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Remembering the 1970s:
Feminism, Institutionalisation and Historiography

Josephine Brain and Clare Hemmings

This paper explores the ways in which 'the 1970s' serves as a mechanism to keep poststructuralist and feminist inquiry separate in the contemporary academic imagination. It argues that when poststructuralist feminist critics are positioned as 'the first' to argue against the use of the universal concept 'woman' as the basis from which to create a feminist politics and theory, second-wave radical, lesbian and to a lesser extent black feminist perspectives are re-written, or rhetorically repositioned, as part of an essentialising and homogenous past. Such positioning of feminism is a way of ensuring that poststructuralism is largely reified as a white, heterosexual and masculine project, a pernicious fiction in which we are all invited to participate.

In this paper we want to focus on recent journal publications as a contemporary site through which this institutionalisation of feminism is managed in part because of the institutional status journal articles hold in relation to both the RAE in the UK and as setting the agenda for contemporary debates in academia. Articles written from a broadly poststructuralist perspective commonly dismiss what is commonly termed '1970s' or 'radical feminism' as both essentialist, and as belonging most emphatically to the past, often without reference to specific texts or contexts. Similarly, writers dismissing poststructuralist approaches as, in particular, apolitical or non-attentive to 'actual power relations' were equally general, either taking a single author as emblematic (usually Judith Butler), or referring to presumed common knowledge of these texts, or textual effects.

In the paper we want to focus on this dynamic as a technique to reproduce an 'imaginary feminist history' in line with my outline above by discussing the intellectual parameters of the inquiry and by presenting and analysing particular examples from our recent research.

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