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Theories of Gender and Identity

Term 1, Week 2

Historiographic trends, useful concepts


1. What is ‘gender’? Is this truly a useful category of historical analysis? What does the concept contribute to a study of sexuality? What does it contribute to the study of history?

2. How different is Judith Butler’s view of gender from that of Scott? Compare it with Hall’s view of (cultural) identity. What use (if any) can historians make of Butler’s interpretation of gender identity as a performance? Do you find either approach intelligible?

3. Describe Laqueur’s thesis about the move from a ‘one-sex’ to a ‘two-sex’ model. Is sexuality any more fixed than gender identity?

4. Explain Foucault’s view of the relationship between knowledge and power. What role does desire play in Foucault’s vision?


Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge (London, 1990), especially Chapter 1: ‘Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire’, and pp. 134-41: ‘From Interiority to Gender Performatives’.

Foucault, Michael, The History of Sexuality (New York, 1973), vol. 1, part 1: We ‘Other Victorians’, and Chapter 1: ‘The Incitement to Discourse’.

Hall, Stuart, ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’, Identity, Community, Culture, Difference, ed. Jonathon Rutherford (London, 1990).

Laqueur, Thomas, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, 1990), Introduction.

Scott, Joan, Gender and the Politics of History, Columbia University Press (1988), chapter 2: ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’. (Also in American Historical Review, vol. 91:5 (1986).)