Feminism’s Critical Edge
Joan Wallach Scott
In a 1984 seminar at Brown University’s Pembroke Center for Teaching and
Research on Women, the French philosopher Jacques Derrida speculated
about the institutionalization of women’s studies in the academy. There
would be a double effect, he said. When women’s studies became what
he playfully described as “just another cell in the university beehive,” its
legitimacy would be established, its future secured. At the same time, he
warned, such triumph was not without its costs. These involved above all
the disciplining of the field, the imposition of a certain orthodoxy, and so
the dulling of its critical edge.
Do the women who manage these programs, do they not become, in
turn, the guardians of the Law and do they not risk constructing an in-
stitution similar to the institution against which they are fighting? . . .
It is certain that the range of work in women’s studies is enormous,
and that there are already a considerable number of problems to pose,
of bodies of work to study, of objects to define, and that women’s
studies has a great future. Nevertheless, if this future is of the same
type as that of all other departments, of all other university institu-
tions, is this not a sign of failure of the principles of women’s studies?
(“Women,” differences 142)
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