The Fantasy of Feminist History

The Fantasy of Feminist History

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Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: Published: November 2011

History > European History, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

In The Fantasy of Feminist History, Joan Wallach Scott argues that feminist perspectives on history are enriched by psychoanalytic concepts, particularly fantasy. Tracing the evolution of her thinking about gender over the course of her career, the pioneering historian explains how her search for ways to more forcefully insist on gender as mutable rather than fixed or stable led her to psychoanalytic theory, which posits sexual difference as an insoluble dilemma. Scott suggests that it is the futile struggle to hold meaning in place that makes gender such an interesting historical object, an object that includes not only regimes of truth about sex and sexuality but also fantasies and transgressions that refuse to be regulated or categorized. Fantasy undermines any notion of psychic immutability or fixed identity, infuses rational motives with desire, and contributes to the actions and events that come to be narrated as history. Questioning the standard parameters of historiography and feminist politics, Scott advocates fantasy as a useful, even necessary, concept for feminist historical analysis.


The Fantasy of Feminist History remains a fascinating and timely engagement with important questions concerning the rhetoric and ideology of historical representation, and it will undoubtedly have broad appeal for scholars working in and across a range of disciplines and fields of study, including history, gender studies, critical theory, cultural studies, psychoanalysis, and postcolonialism. Scott is particularly adept at rendering complex theoretical concepts in eminently clear, readable terms, as well as at providing concise genealogies of the institutional, intellectual, and social contexts in which those concepts were initially developed and have been put to use subsequently.” — Theo Finigan, Reviews in Cultural Theory

“This is a provocative volume and will be of particular interest to those seeking a bridge between sociology’s measurable quantities and psychology’s emphasis on the unknowable. With connections to an array of disciplines including history, women’s studies, literary theory, and psychology, it holds promise for broad reach across the academy.” — On Campus with Women

“Against Scott’s formulation, historians may continue to assert that there is little empirical foundation for psychoanalytic concepts of fantasy, although it is difficult to argue that the histories she discusses are not informed by emotional investments that cannot be explained ideologically or empirically. The epilogue, which reminds us that archives are a repository of passion as well as information, should give all historians a reason to examine the scenes into which they may have written themselves.” — Carolyn J. Dean, Journal of Modern History

“Scott’s undertaking should be commended for its daring attempt to tease out new ways of analysing historical material.” — Michael Kuur Sørensen, European Review of History

"The importance of Scott's book lies in its refusal of a damaging spatial binary of surface and depth. Surface readers accuse ‘depth’ readers of not being aware of their own fantasies as readers, in turn, they are agnostic about knowing such entanglements in their surface readings. It is precisely the entanglements of the reader and text and the fantasies of historical knowledge that Scott engages. Her critical reading practice insists not only on close reading of the text, but also close reading of the reader herself.” — Kathleen Biddick, Journal of Social History

“The impressive yield of this anthology is that it deals with supposedly familiar subjects but still succeeds in opening up a new discussion. . . . Scott delivers interesting discussions over many theoretical concepts, and her diagnosis, with the help of psychoanalysis, of the discipline’s shortcomings is striking.” — Angelika Epple, History and Theory

“I choose to conclude by mentioning one aspect that I consider of special relevance: the critique of the fantasy of continuity in historical constructions. This critique concerns not only the temporal categories of history and its periodisation, but is tightly linked with the critique of essentialism. This is why I consider it foundational for any innovative historical practice, including the multifarious forms of feminist history." — Luisa Passerini, Gender & History

The Fantasy of Feminist History deal with one of the oldest and most difficult problems faced by feminist historians across the generations: how is it possible to account for emotions, passions, feelings, desires and fantasies while doing historical research? It is easy to predict that the arguments – and the book – will play a central role in theoretical and methodological debates among scholars working on gender issues in years to come.”  — Paola Di Cori, European Journal of Women's Studies

The Fantasy of Feminist History is Joan Wallach Scott’s most important intervention in the field of gender history since her classic article of 1986. In her usual lucid prose, she invites us to rethink gender analysis in psychoanalytic terms and thus enrich our analytic vocabulary for understanding human existence. Her critiques of sexual difference and cultural construction dramatically change our notions of gender norms. Her elucidation of fantasy as a historical category of analysis is also groundbreaking. This book is a must-read for all historians and gender scholars.” — Mary Louise Roberts, author of Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin-de-Siècle France

“Joan Wallach Scott is not merely a historian of gender. Gender also proves a useful tool in her history of our present. To preserve its ‘critical edge,’ she summons psychoanalysis, convincingly arguing that gender studies need not be limited to cold reason. From paradox to dilemma, indeed, there is madness in Scott’s method, and it is exhilarating.” — Éric Fassin, École Normale Supérieure

“This elegant collection of Joan Wallach Scott’s recent essays on feminist history and critique is her best book yet. Relentlessly pedagogical, bracingly reflexive, and breathtakingly creative, each essay makes good on the book’s premise that ‘psychoanalysis animates the concept of gender for historians.’ The introduction—a perspicacious narrative of feminist theory’s complex relationship with sexual difference and psychoanalysis—is worth its weight in gold, and the five essays that follow, on topics ranging from secularism to seduction theory, are polished gems of historical-theoretical inquiry. Together they reinvigorate feminist theory with brilliant new ideas, juxtapositions, and engagements.” — Wendy Brown, University of California, Berkeley


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Joan Wallach Scott is the Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study. Her many books include The Politics of the Veil, Parité: Sexual Equality and the Crisis of French Universalism, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man, and Gender and the Politics of History.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vi
Introduction. "Flyers into the Unknown": Gender, History, Psychoanalysis 1
1. Feminism's History 23
2. Fantasy Echo: History and the Construction of Identity 45
3. Feminist Reverberations 68
4. Sexularism: On Secularism and Gender Equality 91
5. French Seduction Theory 117
Epilogue. A Feminist Theory Archive 141
Notes 149
Bibliography 169
Index 181
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5125-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5113-9
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