a Blogs@VT Sites site by HungYin Tsai
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  • Categories in the postmodernist view

    Posted on October 19th, 2014 hungyin 3 comments

    Joan Scott is apparently not the first one nor the only one who discusses gender as a category of analysis, but she does provide a deep understanding and bring the complexity of gender as a category into the field of history. This week, Scott’s articles not only give me some insights of gender as a category, but also to practically show how to embody postmodernism and the linguistic turn in reviewing and constructing an approach to study history. Although Foucault also puts all subjects into relationship, he is sometimes obscure. Scott states her relationship-oriented approach in a clear and actionable way.

    It is impressive that Scott indicates gender as a category to identify and analyze power relationship. This statement refuses the essentialists view and legitimate gender by avoiding to isolate gender from other categories to analyze power relationships, such as class and race. I am not sure if her discussion about gender was connected with a boarder context of the discussion about gender equality. Scott’s paper published in 1986, while in 1985, the concept of “gender mainstreaming” was announced on the Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya. The idea of gender mainstreaming is that “Governments and other actors should promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and programmes so that before decisions are taken, an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, respectively” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_mainstreaming). Gender mainstreaming is a normative argument regarding to policies, but it does present some ideas of postmodernism and the inclusive view. According to this concept, there is no “women policy” or “family policy” specific for biological women. It needs to consider gender issues in all polices, and also needs to include men into gender issues, because all polices will involve power relationship and inter-connect with either economic, political, cultural and social status of both men and women.

    However, obviously, not all historical researches have to put gender issues in stories, as there are still many categories to reconstruct historical events. Still, I think it is important to keep the concept of power relationship in mind to help researchers identify those “invisible” sections. Sometimes, actors (women, workers, patients, prisoners, people of colors…etc.) are invisible because they were not considered significant before. Furthermore, when they get their legitimacy to be subject to study, it is hard to find records about them. Thus, even researchers try to be inclusive, it is hard to find enough evidences. I think if it is the case, there are still possible ways to put those invisible people into accounts. One potential way is to explain the gap and clearly indicate the unfilled corner of the story due to lack of those “invisible” people and relationships. For example, in the case of civil rights, if there is no data to show opinions of women, illustrating this gap clearly and the possible reasons which women could not speak for themselves may be more comprehensive than just leaving them out of the picture.

  • Landscape of a historian

    Posted on October 12th, 2014 hungyin 6 comments

    This week I read Landscape for a Good Woman before A crooked Line, and I think it might not be a good idea. Not only because Eley provides the background of Landscape for a Good Woman, but also because compared with most academic books, Carolyn Steedman takes a very special way, an autobiographical approach. I thought it was just a book about two women. It was unexpected that she describes “we’d known all our childhood that she was a good mother; she’d told us so…”(p.1) and “she lied to me though when, at about the age of eight, I asked her what she’d done, and she said she’d worked in an office, done clerical work(p.33). There is so much tension between her and her mother and I even feel that she discloses herself “too much” for me. Sometimes a vivid story is attractive but a true story is moved and shock! Landscape for a Good Woman is this kind of true story that makes me a little uncomfortable with. I was naïve that I were prepared to read a story about working-class life which is full of tension and ambiguity as she describes, but were not prepared to read a private story about a mother and a daughter, even these stories are not “private” at all.

    However, I think this uncomfortableness brings the success of Landscape for a Good Woman, since it marks that Carolyn Steedman is so “honest”. Through the two true lives of her mother and herself, she comes across the line between social history and cultural history. It is truly to “let the evidence speaks for itself”, and thus she avoids to let the boundary between disciplines cut the life experiences to fit the field of a discipline. Furthermore, while she is telling the stories, she doesn’t pretend to be objective. Once again, she is honest in showing her position. There is “I” everywhere in this book. She values her private story and successfully raises a feministic narrative into a legitimate position of academic field.

    I am curious about her so I googled her. And I found she discloses herself on her page as well, just like she is sitting next to me and talking. (Her page: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/history/people/staff_index/csteedman/) She is the first one I know who (and I don’t know if she will be the only one) says “…so I’m now free to move on to new projects and new ways of doing and writing history” and “but will I be able to write it, now that I’m free to do so? Watch this page!” For me, the reading this week is not only to know autobiography as an approach to do research, but also to know a very distinctive style of Carolyn Steedman as a historian.

  • The Foucauldian Idea of “Relation”

    Posted on October 5th, 2014 hungyin 2 comments

    “…one cannot be a ‘Foucauldian’ in the way once can be a Marxist or a Freudian,” and that is undoubtedly true. (O’Brien, p.46)

    This is not my first time to read Foucault but every time I read, I always have the same thought like O’Brien’s above. There are many approaches to “use” Foucault in topics, such as applying the concept of panopticism to analyze visibility in daily life, especially CCTV, or taking his approach to uncover dominance in other cases of a researcher’s local military, prisons and hospitals. However, there are many Foucauldian studies, none of them replicates great influence as much as Foucault themselves. In this sense, Foucauldian approach just helps them to notice something that was hidden before- it is power relation.

    But from “What is Enlightenment?”, I think it is not only about power relation. It is to think all materials, all actors and all subjects in a relationship-oriented way. He takes Enlightenment as a set of relations by analyzing Kant’s article. He says “In any case, Enlightenment is defined by a modification of the preexisting relation linking will, authority, and the use of reason.” When he defines his concern, his concern is also about relation of struggle process of modernity and countermodernity; this is a kind of relation again: “I think it would be more useful to try to find out how the attitude of modernity, ever since its formation, has found itself struggling with attitudes of “countermodernity.”

    Foucault thinks of concepts in the way of relation as well by describing the relation between Enlightenment and humanism “From this standpoint I am inclined to see Enlightenment and humanism in a state of tension rather than identity.”

    Even he talks about Baudelaire, he puts attention on relation: “modernity for Baudelaire is not simply a form of relationship to the present; it is also a mode of relationship that has to be established with oneself.” There are many statements show his way of thinking things in relationship: “Now the relations between the growth of capabilities and the growth of autonomy are not as simple as the eighteenth century may have believed.” At the end of this article, he says, “…they have their theoretical coherence in the definition of the historically unique forms in which the generalities of our relations to things, to others, to ourselves, have been problematized.”

    In this sense, Foucault proposes his way of studying things in relationship against structuralism. Genealogy and archaeology are his methods, but more importantly, the presumption of these two methods is his approach of relation.