Skip to main content Skip to navigation


Power as a theoretical concept is extremely important to gender and sexuality studies. As Amy Allen puts it, "Although any general definition of feminism would no doubt be controversial, it seems undeniable that much work in feminist theory is devoted to the tasks of critiquing women's subordination, analyzing the intersections between sexism and other forms of subordination such as racism, heterosexism, and class oppression, and envisioning the possibilities for both individual and collective resistance to such subordination. Insofar as the concept of power is central to each of these theoretical tasks, power is clearly a central concept for feminist theory as well."

Power is of course a very wide-ranging theme, and a few distinct (though clearly related) strands have been emerging in the course of the Gendered Knowledges project:

Intersectionality and power within feminist discourses

It's important to think about the complex relationships between various kinds of oppression - gender and sexuality, of course, but also race, class, nationality and other markers of difference. The notion of intersectionality is one way of theorising this: it means that everyone experiences an intricate combination of privilege and oppression based on their various identities.

Exploring intersectionality forces us to think about how feminism itself may replicate hegemonic power structures within society: the dominant feminist discourses, it has been observed, often focus on the concerns of white middle-class women. One aim of this project, then, is to consider how our MA module(s) will counter these power structures within feminism.

Feminist epistemology

Foucault saw knowledge and power as so closely related that he often called them together by a single name: 'power/knowledge'. One major task of feminist theory over the past 30 years has thus been questioning the traditional structures of knowledge, and how they buttress patriarchy. This has often meant thinking about science and the philosophy of science, as feminist epistemology questions the androcentric (and white, and Western, and bourgeois) aspects of scientific enquiry. Science, it is argued, often presents itself in a language of rationality and objectivity that is deeply gendered. Another aim of this project, then, is to assess the most contemporary developments in feminist epistemology and consider how we might teach these at the Masters level in a relevant, dynamic way.

Education and pedagogy

This is a kind of applied feminist epistemology. Research in this area broadly examines how traditional structures of teaching, learning and knowledge are deeply patriarchal, and what to do differently to avoid this pitfall. Thinking about how to teach gender studies means thinking in self-reflexive ways about how to challenge these ingrained power structures within institutions of learning. This is of course a central aim of the Gendered Knowledges project, as our teaching about gender and sexualities must itself reflect feminist and queer values.

Power and the text

A central thread in Humanities scholarship since at least the 1970s has been exploring how texts of all kinds - books, film and television, art and other images, music and so on - encodes and reinforces structural inequalities in our own and other societies throughout history. Gender and sexuality obviously constitute major structural inequalities to be addressed in this kind of scholarship.

Important work in the Social Sciences has also revolved around similar concerns, although using different methodologies, and this project aims for a better understanding of the connections, shared areas and points of departure between these two broad fields. Interdisciplinary gender and sexuality studies have long sought such an understanding. Our nascient MA module will certainly need to include interdisciplinary explorations of various texts and textual methodologies.

Anna Sloan