little attention until recently in France, also contribute to shedding light on and understanding the new configurations of sexism and homophobia which, while constitutive of the rise of far-rights in Europe, remain little studied.
  • Political history of universalisms: strategic associations and discursive alliances between women’s and sexual minorities’ “rights and freedoms” with national and imperial rhetorics, perceptible in the culturalization and the racialization of heterosexist violence in Western Europe, but also in the feminist claims conveyed in political discourses, agendas, and public policies of North America or EU countries; A comparative investigation on Africanism in Switzerland, France, and Belgium, in collaboration with the university of Lausanne (Faculty of Social and Political Sciences and Institute of Economic and Social History) will focus in particular on the status of gender and sexuality in the formation of epistemic coloniality and the raciological dimensions of Africanisms in French-speaking countries.
  • Exploitation of “gender” and of the emancipation of women in military strategies, but also in developmental policies within NGOs and global agencies. Projects tied to this cross-cutting theme are being developed and will be conducted in collaboration with a number of institutions and networks of which the Cresppa is an affiliate, associate or partner, collectively or through certain of its members, at the national level – the GIS Idg-Gender Institute, the Federation for Research on Gender RING, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at Paris 8 University (EFEG), as well as the Émilie du Châtelet Institute, or the MAGE network (Labor Market and Gender) – or the international level – the Interuniversity Laboratory for Gender Studies (LIEGE). They also rely on a number of journals: Les Cahiers du Genre, Travail, Genre et Société, or Nouvelles Questions féministes. Finally, this topic is expected to be developed in the framework of the PRES University Paris Lumière, which we sincerely hope will retain gender as one of its cross-disciplinary themes.

17 October 2015