Rewriting Academia

The Development of the Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of Continental Europe

by Renate Haas (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 442 Pages
Open Access


From a historical perspective, the full academic establishment of Women’s and Gender Studies is a radical and far-reaching innovation. Decisive impulses have come from the United States, the European unification and globalization. European Women’s and Gender Studies are therefore intimately linked to the English language and Anglophone cultures, as the near untranslatability of «gender» shows. In this volume 25 experts present surveys for their countries with a historical and European contextualization and offer fundamental insights not only for English Studies but also various other disciplines.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • A. Introduction
  • Basic Concept and Realization
  • B. National Surveys
  • Southern Europe
  • Women’s and Gender Studies in Portugal: An Overview from an Anglicist Perspective
  • Women’s Studies and English Studies in Spain: From Democracy to Transnationalism
  • Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies in Italy: The Bologna Case as an Emblematic Example
  • Western and Central Europe
  • Beyond Invisibility and Bias: English Women’s and Gender Studies in France
  • Women’s Studies in Belgium: Through the Gate of English Literature
  • Germany: Two Steps Forward and One Back, or Slow Snowball Effect?
  • Austria: The Long and Winding Road towards the Institutionalization of Women’s and Gender Studies
  • Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies in the Czech Republic: An Uncertain Discipline
  • Croatia: The Social Symbolic in a Transitional Society and Women’s Studies
  • Northern Europe
  • A Semi-Outsider’s Point of View: The Institutionalization of Gender Research in Sweden
  • Moderate Finnish Feminism: From a Struggle for Equality in the Welfare State to Diverse and Established Gender Studies
  • Lithuania: Pioneering Women’s and Gender Studies in the Post-Soviet Baltic Republics
  • South-Eastern and Eastern Europe
  • The Role of Anglicist Women in the Development of Gender Studies in Serbia: From NGO to Academia
  • Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies in Romania: Between Persistence and Resistance
  • The Other Frontier: Anglicist Gender Studies in Bulgaria
  • Armenia: Ancient Traditions, Upheavals, and the Beginnings of Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies
  • C. Conclusion
  • Europe and Beyond
  • Contributors
  • Index

A.   Introduction

← 9 | 10 →


← 10 | 11 →

Renate Haas

Basic Concept and Realization


The full academic establishment of Women’s and Gender Studies means one of the most important innovations of the past forty years. This becomes particularly clear if we remember for how many centuries women were excluded from the universities and how extreme their marginalization remained after admission. Now Women’s and Gender Studies constitute a central element in far-reaching global processes of democratization of research and education. Decisive impulses for the establishment of Women’s and Gender Studies came from the United States, and European English Studies had special chances of mediating them to their own countries, of developing them further through fusion with native traditions, and of thus playing a prominent role. English Studies therefore allow a highly relevant case study, as does Continental Europe. Both are all the more illuminating, as in the various countries, the opportunities and challenges have been met in a variety of ways and as in spite of international cooperation, the specific conditions and achievements are still hardly known beyond national borders.

Like most new lines of thought or new movements, Women’s and Gender Studies have a pronounced linguistic dimension. Fresh departures require a distancing from what has been and different definitions of basic concepts, and on account of the radical critique of Women’s and Gender Studies, the linguistic dimension even is of heightened importance for them. Not by chance has their academic institutionalization coincided with the so-called linguistic turn. Among the languages English has played a prominent role, as the rise of Women’s and Gender Studies in Europe ran parallel with the processes of globalization and thus with an enormous boost of English and its international functions. While at the beginning of the Second Women’s Movement diverse influences, notably French, Dutch and Scandinavian ones, intermingled in lively exchange, over the years Anglo-American strands have become increasingly predominant, especially with regard to ← 11 | 12 → academic institutionalization. In 2002, Rosi Braidotti, experienced in numerous European projects, provocatively asserted that ‘both the terminology and the bulk of the scholarship in Women’s [and Gender] Studies have been generated in English-speaking cultures and traditions’ (285). Whether or in how far such a claim may be true is one of the questions underlying this volume.

How closely the very concept of gender is connected with English becomes evident in the difficulties of establishing it more broadly in other languages. This holds true in particular for languages that only possess a single word for the biological and sociological aspects. Often enough the English term has simply been borrowed. But even then it stands, as do loan-translations, in different linguistic and cultural contexts that subtly colour its meanings, as Braidotti has impressively demonstrated for the main European language families. The same applies to various further central concepts; just take the first item of the established triad race, class and gender. A critical analysis of the development of Women’s and Gender Studies within or in close connection with English Studies – the very discipline focussing on the English language, on Anglophone literatures and cultures as well as international communication in English – can therefore yield fundamental insights not only for English Studies but for further disciplines as well.

After what has just been said, it is clear that for such an analysis, even though written in today’s lingua academica English, the problems of terminology have not simply dissolved, if distinctions and differences are not to be levelled out. None of the key terms of the title of the present volume and of the argument so far are as unproblematic as they may appear at first sight. The combination ‘Women’s and Gender Studies’ has been chosen, because it is most common across Europe. It is understood very broadly in order to leave room for the inflections of meaning current in the various countries. One reason for its widespread use is the advantage that it may comprise a great variety and include gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or queer studies without alienating the public, as might also happen with an explicit reference to feminism. In contradistinction to the earlier Women’s Studies, the common claim for Gender Studies is that their approaches are more complex in considering larger contexts and that they reach a higher theoretical level. The spread of the term has been greatly helped by international use in politics, organizations, networks and big research projects, ← 12 | 13 → of which the 1995 UN Beijing women’s conference and the EU deserve special mention (cp. Braidotti 2002: 295). On the other hand, fears persist that Gender Studies have become too ‘academicized’ and defused so that feminist concerns have been lost sight of. Accordingly, ‘Women’s’ is often added, but with a keen awareness that it is no simple and straightforward signifier and must be understood as an internally differentiated category if unintended (re-)essentialization is to be avoided.

Too much homogenization may also lurk in ‘Studies’, as may in the very broad use of ‘science’, which includes the humanities regardless of their distinctive characteristics and has been boosted by European and global cooperation. Continental scholars, whether in Women’s and Gender Studies or not, often find it hard to combine these terms with their own understanding of their work and with local or national academic traditions. In particular, they may feel a need to emphasize the research side, because it does not seem to them appropriately represented by ‘Studies’. On the other hand, for gender specialists, ‘Studies’ has the advantage that its use as a singular or plural, capitalized or not, allows to suggest different degrees of disciplinary fixity. Further terms that help Continental scholars to link up with local academic traditions and language use are the noun and adjective ‘Anglicist’ (‘specialist in English Studies’ / ‘belonging to English Studies’). They echo the various Latin and vernacular derivations from the Latin noun ‘Angl-’ and adjective ‘Anglic-’ that have been common in universities as far as Russia or Armenia and, in addition, have the stylistic bonus of compactness.

A broad understanding of English Studies recommends itself for the present volume in order to accommodate the geographical and historical varieties. In the last few decades, English Studies have undergone enormous differentiation, with Women’s and Gender Studies as one of the new branches. Among other things, the broad understanding of English Studies means that American Studies may be included, especially the linguistic, literary and cultural studies sectors. A fair number of Americanists may see this differently, but it is at least in accordance with the joint institutionalization of English and American Studies prevalent in Continental Europe, and the present volume pays special attention to institutional aspects. This is not done out of wholesale approval, but because institutional conditions decisively influence the possibilities for the individual disciplines and because ← 13 | 14 → starting from them helps to make out basic structures in the very wide and largely uncharted field.

The vastness of the field is also an important reason for the concentration on the Continent. Anglo-American Women’s and Gender Studies are well known and will regularly be referred to in the chapters as trend-setters or for the sake of comparison. It is Continental Women’s and Gender Studies, like the Women’s and Gender Studies of further parts of the world, that need and deserve greater visibility, and the Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of the Continent have, as mentioned before, a special, intermediate position and special, intermediary functions. Claims like the one by Braidotti quoted above or the following require a closer look and differentiation. In the same volume (2002: 3), Braidotti and Gabriele Griffin criticized that ‘English-language feminism has a hegemonic hold over Women’s and Gender Studies’. They focussed on the United States and Great Britain and rightly observed that too few works in other languages are translated into English and then also read there. However, not only ‘native speakers’ in the traditional Anglophone centres now write in English or read publications in English. So what does ‘English-language feminism’ or ‘generated in English-speaking cultures and traditions’ precisely mean in such wider perspectives? Does it mean that works not only need to be published in English to receive due attention, but in addition, in the traditional Anglophone centres and in accordance with their academic conventions? If so, for what reasons, and what can be done to remedy the situation?

In these days of Europeanization and globalization, we are becoming more and more aware of the problematic implications of such dichotomies as mother tongue / native speaker versus foreign language / non-native speaker. ‘Mother tongue’ often stands for ‘national language’, a crucial element for the constitution of a nation, and adds useful connotations of basic, intimate relations and identity. Not surprisingly, the language disciplines have had important national and nationalistic functions, and too often they still continue to transport such baggage. The institutional structures themselves are indicative. Traditionally, the big national languages get separate departments and one’s own the best funding; smaller national languages and especially those of states considered less important are grouped together in language families; dialects or minority languages are subordinated to the national languages; and comparative, general disciplines (General Linguistics, ← 14 | 15 → Comparative Literature) are established in the margins. Until very recently, the concept of native-speaker competence was basic to ‘Foreign’ Language Teaching and the various institutions concerned with it, and the maternal connotations of the term have helped to mystify power relations and neglect clear criteria. Here critical insight has been greatly deepened by Continental case studies analyzing the specificities of the new roles of English, and cosmopolitan Suman Gupta has, more broadly, even suggested that ‘some of the most interesting developments in the discipline are arguably taking place’ in European and other ordinarily non-Anglophone countries, ‘amidst the crossings and interfaces of languages, histories and cultural forms’ (2009: 18).

Another important reason for the concentration on the Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of the Continent is the fact that, despite its lingua franca functions, English on the Continent is still primarily learnt in school and that, at university, English departments have to develop the students’ language competence further, which has consequences for their teaching and then also their research.

Like other basic terms, ‘Continental Europe’ is understood here broadly and undogmatically, as Europe has no clear geographic borders in the East, as in consequence demarcation lines have shifted greatly over the centuries, and as at certain points they are still hotly contested.

The relation between English Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies is among the questions central to the present volume. Answers are easier at institutional or organizational levels, but these must be followed by deeper probing. By now, the issue whether establishment in separate, autonomous departments or within existing disciplines is better and safer for Women’s and Gender Studies has been discussed for several decades, and without definite resolution. Both for theoretical and tactical reasons either/or options do not appear to suffice. Inter- and transdisciplinary concepts, together with ideas of postdisciplinarity, have recently (once more) gained ground. Different models may perhaps be advisable for research on the one hand, and teaching, on the other. In this situation, an exemplary focus on Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies may yield insights of broader relevance and even seems to be urgently needed for English Studies. To my surprise, in my search for possible contributors I was repeatedly confronted with colleagues who could not really imagine that ‘proper’ Women’s and Gender ← 15 | 16 → Studies could be practised within English Studies. They were too focussed on autonomous Women’s and Gender Studies or automatically associated them with the social sciences, probably because they and their surroundings perpetuated an overly narrow philological understanding of English Studies. To some degree, their social science reflex may also be due to the fact that Women’s and Gender Studies have attained their best institutionalization within these subjects. At the same time, the colleagues seemed to be unaware of the important role literature and literary studies played for the Women’s Movement of the 1970s and the beginning of Women’s Studies, especially in the US.

The question needs, nevertheless, to be raised whether, within English, Women’s and Gender Studies have indeed reached the full academic establishment mentioned in the first paragraph. The chapters of the volume will provide a more solid basis for answers. These will be different for different countries and depend on the criteria used to define ‘full academic establishment’. Certainly, professorships with an exclusive or partial focus on Women’s and Gender Studies hardly exist in Continental English Studies, but they do exist, as the following chapters are going to show. The chapters will also suggest different, more or less varying answers with regard to the other common criteria: recognition of a specific area of research, of specific fundamental theories and of specific methods or ensembles of methods, as well as weighty curricular anchoring.

In view of the dimensions of Europe, it is advisable to rely on representative examples. They may either be parts, e.g. fields, of Women’s and Gender Studies or parts of Europe, in particular states. Since no surveys of the first kind exist yet that are detailed enough, this alternative is in danger of putting the cart before the horse, in other words, of remaining too general and of putting up with too many gaps. Another important argument in favour of taking states as frames of reference is the fact that it is still the individual states which regulate the education systems. Moreover, the language disciplines have not only fulfilled national(istic) functions but have also developed distinct national traditions, which must be taken into account and critically analyzed.

In order to encourage the contributors to transcend national limitations, I suggested the following ideal structure for the chapters: ← 16 | 17 →

  1. 1.  Introduction
  2. 2.  National contexts
    1. 2.1        General situation and glimpses from history (e.g., degree of women-friendliness, First Women’s Movement)
    2. 2.2        The Women’s and Gender Studies of country X in general
      Stages and forms of institutionalization
      Main directions / important national schools
  3. 3.  Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of X
    1. 3.1        Institutionalization (in comparison with 2.2)
    2. 3.2        Main lines of development, important achievements
  4. 4.  Conclusion / perspectives

The awareness that there will be parallel chapters about other European countries fosters consideration of European aspects. More specifically, the contextualizations entail treatment of European connections: for instance, the inclusion of the First Women’s Movement, whose influence was felt from Portugal to Turkey or Armenia and from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and which already attained such high intellectual levels as very few are aware of today;1 or the attention to institutionalization, which leads to European politics and EU policies. In conclusion I suggested the aim of a deeper understanding of Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies as a European discipline, that is, a discipline which is to some degree conditioned by its European contexts and has specific features, tasks and functions; a discipline which is not only practised in Europe but also for Europe.


In view of Europe’s size and variety, a representative selection means a real challenge. Across the Continent, countries should be chosen, North and South, East and West. Countries with the image of having made an important contribution to Women’s and Gender Studies in general should not be ignored. But a great difficulty arises already from the circumstance that, in contrast to other disciplines, English Studies do not show much interest ← 17 | 18 → in their own history. Occasionally there may be institutional histories for certain departments or similar ventures of limited scope and accessibility. Therefore, Balz Engler and I attempted a first European survey with the two volumes European English Studies: Contributions towards the History of a Discipline, which cover twenty-seven countries and offer overviews and European case studies. The most important reason for the Anglicists’ lack of interest in their history may be that, all in all, Continental English Studies have experienced an unprecedented boom and branching out since about 1970 – after 1990 in Eastern Europe – so that in large sectors they are indeed a very young discipline. The philological sections may have longer traditions, but many of the flourishing fields are recent additions. At any rate, the development of Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies has not been researched more thoroughly than the subject in general; on the contrary, even less so is the case.

Further central difficulties have arisen from the recent economic crisis, which in some places has led to the closing down of English departments and frequently hit Women’s and Gender Studies worse than other sectors. Normally, Women’s and Gender Studies have not proved career-enhancing, but rather a disadvantage. Often they still lack the recognition of the highest levels of the academic administration; they certainly lack broader prestige. They continue to be practised mainly by women, who, in general, are confronted with more obstacles in their career than men. Although English Studies are a female domain at the levels of students and junior staff, in most European countries women still find it quite difficult to attain a chair or other leading positions. For the lower ranks working conditions have greatly deterioriated over the past few decades, while Higher Education has become progressively dominated by the economy. Suffice it to mention the drastic increase in short-term contracts. Not so rarely, the situation of junior staff must be called exploitation. The Bologna and other reforms have sapped energy. The pressure to distinguish oneself by funded projects has grown exponentially and no longer allows extras away from the mainstream. Then, for women there is still also the special double burden of work and family care.

Without the increasing European cooperation and the founding of the European Society for the Study of English, ESSE, the present volume would hardly have been possible. ESSE conferences offered an opportunity for ← 18 | 19 → presenting and elaborating the basic idea, and the contributors to European English Studies I-II and to a few later national analyses (Gupta / Katsarska 2009; Gupta / Schneider 2010) could be asked to participate. Next, colleagues who had made a name for themselves in Women’s and Gender Studies were invited and the ESSE national secretaries consulted. In most cases, I asked women, but also a few men (primarily from Men’s Studies), of whom only one could be won. In general, I tried to have a good mix: several generations, from members of the Second Women’s Movement to junior staff; activists, university lecturers or people combining both (perhaps at different points in time). In the basic characterization of the project I also pointed out that it would not always be possible to realize the structure I had suggested (cp. above). If the field was largely uncharted, the contribution would necessarily mirror this situation. Then authors might start very modestly or try a cooperative effort.

On account of the various difficulties, not all countries first envisaged are represented. On the other hand, I was able to add illuminating other ones. Because of the economic crisis and the enormous challenges of the pioneer work necessary, a few authors dropped out midway. For the sake of balance, I sought replacements and thus the completion of the volume took much longer than anticipated.2

The difficulties of finding contributors and, in several cases, the lack of success despite great efforts, in my view, reveal much about the situation of Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies and I will, therefore, highlight a few examples.

An important country I would have liked to see represented is Russia. I wrote to a variety of individual scholars, heads of departments and departments in general (including e.g. the Gender Laboratory at the Centre for Socio-Cognitive Discourse Studies of the Moscow State Linguistic University) and used both electronic and traditional mail, without getting the least reaction. At long last, I found an enthusiastic contributor, who energetically pointed out to me that women have played a crucial role in the development of Russian anglistika. Shortly before the deadline she asked for an extension, which I granted, never to hear from her again. I can only speculate ← 19 | 20 → about the reasons, for instance, the increasing ideological pressures. Perhaps I should have relied more on NGOs in order to reach the right people in the universities or academies.

For some, particularly Western or Central European, countries, the reasons have become perfectly clear. There may, for instance, be a small state with only a handful of Anglicists concerned with Women’s and Gender Studies, part of them only marginally, and then the project race forces them to follow the latest and most prestigious trends. Or a junior scholar, who works on a PhD thesis for a distant foreign university and teaches twenty-eight hours a week for a living, capitulates halfway through. In some cases, real tragedies have become evident: women who as pioneers of the Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of their countries have not reached an adequate position but have to work under precarious conditions, because they have never been seriously considered for a professorship, or because they could not accept the only offer for family reasons, or because they and another pioneer tore each other apart in their fights for the only post available.

The most tragic case was the death of Ljiljana Ina Gjurgjan. She submitted a short paper for the seminar at ESSE 11 in Istanbul and continued to plan her presentation even while struggling for her life in hospital. Although we only have the first general part and the specification for English Studies, which was to be given orally, is missing, her sketch is printed here. Despite its brevity, it offers highly relevant insights into Yugoslavia’s role of intermediator during the Cold War. It spotlights, for instance, the Korčula Summer Schools, together with the Praxis Group so important for the elaboration of Marxist theory, and the famous feminist conferences at the Inter-University Centre Dubrovnik, where Ina Gjurgjan was among the organizers. The circumstance that she would mainly have had to deal with her personal achievements may have been a decisive reason why she preferred to present the second part only orally. Now obituaries have completed this task.

In spite of the uncommon difficulties, a very broad, varied and representative panorama has been accomplished.3 Very often the authors have ← 20 | 21 → done trailblazing work in various respects, and thanks are due to them for their great commitment and originality. On the cover, a picture of the internationally renowned artist Ekaterina Ezhkova rounds off the European assemblage. Cordial thanks also go to Elizabeth Shipley, PhD, for expert advice on questions of tricky terminology and to Dr. Jörg Rieder, Dr. Lars Blöhdorn and Steffen Bornholdt for help in IT matters. The volume gives the first overall view of Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of Continental Europe and thus can hopefully make a valuable contribution to the further development both of English Studies and of other disciplines.


Braidotti, Rosi, ‘The Uses and Abuses of the Sex / Gender Distinction in European Feminist Practices’, in Thinking Differently: A Reader in European Women’s Studies, eds. Gabriele Griffin / R. Braidotti (London: Zed Books, 2002), pp. 285–307.

Engler, Balz / Renate Haas, eds., European English Studies: Contributions towards the History of a Discipline I+II (Leicester: English Association for ESSE, 2000/2008).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2015 (October)
Ethnicity USA Schüler Unterprivilegierter Chancengleichheit Urban Race Class Narritive History of American Studies Queer Studies Women's movements Feminism Education History of English Studies
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 442 pp.

Biographical notes

Renate Haas (Volume editor)

Renate Haas is Professor of English (University of Kiel). She has published widely, one important focus being the European history of English Studies.


Title: Rewriting Academia
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444 pages