In Defence of Lovenduskianism


Rosie Campbell, Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay

In a recent post on the PSA Women and Politics Group’s blog, Jonathan Dean reflects on the June 2015 European Conference on Politics and Gender, as well as the state of gender and politics scholarship more broadly. Dean argues that the conference has made visible a number of struggles within the gender politics community and suggests that the core tension lies between those ‘Lovenduskian’ scholars interested in ‘feminising politics’ versus those who are interested in ‘politicising gender’. The first strand, he argues, considers the gender dynamics of political institutions to be the core area of study for the sub-discipline, whilst the second views the subject of gender itself to be a political project.

We welcome this call for dialogue between the diverse strands of gender and politics scholarship. However (in the spirit of this dialogue), Dean’s musings on the ECPG conference also provoke unease. Here we are reminded of Joni Lovenduski’s ECPG keynote speech, in which she cautioned those present against the misrepresentation of previous generations of feminist scholarship – arguing for a ‘slow science’ approach in which earlier feminist work is valued where it is relevant and new research builds on (and extends) what has gone before without claiming to overturn it. In short, we should avoid the temptation of ‘neologizing’ and underplaying continuity and convergences in the ‘stories we tell’ about developments in feminist analysis[1].

Yet, in setting out the supposed tensions between these two strands of gender politics – ‘feminising politics’ and ‘politicising gender’ – Dean constructs an oppositional relationship between those of us who retain the objects of mainstream political science as our focus of study (and who have, in his view, had our day), and those who are interested in a ‘wider range of theoretical and empirical concerns’, including migration, the post human, and the lived experience of LGBTQ communities. But is this necessarily so? Are not these lived experiences a key part of the analysis of how gender relations are demarcated and processed through political institutions? And is it really fair to characterize institutionally-focused feminist political science as a ‘limited’ political project? In insisting that gender is central to political processes and institutions, feminist political science has posed (and continues to pose) a fundamental challenge to conventional understandings of the political, linking public and private and formal and informal spheres[2]. Studying formal (and informal) political institutions is therefore crucial if we are to understand the practices, ideas, goals and outcomes of politics; the relations of gender power within and across institutions (and their intersection with other axes of inequality); and the general and gendered mechanisms of institutional continuity and change – as evidenced, for example, in the rapidly growing and diverse field of feminist institutionalism[3].

Dean goes on to argue that the central aims of these two projects also differ – the first strand aims to gender political science, while the second aims to politicise gender. Really? Feminist empirical political scientists have continually challenged the concept of gender and the category ‘woman’, conceiving of it as a social construct that reproduces gender hierarchies (which feminist activism seeks to disrupt). Indeed, Joni Lovenduski herself challenges a binary conception of gender and problematizes the categories of man/woman in her writing[4] – and has been making nuanced arguments about feminising politics and politicising gender for a very long time, evidenced, for example, in her agenda-setting review of the state of the discipline published in 1998. At its very core, then, feminist political science has always understood that gender relations are inherently political, and also that differences among women and men are at least as important as differences between women and men – thinking of, for example, Lovenduski’s early research (with Pippa Norris) on gender, race and class in the British Parliament; Mary Hawkesworth’s analysis of processes of racing-gendering in the US Congress; Nirmal Puwar’s conceptualization of women and BME MPs as ‘space invaders’; work by Laurel Weldon, Melanie Hughes, Mala Htun, Karen Celis, Liza Mugge, Silvia Erzeel, and many others on intersectionality, women’s representation and gender quotas . . . and the list goes on.

Nonetheless, society continues to demarcate individuals as man/woman- even in a context of transforming gender roles and identities – the overwhelming majority of individuals in society identify themselves as either men or women, and policy and practice continues to treat individuals it believes have or might become pregnant differently from those it considers ‘free’ from this ‘encumbrance’. It is, therefore, sadly still too early to drop the old binary of ‘sex’ in political research. For example, in a simple act of counting Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs demonstrated that 45% of British MPs who identified as women and 28% of MPs who identified as men had no children[5]. To consider the intersection between ‘sex’ and parenthood in this way is obviously a simplification that ignores variation in family structure, but the stark differences show clearly that power structures still serve as a barrier to the presence of people who identify as women and are parents in the British Parliament.

Motherhood/fatherhood/parenthood are categories that feminist political scientists, identified by Dean as ‘strand one’, would like to see blurred and the boundaries dissolved, but today, despite real progress, the old categories remain largely intact; ‘women’ still undertake the majority of unpaid caring work. To ignore this because we don’t like it or because it seems dated is to miss discriminatory practices that continue to affect ‘women’s’ lives. The study of symbolic representation is an important addition to the study of descriptive and substantive representation but it need not replace them. Counting the number of individuals identifying as women, LGBQT, BME, disabled, and so on, within our institutions remains an important element of researching gender and politics. It is also a political activity – counting bodies has been an effective way of politicizing the under-representation of women (and other marginalized groups) and of holding political actors to account – and many political parties and institutions still don’t count for themselves[6]. And while Dean questions the ‘limited emphasis’ on formal representative institutions in feminist political science, parliaments remain an important site of representation, as demonstrated by the extensive body of work on the importance of women and feminist legislators as ‘critical actors’ or ‘gender equity entrepreneurs’ in effecting change. Empirical research of this kind is crucial to identify barriers to be negotiated and dismantled.

The ‘Lovenduskian tradition’ sounds rather grand but sadly the institutional weight and recognition that Dean attributes to it does not feel entrenched but instead hard fought for and continually contested – often in the face of significant resistance and ongoing marginalization. Such a characterisation also obscures the multiplicity of approaches and perspectives within what has always been an eclectic, open-minded and broad ‘church’. For feminist political scientists, then, it seems to be a case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ – attempting to engage with (and be intelligible to) mainstream political science whilst being part of a wider inter-disciplinary gender studies community, but, in the end, being dismissed by all sides. Yet, while Dean may feel that losing this distinctiveness in our analytic project is a price worth paying, putting women and gender on the mainstream political science agenda is as important as ever – particular in a time when discrimination against those who identify as women remains ubiquitous and, in an age of austerity, increasing. The research agenda that Dean argues for is a complement and a natural partner of Lovenduskianism, but it needn’t swallow her whole.

[1] See Clare Hemmings (2005) ‘Telling feminist stories’, Feminist Theory, 6 (2), 115-139; Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay (2009) ‘Already Doin’ it for Ourselves? Skeptical Notes on Feminism and Institutionalism’, Politics & Gender, 5 (2), 271-280.

[2] For comprehensive reviews, see Joni LovenduskI (1998) ‘Gendering Research in Political Science’, Annual Review of Political Science, 1, 333-56; Fiona Mackay (2004) ‘Gendering Representation in the UK: The State of the Discipline’, The British Journal of Politics & International Relations, 6 (1), 99-120; Vicky Randall (2010) ‘Feminism’ in D. Marsh and G. Stoker (eds) Theory and Methods in Political Science. 3rd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

[3] See for example Meryl Kenny (2007) ‘Gender, Institutions and Power: A Critical Review’, Politics, 27 (2); Fiona Mackay, Meryl Kenny and Louise Chappell (2010) ‘New Institutionalism Through a Gender Lens: Towards a Feminist Institutionalism?’, International Political Science Review, 31 (5), 573-588; Mona Lena Krook and Fiona Mackay (eds) (2011) Gender, Politics and Institutions: Towards a Feminist Institutionalism. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

[4] Joni LovenduskI (1998) ‘Gendering Research in Political Science’, Annual Review of Political Science, 1, 333-56; Joni LovenduskI (2005) Feminizing Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press.

[5] Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs (2014) “Parents in Parliament: ‘Where’s Mum?’.” Political Quarterly 85(4):487-92.

[6] See also Linda Trimble and Jane Arscott (2003) Still Counting: Women and Politics Across Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.


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The Gender & Early Career Researcher REF Gaps

Originally posted on Stephen R. Bates:

by Fran Amery, Stephen Bates and Steve McKay

Men in psychology, economics and biology are so good at research that 29-30% achieved 4* outputs in the last Research Exercise Framework (REF). Women in theology; anthropology & development studies; sociology; aeronautical, mechanical, chemical and manufacturing engineering; civil and construction engineering; agriculture, veterinary and food science (and men in art & design) are perhaps not so impressive: only 13-14% achieved 4* outputs in these units of assessment (UoA). Overall, 22% of men and 19% of women submitted to the REF produced 4* outputs. These apparent differences in purported research quality were highlighted in one of the supplementary reports accompanying the recent metrics review by HEFCE, The Metric Tide*.

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Sexism in Political Science

Two recent blogs by Stephen Saideman (Paterson Chair in International Affairs, Carleton University) on the topic of sexism of political science, which may be of interest:

‘Sexism in Political Science: Fact or Fact?’

and the follow-up on what men can do to combat sexism in the profession: ‘Tyranny of Low Expectations: Doing More than the Annual Blog Post’

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2015 Undergraduate Essay Competition Winners Announced!

The PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group is delighted to announce the winners of our annual Undergraduate Essay Competition. This year’s judge, PSA Women and Politics Co-Convenor Dr. Fran Amery (University of Bath), noted the outstanding quality of this year’s essays, stating: ‘This was a difficult contest to judge due to the extremely high overall standard of the essays submitted, which contained nuanced critical discussion of a range of issues in gender and politics and feminist political theory. Subjects ranged from the gendering of civil wars and peace processes, the effect of the media on gendered party campaigning, and the substantive representation of women and men, to the relevance of intersectionality to feminist theory. All of the candidates should be proud of their work.’

Our 2015 winners are:

First Prize – Letty Davis (SOAS): ‘Pinkwashing and Homonationalism: Gender, Sexuality, and Power in Israel’

The judge said: ‘This essay (submitted by Dr Rahul Rao) explores the interplay between hard and soft power in world politics through a discussion of ‘pinkwashing’ and homonationalism in Israel. The essay contends that Israel maintains a balance between unrivalled regional military strength and cultural appeal to the West through its display of democratic and pro-LGBT values, and goes on to explore the interplay between these two facets of power in the sexualisation of IDF soldiers in the Israeli pornographic film Men of Israel. The nuanced handling and seamless integration of queer theory, postcolonial theory and the more mainstream International Relations literature make this essay truly worthy of first prize.’

Second Prize – Natalie Lovell (University of Leeds): ‘Critically examine the importance of ‘intersectionality’ for feminist political theory and activism’

The judge said: ‘This essay (submitted by Dr Alexa Athelstan) draws on the work of Anna Carastathis to argue that intersectionality provides four principal benefits to feminist political theory: simultaneity, complexity, irreducibility and inclusivity. Each of these analytical benefits is exposited with textbook-perfect precision, and the essay demonstrates an extremely sophisticated grasp of the intersectionality literature.’

Congratulations Letty and Natalie!

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Feminising Politics, Politicising Gender

Some musings following the 2015 European Conference on Politics and Gender from Jonathan Dean.

JoniThe Fourth European Conference on Politics and Gender saw no fewer than 450 scholars from across Europe and beyond descend on Uppsala in central Sweden, rendering it an excellent opportunity to take stock of the current state of gender and politics scholarship. At one level, the news is unreservedly positive. Feminist perspectives are being brought to bear on a bewilderingly wide variety of political phenomena, and the affective climate of the conference was often defiant and optimistic. But on digging deeper, one could detect numerous signs of unease. In the lunch breaks and in the bars of Uppsala all too frequently talk was of precarious employment and institutional marginalisation. No one could be left in any doubt that to pursue “gender-aware” political analysis is to engage in often bitter political struggle against a political science mainstream that remains largely impervious to feminist critique.

However, the conference also made visible a range of struggles within the gender and politics community, with signs of considerable disagreement over what, precisely, it means to conduct scholarship on “gender and politics”. In the opening plenaries, and in many of the panels, “gender and politics” was largely taken to refer to the gender dynamics of formal political institutions. This consists in large part of the analysis of the political representation of women, for which plenary speaker Joni Lovenduski’s pioneering work remains a key reference point. A second, rather different strand proceeds from the assumption that the scholarly analysis of gendered practices is, in some sense, always already a political project. Whilst the first strand tends to retain the same objects of analysis as mainstream political science, the second strand, being less demarcated, encompasses a wider range of theoretical and empirical concerns including, but not limited to, topics such as migration, affect, the posthuman and the lived experience of LGBTQ communities. Essentially, whilst the first is a project aimed at gendering political science and feminising political institutions, the second involves politicising gender. A striking feature of the conference was the at times very large gulf between these two approaches, which often seemed to talk past each other.

For example, whilst the language of intersectionality is now ubiquitous in the “feminising politics” tradition, there is clear uncertainty about what it means for feminist political science to take intersectionality seriously. This became particularly clear during the controversially titled roundtable ‘Europe is Burning, and we are Talking About Intersectionality’. Sylvia Walby’s framing of intersectionality “in the broadest sense” as the intersection of gender and finance capital did little other than show that mention of intersectionality is, as Akwugo Emejulu pointed out from the floor, no guarantee that racial domination will be taken seriously. Furthermore, as Johanna Kantola and Emanuela Lombardo highlighted in one of the conference’s final panels, the insights of poststructuralism (let alone “post-deconstruction”), so central to interdisciplinary gender studies, remain largely absent from feminist political science.

So perhaps an important task is to reflect on how we might build bridges between “feminising politics” and “politicising gender”. The good news is that there is clearly an emergent body of work which does precisely that. One could, for instance, point to a recent resurgence of interest in symbolic representation (as in the work of Petra Meier and Emanuela Lombardo) and representative claim making (Karen Celis, Eline Severs and others) as attempts to broaden understandings of representation beyond a rather limited emphasis on formal representative institutions. Elsewhere, some recent work on intersectionality and feminist activism – Akwugo Emejulu and Liz Evans to name but two – also offers glimpses of the style of scholarship that speaks across both traditions. Other examples include Shirin Rai and others’ work on political performance, whilst Mieke Verloo is consistent in offering a view of what it might mean for feminist political science to take intersectionality seriously. Finally, a prominent theme of the conference was the “new institutionalist” turn in feminist political analysis, which seems to have captured the imagination of many. Whilst I am something of an outsider to this debate, I was encouraged by the humility and openness which characterised several articulations of the new institutionalism within the conference space. My hope is that this generosity will pave the way for precisely the kind of interdisciplinary dialogue gender and politics scholarship requires.

To be clear, none of this is to reject or pour scorn on the “Lovenduskian” tradition of feminising political science, which was central to putting women and gender on the political science agenda. And neither is to detract from the fantastic and often under-appreciated work of the conference organisers. But my sense is that the full radicalism and significance of the challenge that “gender and politics” scholarship poses to mainstream political science is unlikely to be realised if the dialogue between “feminising politics” and “politicising gender” remains limited, particularly in a context where the former carries greater institutional weight and recognition. The danger of such a dialogue is, of course, that “gender and politics” loses its distinctiveness as an analytical project. But I think this is a price worth paying for greater inclusivity and diversity, both in terms of individuals present, and in terms of the richness and vitality of the discipline.

Jonathan Dean is Lecturer in Politics in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds.

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Women, Gender and Political Leadership


Blog by Bronwen Edwards (Politics Student, Canterbury Christ Church) giving her reflections on our Women, Gender and Political Leadership workshop

Originally posted on Canterbury Politics and International Relations:

By Bronwen Edwards (Third Year Politics Student)

On the 15th of May I attended the ‘Women, Gender and Political Leadership’ workshop in Birbeck university. Due to my interest in the role of women in politics, I was extremely excited to hear the papers and presentations on the day. I didn’t realise the huge range of topics that would be discussed; from business strategies to ensuring women receive promotions to the increase of female representation in Zambian politics. The opportunity to ask questions and further investigate academics ideas was an incredible opportunity and I attempted to ask as many questions as possible, it was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.

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Women, Gender and Political Leadership Workshop

GE RTOn Friday 15 May, the PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group and the Political Leadership Specialist Group – supported by Birkbeck and Canterbury Christ Church University – co-hosted a workshop on ‘Women, Gender and Political Leadership’. The increasing prominence of female leadership and recruitment, ranging from the UK General Election debates to the US Presidential race, has given the study of gender and political leadership a new urgency and importance. This one-day event – organised by Dr. Mark Bennister (Canterbury Christ Church), Dr. Meryl Kenny (Leicester), and Dr. Ben Worthy (Birkbeck) – brought together 40 participants to explore this under-researched area, examining in detail the challenges for women in office and the means by which they can attain it.

Academic research exploring gender and political leadership both within and beyond the UK was presented at the workshop, beginning with an opening panel focused on comparative selection and leadership performance. Papers in this session explored the relationship between political leadership and performance feedback; differing logics of access to legislative and executive office; and the question of whether women leaders were more like to promote women ministers. The second panel of the day focused on the UK context, with papers on women and political leadership in Scotland; gender and PMQs; the impact of Margaret Thatcher; and gendered conceptions of the ‘good’ prime minister. The final session of the day moved beyond Europe to look at the gendered tensions of ‘First Ladyship’; women’s political leadership in Zambia; and the political oratory of Hillary Clinton.

The event also featured a plenary roundtable with Professor Tim Bale (QMUL), Dr. Rainbow Murray (QMUL) and Dr. Rosie Campbell (Birkbeck), reflecting on the 2015 General Election (pictured above). This roundtable is available as a podcast: Plans are underway to follow up the workshop with further events and panels, as well as academic outputs, and PSA members interested in this research agenda are recommended to contact either of the Specialist Groups to get involved.

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