Feminist Geographies: Gender and Space Online

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McDowell, Linda and Joanne P. Sharp, eds.  Space, Gender, Knowldege: Feminist Readings. New York: John Wiley  and Sons, Inc., 1997. Print.

Editors Linda McDowell and Joanne P. Sharp set out to compile and contemplate the ‘development’ of scholarship and theory in the arena of feminist geography.  They trace the discipline from its emergence in the 1970’s – a time when institutional forces were “relatively hostile” towards feminist approaches to geography – and explore the complexity of its influences over a ten year period; postmodernism, academic feminism, postcolonial critique, and finally considerations of race all surface as topics that complicate and catalyze the growing area of scholarly work (13).  To accomplish such a comprehensive examination of the history of feminist geography, McDowell and Sharp organize influential feminist and feminist geographical studies and theories into seven topic-specific sections.  Though McDowell and Sharp explicitly avoid calling the work an “essential anthology,” readers are certainly able, after moving through the seven sections, to understand the history and relationship between feminist scholarship across disciplines and the field of geography.

The first section includes contributions that help establish the field of feminist geographies and introduce the reader to the foundations of this particular paradigm of academic knowledge-making.  Haraway, Connell, Bondi and Mohanty are included in the section to demonstrate how the discipline of feminist geography grows through its relationship to Marxist, postmodern, and situated scholarly “terministic screens”, to borrow Burke’s vocabulary.  Section two moves away from abstract considerations of feminist geography and focuses on providing examinations and examples of praxis within the growing discipline.  McDowell’s own work, Doing Gender opens the section and focuses its critique on exclusionary aspects of traditional methodologies in the fields of geography and social science.  Grounding ideas of gender in the physical world and uncovering the power of gendered discourses is the work of the book’s following three sections, which help the reader see the myriad fruitful directions and places feminist considerations of geographies and locations might unfold and focus.  Section three includes Seager’s, Shiva’s and New’s arguments against conventional discourses linking nature to gender – and specifically the female gender.  Rose closes the section by examining the relationship between landscape – the connection of society and land – and gender relations.  Once the reader considers these “maps” or landscapes of where unequal power dynamics between ‘male’ and ‘female’ might be located or observed, McDowell and Sharp move her to the fourth section which includes Butler, among others, to understand the “body maps” of gender and power.  This section is particularly important in terms of situating or locating feminist geography as a discipline and uses the work of Frankenberg, Young, and Bordo – all key influential feminist thinkers – to demonstrate the increasing importance of intersectional notions of identity and politics during the early 1990’s. Sections five and six of Space, Gender, and Knowledge include readings that inquire about how bodies and space interact to construct and reconstruct identities in architected environments.  Hayden and Wilson focus on urban spaces as constructed mechanisms of exclusion for female and non-white bodies, while Valentine and Leslie posit decentralized notions of gender as they are embodied as possible sites of challenge to architected patriarchal identities.

Finally, McDowell and Sharp leave the reader with the sense of how important gendered considerations of geography truly are by offering readings that look at how bodies are and have been regulated, empowered, and restricted historically, locally, and globally.  In Section Six, Sticher and Bradley establish transnational (Sticher) and historical (Bradley) evidence for the connection between gender constructions and restrictive occupational roles for women in industrial societies.  These final two sections illustrate just how space and geography “tell” bodies what they can and cannot do.  This kind of social critique encourages the reader to imagine possible future sites and landscapes  – work spaces, schools, nations, and neighborhood –where she might locate, investigate, and ultimately disrupt such oppressive power relationships. The editors’ stated goal in compiling such a book is to “be provocative” and to challenge the reader to search for more pieces of the conversation surrounding the issues of capitalist spaces, gendered bodies, and systems of power, and to those ends Space, Gender, Knowledge is a success (1). McDowell and Sharp pique the curiosity of the feminist scholar working in any discipline by offering a fairly large, but not all-encompassing, collection of intersecting arguments that prove the value of thinking about space, gender, and knowledge in concert with one another.  I love this book and consider it a truly foundational piece for my continued work because through the writings here – which I spent a good deal of the summer reading, I learned that feminist geography can be very fluidly applied to online environments.  For me, thinking about the physical spaces oppression and restriction in concert with the sites designed to represent or communicate those real geographies is fruitful.  And, as is seen in the articles in the final section of New Frontiers of Space, Bodies, and Gender – this cyberfeminist meets feminist geography angel of research isn’t a thing I invented.  SO I count this book as important in terms of understanding how Pinterest or any other online interface, is a landscape (and how it may not be).

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