OUTLINE OF THE BOOK
This chapter introduces the book and briefly explores its place in the series. The chapter will explain the ‘crisis of western sociology’ in the late 1960s, to use Gouldner’s (1971) phrase, and the consequent explosion of new ideas and the ‘zesty disarray’ that developed out of that crisis. The theoretical schools of feminism will be introduced: socialist, radical, liberal and ‘black’. Their historical origins and development will be outlined. Challenges to feminist sociology will be mentioned (to be developed in later chapters). The central organising principles of the book will be (1) the interrelations between feminist sociologies and the discipline’s mainstream (or, as many feminists would term it, malestream); and (2) the diversity within feminist sociology. Chapter 1 will open up both these organising principles and justify them.
Chapter 2 outlines the rise of feminist sociology in Britain and the USA since 1968, with some discussion of the French school. The development of the competing schools of feminist sociology, leading up to the socialist feminism of Michele Barrett, the radical feminism of Sylvia Walby, the liberal feminism of many sociologists, and the ‘black’ feminism of bell hooks and others. The rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement and its concern with remaking knowledge will be explored. Friedan’s attack on Parsons, the re-discovery of de Beauvoir’s ideas for sociology, and the discussions of parallels between women and African – Americans will also be covered. A brief survey of the dominant patterns of empirical work (such as the lack of data on the class position and social mobility of women) will be included.
Feminist sociology has established journals, produced many books and articles, and changed the agenda of research in many empirical areas. Chapter 3 explores those achievements. The chapter will also foreshadow the rise of feminist methods. The achievements will be explored covering theoretical ideas, empirical findings and methodological debates. Interrelations with queer theory and with the ‘new men’s studies’ will be debated. Domestic violence is one of eight aspects of private, domestic life that have been opened up by sociology in the past 30 years. Violence, whether physical or sexual against spouses, dependent children, or the frail elderly has been studied first to prove its existence and then to try and understand it, with a clear motivation among many investigators to design preventative policies (see Dobash and Dobash, 1992). In the same period, other researchers have explored housework (Oakley, 1974; Sullivan, 1997); money (Pahl, 1990; Vogler, 1998); caring for dependants (Finch and Groves, 1983); and food choice and preparation (Charles and Kerr, 1988; Murcott, 1983). Researchers have explored marriage, divorce and remarriage using the insights gained from studies on food, money, violence and housework.
Issues of method have been at the forefront of debates about feminist sociology. In Chapter 4 three strands to the debates are explored. First, the role of feminists in disputes between quantitative and qualitative methods. Second, challenges to positivist ideas about the selection of research questions and standpoints. Third, issues of reflexivity highlighted by feminists. All these strands are drawn together with new postmodern challenges to sociological research. These are the focus of Chapter 8.
Chapter 5 explores the origins of feminist sociology in the Enlightenment, through Fuller, Wollstonecraft, Martineau, Beecher, Addams and the women of the Chicago School, Beatrice Webb, Barbara Wootton, and so on. The historical origins of the different schools of feminist sociology will be traced. Parallels with the role of women in the development of anthropology will also be drawn. The tensions between theorising and empirical research, between the ivory tower and political engagement, between sociology and social policy, and between the public and the private will be explored. The analysis of how the feminist pioneers of Chicago sociology were expelled from the sociology department and expunged from its history published in Women’s History Review (Delamont, 1992a) will be developed. Parallel accounts of other key institutions will be presented. A contrast with anthropology, whose longue duree is more inclusive of founding mothers, is illuminating.
In 1971 the Schwendingers wrote a paper ‘Sociology’s founding fathers: sexists to a man?’. In 2002 that claim is a starting point for examining the contribution of feminist sociologists in general, and British feminist sociology in particular, to the work of re-evaluating the founding fathers and to future scholarship on their ideas. Chapter 6 examines how feminist sociologists have engaged with the fundamental texts of Marx, Weber, Durkheim and Mead, and with the schools of thought in sociology that have developed from those founding fathers. Then it will explore how feminists have engaged with the ideas of key twentieth-century scholars, especially Merton and Parsons, Bourdieu and Beck. Feminism’s uneasy relationship with Freud will also be explained. The chapter will then explore feminist sociology’s engagement with the major theoretical schools of the present day and the foreseeable future – foreshadowing Chapter 8.
Chapter 7 explores how far feminist sociology has become simply another specialist sub-field, and how far – if at all – its ideas have impacted on malestream sociological theories. This chapter focuses on the interfaces between feminist sociologies and the malestream. In some ways – such as the number of women at all ranks of the profession, on the boards of journals, active in professional associations and in the focus of empirical work – feminist sociology has changed the malestream. In others, however, nothing has changed. Books are still being written that cite no women, ignore feminism, and reproduce sexist ideas without commentary. It is possible to see feminist sociology as ‘just’ another sub-field, like the sociology of science or education, that is irrelevant to the big debates.
The fin-de-siecle, as in the equivalent eras in the 1790s and 1890s, saw moral panics about sex, gender and sexuality in capitalist society. Outwith academic sociology, some commentators argued that feminism had gone too far and was endangering male sanity, and was even destabilising society. Others produced spurious, pseudo-science to the effect that feminism was doomed to fail because it was ‘against nature’. Inside academic sociology the rise of postmodernism challenged all the schools of feminist sociology by removing their essentialist categoric base(s) (class, gender, sisterhood) and challenging the ‘data’ beloved of Fabian sociologists and liberal feminists. Chapter 8 addresses the challenges from postfeminism and postmodernism and explores how feminist sociology has responded.
The conclusion in Chapter 9 is more speculative, as it outlines the future tasks, responsibilities and goals of feminist sociology, the parallel responsibilities of those in the malestream, and sets an agenda of theoretical, empirical and methodological priorities.