Monthly Archives: October 2014

Getting Mad and Gender Analysis

I’ll never forget the day I flew into Bangkok Thailand for the first time and what makes it memorable may be surprising.

Sometimes when I fly into other countries and must go through customs, I feel like I, and my fellow plane riders, are ‘herded’ through the correct ‘chutes’ and ‘deposited’ in the correct ‘corrals’ in order to go through the ‘branding’ operation and earn that stamp on our passport that allows us to enter the country. I was feeling that way on this day and to make matters worse, it was hot – very hot. And there was no air-conditioning in our ‘corral.’

As I stood in the correct line (I guess I hoped I was in the right line, you know that language thing, well, can be troublesome at times), I noticed a woman in the line next to mine. She stood with her family, her husband and two children. Her two children and her husband wore shorts and t-shirts, appropriate for the over 90 degree heat in the room. The woman, however, wore black from head to toe – only her eyes peeked out from her clothing. I looked at her. I looked at her husband in his shorts and t-shirt and I got mad. I couldn’t imagine how hot it was for her under all those clothes. I wanted to turn to her husband and say, “Buddy, I think you ought to have to wear the same thing as her. How dare you wear shorts while she wears more clothes than you probably brought in your suitcase!”

Coming from this perspective, I was just a little skeptical as I began Joan Scott’s “Symptomatic Politics: The banning of Islamic Head Scarves in French Public Schools.” I was thinking, “Ok I’m going to be one of those flaming feminists that is going to disagree with Scott on this one.” But, I kept reading. I really wanted to know where Scott was going with her analysis… And then I got it.

Now don’t get me wrong. It still makes me mad to think about the woman in the hot Bangkok airport, but I also understand Scott’s point. In her gender analysis, she argues that in France, for those who supported legislation banning all headscarves in public schools, “women were “free” when their sexual desirability was openly displayed and endorsed (when they were, in Roudlinesco’s terms, “objects of desire”).” In other words, the normalization of women in France casts “women as the object of male desire.” (123)

I get it, but my head is still spinning and I’m mad again.

Foucault. Scott. Power Relations. Objects of men’s oppression. Objects of Men’s Desire. The learning curve here is steep and I hope I don’t start to slide down.

As I continued to think about this week’s readings, I began to wonder if power relations between Japan and Korea during the Japanese Colonial Period showed signs of power signification couched in ideas of gender. So I looked.

It’s not especially easy to find primary sources originating in Japanese and Korean in English, but I did find some.

The following quote is from a talk by Komatsu Midori, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official given to foreign nationals (mostly British and American) shortly after Japan annexed Korea. His comments not only try to erase 5,000 years of nearly autonomous Korean rule (only eluding to the short time in history where Japan controlled part of the Korean peninsula), they also show a discourse, a language that can by analyzed according to principles laid out in Joan W. Scott’s “Gender: A Useful Category for Historical Analysis”.

Judging from the facts so far pointed out in general outline it is not unreasonable to conclude that the Japanese and Korean people formed for a long time one and the same nation…

In developing the industry of an infantile nation, it is advisable to begin the work by undertaking the improvement of the agricultural industry, and this has been diligently carried on since Japan assumed the protectorate of the Korean Empire. (Komatsu Midori)

According to Scott, “gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power.” (1067) In the quote above, Japan must make Korea a “protectorate;” it must “protect” Korea. It sets up the binary opposites of patriarchy/fraternity; stronger male/weaker female. In couching their colonial ‘takeover’ of another country in gendered language of protection, the official legitimizes Japan’s power. In calling Korea’s industry “infantile”, the speaker also sets up the idea of protection and binary opposites of mature/infantile, which has connotations of male provider for a female with an infant.

Using language such as this and other covert and hidden tactics, Japan successfully annexed Korea with hardly a peep of opposition from countries around the world.

Which is just another thing to get mad about.

Saying as generally I am not often mad, and saying that writing this post, well, has drummed up a little animosity in my soul and saying that I am tired and it is late for me, 9:17pm (Okay, nobody laugh), I will end.










Filed under Uncategorized

History, Physics and Change over Time

 Q = \lim\limits_{\Delta t \rightarrow 0}\frac{\Delta V}{ \Delta t}= \frac{{\rm d}V}{{\rm d}t}

Yes, I know. It’s a math equation, to be precise, a physics equation. And Yes, I know it is strange to have a physics equation in a post on history. And Yes, I know, I better explain.

This week’s readings show the discipline of history as dynamic, as changing as being anything but static. Eley uses such phrases as “The road has been extremely rapidly traveled…” (167) and “Thus, the topics available for historians have grown with dizzying profusion…” (167) to explain the flux and change of methodologies and topics of historical research in the last half century.

History changes over time…and that is what this equation eludes to. It is an equation for air flow. The “triangle” (delta) stands for change and this is an equation for the change in the volume of air over time. Changes in volumes of air, time and pressure work together to keep an airplane afloat and it is change, change over time, historians willing to explore new methodologies, that will keep the history discipline afloat, relevant and germane in academic and public discourses.

Carolyn Steedman is a good example of a pioneering ‘force’ in history (allusions to physics are intended). Her autobiographical work Landscape for a Good Woman according to Eley, “As a formal structure, …disobeyed all the rules” (174). First her book was autobiographical. Secondly, it challenged the class consciousness of social theory when it leaves out the wants and needs of individuals (especially women’s) relegating them, and other working class individuals, to a “psychological simplicity.” (Eley, 170 & 175; Steedman, 7)

What is also amazing with Steedman is her ‘fluidity.’  On one hand she points out the flaws of Marxist theory, challenging his assertion that “mental life flows from material condition,” while at the same time she employs Marxist theory in her book. (Steedman 12) She also is on the cutting edge of her time in her use of psychoanalysis and feminism. She is indeed “edgy.” She is indeed a boundary pusher, but paradoxically, she is also a weaver – weaving supposedly dichotomous ideas of social and cultural history together (Eley 181).

This week Eley eloquently illuminates the ‘fluidity,’ the ‘flux’ of the history of history over the past fifty years through a personal lens. He is honest, forthright, and even admits when changes were taking place seemingly “behind his back” and out of the realm of “official” channels. Steedman also eloquently speaks of childhood, of weavers, of heritage, of mothers and their words.

Steedman’s first occupation was a primary-school teacher. Maybe she taught math and laid the groundwork for her students that would make it possible in future years for them to solve our initial equation. At one point in her book she talks of “walking between the tables on the hard floor, all the little looms working, but needing constant adjustment” (32).

As students of history, we, too, are little looms, all working, but in need of constant adjustment. Perhaps our equation would be ∆H over ∆t.



Filed under Uncategorized

This is not a Blog about “This is not a Pipe”


Today I’m going to start this post with the thought process of an over-tired graduate student during her initial study of Foucault’s “This is not a Pipe.” (However, I promise this is not a blog about “This is not a pipe.)

  1. As she looks at the picture for the first time: “What do you mean it’s not a pipe? It is a pipe! It is! I have eyes and it’s a pipe!” Sigh
  2. As she looks at the picture the second time: “But why does the caption say it’s not? I’ve had a little French and I can read that it is says it is not a pipe, and if course it tells me in the title, duh.”
  3. As she continues to look at the picture: “Huh? The p’s look like pipes.”
  4. Silence. Silence. Silence.
  5. “Oh, I get it. It’s not a pipe; it’s a picture.” Heavy sigh.

Thus was my introduction to Foucault. A reaction not unlike many others, which Foucault explains in his piece, although I’m not sure explain is the right word. (Did anyone find a definition for isotopism? I finally decided that it must be related to isotopes. Good thing I know a little science?????)

But as I said in the title, this is not a blog about Foucault’s “This is not a Pipe.”  This is a blog about Foucault and history. So, let’s move on.

Foucault, and at least many historians, did not always see eye to eye. Foucault’s approach to history, his methodology, went from, according to Patricia O’Brien in “Michel Foucault’s History of Culture,” “‘nonreception’ through ‘confrontation’ to a limited and tenuous ‘assimilation.’ (28)

So, why did historians receive his work with such reservations? I am going to let him talk for himself, something he sometimes did as well in his work, limiting his commentary to an opening page.

He believed that, “The study of modes of problemization (that is, of what is neither an anthropological constant nor a chronological variation) is thus the way to analyze questions of general import in their historically unique form. (What is Englightment?)”

Foucault believed in a historical method based on finding “problems” in history. He looked for places where there were reversals, differences, “recognizing and juxtaposing differences in search of the manifestations of power that permeate all social relationships. (O’Brien, 38) An example might be the difference between crime and the law. Also central to his investigation was discourse. He said, “My general theme is not society, it is true/false discourse” (O’Brien, 36).

His methods were a great departure from the social history predominate at his time.

Now, I must say, that while I found his essay “Discipline and Punish, Panopticism” and his ideas of surveillance and the power that is pervasive in society interesting, I’m not a fan. I’m not a fan of Foucault. There I said it. All the Foucault lovers of the world, you don’t need to try to convert me.

Now this was a blog that was essentially not a blog about “This is not a pipe.” It was a blog about Foucault and history. Or was it…..



Well to me, it’s just a blog about a graduate student who was tricked by a picture of a pipe.


Filed under Uncategorized