A Conversation with Rosi Braidotti
Utrecht, The Netherlands, August 1995
with Kathleen O'Grady
Reprinted from Women's Education des femmes. Spring 1996 (12, 1): 35-39. This document may be distributed and copied for classroom and other educational purposes as long as the journal and author is credited. Permission must be requested from the journal for reprinting this interview in a book or another journal. Reprinted here with permission from Kathleen O'Grady email@example.com
Trinity College, University of Cambridge
K: You are currently teaching for the Women's Program in the Humanities at the University of Utrecht. Is this a popular program? Well funded? Accepted by the University at large? Generally successful?
B: I chair the program. The Netherlands University system has very ample support from above, from the government. To develop women's studies was a state policy that was started back in the 70s and they created a total of thirteen chairs, Professorships, in the country. Utrecht got two, one in the humanities, one in the social sciences. Amsterdam got three or four and other cities got one each. So they really had a policy of implementing women and gender studies from above. This was the effect of the Dutch sixties, if you wish. It had a really enormous impact upon people's way of thinking. I should also add that they also implemented chairs in gay and lesbian studies, in ethnic studies, and in environmental studies at exactly the same time. They really redesigned the face of the curriculum in the university.
It was not all smooth or without opposition or [without] traditional disciplines thinking that these were unwelcome additions, that they were not scientific enough -- you can just imagine the sort of argument. But fifteen years down the line we have fully developed programs going from undergraduate through to PhD courses. We have very developed European programs, international programs, through the ERASMUS network and the SOCRATES network. We have just successfully completed an application to create a national graduate school for women's studies, which is a federation of every program in the Netherlands. After a two year procedure, this was finally recognized by the Royal Commission, which is a very intricate, difficult procedure in the Netherlands. But we got their stamp of approval, so we are an official graduate school in women's studies, handing out feminist PhDs. [This was] born in careful negotiations with the disciplines so that we don't give the impression that we are creating the famous academic ghetto. This is the business of getting a very first class education, except for 1/3 of their curriculum has to be on gender issues and we take care of that.
It has been very well funded and been particularly active, very pragmatic; the Dutch are very down to earth. It is reputed as one of the strongest programs, certainly in Europe. I work on several commissions on the European level and the Netherlands, together with the Scandinavians, have the largest expenditure for women's and gender studies.
K: You did much of your Doctoral work in Paris. What do you think of the recent threat to close the Centre de recherches en etudes féminines organized by Hèléne Cixous? Is this a general trend to be anticipated throughout Europe?
B: I signed the petition to support the centre, though I've had my problems with her in the course of time. I think this is part of a general trend in France not to develop women's studies very much. Of course, The University of Paris VIII at Saint-Denis, where Cixous teaches, is now a rather marginal University in the French educational system. But it is a symptomatic event of how the Parisian scene has developed. We work extensively in our European network with Toulouse. And Toulouse, for instance, does not have the same problems that they are having in Paris at all. Toulouse has grown; they have a couple of new positions for women's studies and the number of students are up. They are functioning very well at the European level and they are very present on the scene, which is much more than I can say for Paris.
There has been a strange non-development there and I do not know how to analyze it. In the University of Paris VII where a great deal of the leading figures of women's studies were located...everything came to an end when they retired because they had not secured their positions for women's studies. They could not, because they were integrated Professorships, so they simply got replaced by non-feminist scholars. So Paris VII got practically wiped out and I thought it was dramatic that they would also attack Paris VIII where Cixous was. Although I've had my disagreements with her, I've certainly written in support [of the centre].
It is quite disconcerting, the extent to which that particular generation in France did not manage to ensure a follow up. Whether it be Foucault or Deleuze (but that is a choice of his not to have a school), the only one who has really created a school, of course, is Derrida, who made sure that his disciples got into jobs and perpetrated his work, etc. All the others just let it go. It must be a very sort-of peculiar French trait of not passing the torch on or not caring whether or not it goes on. Certainly French history and philosophy shows that every radical generation is followed by two or three very dull and boring reactionary ones, and another radical one comes up and then it is followed by two or three reactionary ones. It seems to be a see-saw of radicalism.
K: What are your thoughts on the growth of women's studies courses across Western Europe and North America particularly? Is this institutionalization the beginning or the conclusion of a generation of feminism?
B: You must be very careful with that. All the comparative work we have done at the European level shows that you have to analyze case by case. One example is the United States. After being there for a year, I would say that they are not growing at all. On the contrary, things are going pretty badly when it comes to any radical epistemologies. I would say that the women's studies courses there are not acting as a motor of any major curriculum change.
Throughout Europe we take a very different form. The Northern Europeans -- Holland, Germany, Denmark and Scandinavia -- have really moved on and used the women's studies courses and departments as windows into the university and aim at deeper transformations of the curriculum. The old idea that if we could actually have gender introduced into every discipline, then we wouldn't need to be here, I think is absolutely true. In countries like Spain and Greece, and Italy too, it is developing very fast, partly because it is new and partly because there has been a tremendous amount of research done on women outside the university. All of a sudden the university is noticing. For the first time in twenty years they are finally taking notice of all this work which has already been done in women's centres outside the institutions. And so they are in the process of bringing in this wonderful stuff which has been happening on the side.
You have to be very careful [with this question]. Women's studies means very different things to different areas. It is also called different things in different countries, from feminist studies, which is what the Danish and the Scandinavians use, to gender studies, which has really had much success, and the more traditional women's studies. To be adequate you would have to be very space and time specific [when asking this question].
I should hope through the European network that we are running that there is a new impetus coming throughout Europe. If I could have it my way it would be the beginning of a process of change of what universities provide for both men and women.
The generational issue is extremely important, of course -- and again it varies greatly in different countries. Over all, however, I think that institutional women's studies curricula are
living memories and data-banks which aim at transmitting a political and intellectual radicalism which is rare and, to my mind, precious, in the 90s. The field of education joins together different generations of women and carries on a project of transformation not only of knowledge, but also of life experiences.
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