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New Left Review I/211, May-June 1995


Eleni Varikas

Gender, Experience and Subjectivity: The Tilly–Scott Disagreement

From the viewpoint of women’s history in France, Louise Tilly’s article appears to arise from a specifically ‘Anglo-American’ debate. [1] Louise Tilly, ‘Gender, Women’s History and Social History’, Pasato e Presente 20–21 (1989). An earlier version was published in Social Science History, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1989. But it does raise questions which are very relevant and current. The Anglo-American connection is not just apparent in the references, most of which are taken from works written in English, but also in the terms in which the problems are stated. To begin with, the question that lies at the origin of that debate—whether or not women’s history can be said to have ‘arrived’—suggests that there is a consensus to the effect that it has arrived; the different positions on its future objectives and timetable are framed from that starting point. But the situation in France is altogether different. There are only two teaching posts explicitly devoted to women’s history, and not a single endowed chair; and although an increasing number of history teachers (especially women) have been covering the problematic of gender and social relations of the sexes in their courses, we are unfortunately still a long way from being able to say that this is an acknowledged subject included in the curriculum. But it is true that ‘the number of books and articles in this area has greatly increased’ [2] Ibid., p. 14. in France too, along with what might be called supplementary sections or chapters (‘Women and…’) in special issues of journals, and in reference works. Undeniably, this increase expresses developments of a qualitative order, which will doubtless be confirmed and rendered more visible by the recent publication of the Histoire des Femmes edited by Georges Duby and Michelle Perrot. But on the institutional level women’s history is still seen as a secondary field of research devoid of legitimacy. [3] One example serves to illustrate the marginal status of women’s history in research institutions: so far, not one historian of either sex has been recruited by the ‘History’ commission of the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique on presentation of a project concerned with women’s history or centred on the problematic of gender.

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