I. Genealogy of American Studies

II. Myth and Symbol

III. Interpretive Social Science Theory

IV. Marxisms

V. Poststructuralist & Postmodern Theories

VI. Gender, Race, Sexuality & Dis/ability

VII. Historical Theories & Methods

VIII. Literary Theories & Methods

IX. (British) Cultural Studies

X. Postcolonial & Transnational Theories

XI. Theorizing Interdisciplinarity (forthcoming)

Comments? Corrections? Suggestions?


VI. Theorizing Difference & Commonality: Gender, Sexuality, Race, Ethnicity and Their Intersections

The breakdown of notions of American exceptionalism and class consensus analyzed in section IV, was driven in large part by social movements of the 1960s. Those movements also set in motion a profound rethinking and rewriting of ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality and other modalities of "difference" that further challenged monolithic conceptions of Americanness. This process was fueled by the rise of ethnic and women's studies within and outside AS. And the new scholarly attention payed to previously marginalized subjects of history deeply reshaped theories and methods of study.

This category in particular points up the inadequacies of categorization, especially in interdisciplinary work. Separating race from gender from sexuality from my other categories threatens to re-marginalize them just as they are claiming their centrality to any cultural analysis. Hence I have also placed works reexamining these topics in other sections, cross-referencing some of them here. In addition, while separating racial studies from gender studies from sexuality studies serves to highlight their respective evolutions and achievements, it does so at the cost of obscuring multiple identities and complex interactions. Thus each subsection is structured to move towards points of intersection with the other categories.

And I employ this collective category not to ghettoize or collapse distinctions but to highlight interconnections, to point to important work that cuts across several sub-groupings, and to suggest that many of the writers cited here share a set of theoretical concerns emerging from a reconceptualization of relations between putative cultural "centers" and "margins." To this end, I've concentrated on work that refuses to simply "add in" race, ethnicity or gender or sexuality but that claims that attention to any one in isolation, let alone in combination, entails totally reconceptualzing what has been called the "mainstream."

Feminist, gay/lesbian/queer, racial and ethnic theory have had a profound impact on all levels and kinds of humanities and social science scholarship. Thus these works should be read as at once substantive contributions to their fields, and as critiques of the inadequate theorization of gender, race, sexuality and other constructions of cultural difference in traditional AS work (as well as in humanities and social science scholarship generally). For the stake of ease of operation I have divided the sections below into Gender, Sexuality, and Race/Ethnicty, but I want to stress that the best current work, including much scholarship cited below, is being done at the interesections of these and related modalities of difference (especially class, which is central in Section IV, among other places).

On-line Resources

  • Chmaj, Betty ed., American Women and American Studies. Pittsburg: Know Press, 1971

  • ---. Image, Myth and Beyond: American Women and American Studies, Vol. 2. Pittsburg: Know Press, 1972. These two collections exemplify early efforts to link American Studies to the then emerging field of Women's Studies.

  • Baxter, Annette. "Women's Studies and American Studies: The Uses of the Interdisciplinary." American Quarterly26 (1974): 433-439. Review essay of early feminist AS work.

  • Abel, Elizabeth and Emily Abel eds., The 'Signs' Reader: Women, Gender, and Scholarship. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983.

  • Keohane, Nannerl et al. eds. Feminist Theory: A Critique of Ideology. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1982. This volume and the Abel volume above are collections of essays culled from Signs, one of the preeminent American journals of feminst theory. Both volumes contain brilliant essays on topics ranging across a wide variety of social science and humanities disciplines and interdisciplines, representing the state of the art in feminist scholarship in the early 1980s. In the Keohane collection see especially pieces by MacKinnon, Jehlen, and Marcus.

  • Baym, Nina. "Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Literature Exclude Women," in Showalter, ed., The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, Theory. New York: Pantheon, 1985. A very influential article which demonstrates some of the ways in which a bias towards masculinist definitions of heroism have effectively devalued the literature produced by women and theorized the "major tradition" of American letters as male.

  • Tompkins, Jane. "Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Politics of Literary History," in Showalter, The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, Theory. New York: Pantheon, 1985. Coming at the same problematic as Baym from the other side, Tompkins argues that one important, largely female tradition of writing, the sentimental novel, has been devalued and systematically misrepresented through the universalization of a particular, restrictive set of criteria for literary value.

  • Anzaldua, Gloria, and Cherrķe Moraga, eds., This Bridge Called My Back. New York: Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1983. While women of color played key roles in feminist movements from the beginning, racism preventing them from being recognized as central figures. This landmark collection of "critical and creative" writings by women of color changed all that, leading to a profound rethinking of race and gender, while also challenging narrow definitions of "theory" by arguing for fiction, poetry, and other forms of writing as theory.

  • de Lauretis, Teresa, ed., Feminist Studies/Critical Studies. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1986. A rich collection of essays surveying the state of feminist cultural theory across a range of disciplines. De Lauretis's introduction is an important contribution to theory itself, and virtually all of the articles make significant contributions to the current state of cultural theory.

  • Eagleton, Mary. Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader. London and New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988. A very wide-ranging sampling of brief excerpts from classic and contemporary examples of feminist criticism that can be useful for gaining a general historical overview.

  • Fraser, Nancy. Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse and Gender in Contempory Social Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. A series of essays analyzing various recent theorists (Foucault, Derrida, Rorty, Habermas) in terms of their usefulness and limits for feminist theory and practice. Concludes with an examplary analysis of women and the welfare system that applies aspects of the various theorists surveyed.

  • "Feminism and Deconstruction." Special issue of FS: Feminist Studies 14 (1988). See especially the article by Poovey and the dissenting arguments of Christian.

  • Newton, Judith and Deborah Rosenfelt eds., Feminist Criticism and Social Change: Sex, Class and Race in Literature and Culture. New York and London Methuen, 1985. The introduction, the essays by Jones and Smith, and Lauter's piece on the American canon, are of particular interest.

  • Showalter, Elaine ed., The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, Theory. New York: Pantheon, 1985. An accessible collection with a number of essays of special relevance to Americanists. In addition to the Tompkins, Smith and Baym articles cited elsewhere in this section, see especially the pieces by Kolodny, Showalter and Zimmerman.

  • Smith, Barbara. "Towards a Black Feminist Criticism," in Showalter, The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, Theory. New York: Pantheon, 1985. A landmark statement of the inadequacy of white feminist theory to treat the different realities of black women in the US, this essay also outlined an agenda of black feminist research much of which remains to be accomplished.

  • hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: From the Margins to the Center.Boston: South End Press, 1984. Key text in the insurgency of women of color from "the margins to the center" of feminist thought and action.

  • Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment.Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990. Landmark book in the development of African American feminist theory, balances theory and practice, experience and reflection in surveying "black feminist thought" in a variety of spaces and places, "hig" and "low."

  • Lim, Shirley Geok-Lin, Mayumi Tsutakawa, and Donnellym Margarita, eds., The Forbidden Stitch : An Asian American Women's Anthology.New York: Calyx Books, 1991.

  • Wong, Diane Yen-Mei, and Emilya Cachapero. eds., Making Waves: An Anthology of Writings by and About Asian American Women.Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.

  • Kim, Elaine and Lilia Villaneuva, eds., Making More Waves: New Writing by Asian American Women.Boston: Beacon Press, 1997. These three anthologies above provide a good sense of the evolution of Asian American feminist thought from the 1980s to the present.

  • Harjo, Joy and Gloria Bird, eds. Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native American Women's Writings of North America.New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Excellent collection demonstrating a range of approaches to rethinking race and gender from the perspectives of indigenous women.

  • Sandoval, Chela. "US Third World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World," Genders10 (1991): 1-24. A brilliant article rethinking feminist and postmodern theory through the multiply positioned subjectivity of women of color. Argues that a "women of color feminism" offers strategic methods for transcends dilemmas created by positing various schools of feminist theory (radical, cultural, socialist, liberal, postmodern, etc.) as mutually exclusive.

  • Hansen, Karen V. and Ilene J. Philipson, eds. Women, Class and the Feminist Imagination.Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1990. This "socialist-feminist reader" collects many of the most signficant essays from the 60s, 70s, and 80s in which feminist scholars use, critique and debate the relevance of various marxist concepts and positions.

  • Weed, Elizabeth ed., Coming to Terms: Feminism, Theory, Politics. London and New York: Routledge, 1989. A brilliant collection of essays on feminist cultural/political interpretation influenced by post-structuralism. See especially the pieces by Miller and Haraway.

  • Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs and Women.London and New York: Routledge, 1991. Ten brilliant and influential essays on a range of topics, from the famous "Cyborg Manifesto" and "Situated Knowledges," to essays on feminst theory for science studies.

  • King, Katie. Feminist Theory in Its Travels.Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1994. Offers a brilliant argument about the social and intellectual struggles that have shaped what counts as feminist theory, and what the dominant trends in feminist thinking have been over time as driven by the evolution of women's movements.

  • Wendy K. and France Bartkowski, eds. Feminist Theory: A Reader.Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999. Offers a wide-ranging survey of feminist thought for the 18th to the late 20th century. The breadth meangs sacrificing depth with many pieces severely condensed, but is a very useful survey to get a sense of major developments over time.

  • Hesse-Biber, Sharlene, Robin Lydenberg, and Chris Gilmartin. eds., Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology : An Interdisciplinary Reader.Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999. Especially useful in its interdiscpilinary, comparative approach.



  • Hull, Gloria T. et al. eds., But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies. Old Westbury, NY: Feminist Press, 1982. Pathbreaking collection of essays and bibliographies tracing the intersections of women's studies, black studies, and American studies.

  • Wall, Cheryl. ed., Changing Our Own Words. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989. A collection including some of the leading black feminist critics employing Bakhtin, post-structuralism and other critical theories to analyze writing by and about black women.

  • Gates, H.L., Jr., ed., Reading Black, Reading Feminist. New York: Meriden Press, 1990. Along with the Wall collection above, these two anthologies gather together important examples of black feminist literary scholarship from the 1980s, including historical surveys, theoretical readings, and studies of individual texts.

  • Carby, Hazel. Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist. NY: Oxford, 1987. A theoretically innovative re-writing of the genealogy of African-American intellectuals and writers, beginning with slave narratives and ending with the 1920s, that places women in a more central role and complicates the dialectic of rural and urban black experience.

  • Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, Second edition, 1994. Critiques ethnicity-, class-, and nation-based models of race, then offers a brilliant social constructionist argument for the semi-autonomous power of "racial formations" through an analysis of trends in racial politics in the US since World War II. Extremely influential in the rise of "critical race" theories.

  • Baker, Jr., Houston. Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984. Uses neo-marxism, post-structuralism, tropology and other recent critical theory to aid in rewriting the African-American literary tradition as working dialectically through and out of the vernacular (especially the blues) and the economic matrix of slavery.

  • Gates, Jr., Henry Louis. Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the 'Racial' Self. NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987.

  • ---. The Signifying Monkey. Oxfors and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989. Gates is one of the most consistently interesting American critics, and these two books include much of his finest work, using contemporary literary theory to argue the specificity of African-American literary and theoretical traditions.

  • Stepto, Robert. From Behind the Veil. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, [1979] 1991. A landmark study tracing the key themes of "literacy" and "freedom" as they shape an African-American tradition in fictional and non-fictional prose from slave narratives to Invisible Man. This revised version of Stepto's classic includes a new preface and an afterword on the trope of reader distrust in African-American narratives.

  • Gates, Jr., Henry Louis, ed., Black Literature and Literary Theory. London and New York: Methuen, 1984. Collection of essays employing and critiquing structuralism and post-structuralism as tools for interpreting African and African-American texts. See especially Gates's introduction, and the essays by Benston, Stepto, and Johnson.

  • Asante, Molefi K. The Afrocentric Idea.Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1987. The most influential African (american) figure arguing for the ongoing importance of Africanisms on the black diaspora.

  • Anzaldúa, Gloria, ed. , This Bridge Called My Back. New York: Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1983.

  • ---, and Cherríe Moraga, eds., Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo Caras. San Francisco: Aunt Lutte Foundation Press, 1990. This Bridge is the key text in the creation of a broaad-based "women of color" or "Third World" feminist position. It and its follow-up collection, Making Face/Haciendo Caras,form two key collections of "critical and creative" writings by women of color that have contributed immensely to the rethinking of race, class, sexuality, and gender, while also challenging narrow definitions of "theory" by arguing for fiction, poetry, and other forms of writing as theory.

  • Calderón, Hectór, and José David Saldívar, eds., Criticism in the Borderlands. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991). Collects many of the most influential essays in theory and criticism of Chicano/a literature and culture from neo-Marxist, feminist, and new historicist vantage points. Includes a useful select, annotated bibliography.

  • Chabram, Angie and Rosalinda Fregoso, eds., "Chicana/o Cultural Representations," special issue of Cultural Studies4.3 (1990). Includes nine essays surveying the past, present and future of Chicano/a cultural studies (inclduing film, literature, theatre, and ethnography), in terms of critical theories as well as institutional forms and practices. Key moment in the linkage of Chicana/o studies and cultural studies.

  • Saldívar, Ramon. Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1990. Employs neo-marxist and deconstructionist approaches to a survey of narratives from Americo Paredes to Sandra Cisneros.

  • Rosaldo, Renato. Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston: Beacon, 1989. An unusually lucid, jargon-free and politically pragmatic introduction to key questions in "postmodern ethnography" with special reference to Chicano culture(s).

  • Nomura, Gail, et al. eds., Frontiers of Asian American Studies. Pullman: Washington State Univ. Press, 1989. Part Four raises theoretical questions, particularly with regard to the discipline of ethnic studies. The other three sections include state-of-the-art essays on a range of topics from history, literary studies, and the social sciences, treating both specific traditions and relations among Americans of various Asian ancestries. Includes excellent annotated bibliography divided by specific Asian American sub-groups.

  • Hume, Shirley, et al. eds., Asian Americans: Comparative and Global Perspectives. Pullman: Washington State Univ. Press, 1991. Part One in particular raises key theoretical issues. Among the more theoretically interesting topical essays, see those by Marilyn Alquizola and David Leiwei Li.

  • Lowe, Lisa. Immgrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics.Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996. Brilliant use of postcolonial, marxist, critical race and feminist theory to analyze the complicated interrelations of Asian diasporic, Asian American and dominant communties in the U.S. Using the example of Asian immigration in its various waves, Lowe exposes the historical construction of dominant notions of U.S. nationhood and citizenship in dialectical relation to those it would exclude or only partially include within those categories.

  • Cheung, King-Kok, ed., An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Outstanding collection of essays on the various literatures by Americans of Asian descent. Includes introductions to Chinese-, Japanese-, Korean-, Vietnamese-, Filipino-, and South Asian-American traditions, as well as essays on particular theoretical issues.

  • Krupat, Arnold. The Voice in the Margin. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1989. A series of interlinked essays relating special theoretical issues in the study of native American Indian literatures and cultures (i.e., the prominence of the oral) to problems of canonization and representativeness.

  • Martin, Calvin ed., The American Indian and the Problem of History. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987. Using Native American history as its focus, this collection of short essays covers a very wide range of historical theory and method, from the most positivistic to the almost deconstructive. It also provides one point of entry into the important field of ethnohistory.

  • Vizenor, Gerald ed., Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Literatures. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1988. Places contemporary literary and cultural theory (especially Bakhtin) in tension with Native modes of thought while interpreting works by contemporary Native American/AmericanIndian writers.

  • Warrior, Robert Allen. Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1995. Uses the work of John Joseph Matthews and Vine Deloria, Jr. to initiate brilliant rethinking of American Indian intellectual traditions that skilfully unites indigenous resources, sovereignty issues and contemporary cultural theory.

  • JanMohamed, Abdul, and David Lloyd eds., The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990. A theoretically informed collection of articles from a two-volume special issue of Cultural Critique examining representational strategies in and strategic contexts for literatures of US domestic and international "Third World" writers. See especially pieces by Kaplan, Mani, Radhakrishnan, Rabasa and Rosaldo.

  • Gates, Jr., Henry Louis, ed., "Race," Writing, and Difference. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985;1986. This collection of essays from Critical Inquiry includes a number of important pieces on race in America as well as key contributions to post-colonial theory. See particularly the essays by Gates, Said, Johnson, Carby and Gilman.

  • Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon, 1978. A very influential study of the racial "othering" of the Middle East by "the West." and one of the founding texts of postcolonial theory.

  • ---. The World, the Text, and the Critic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1983. Extremely important and provocative collection of essays on the relation of literary theory to the wider social world. See especially "Introduction: Secular Criticism," "Reflections on American 'Left' Literary Criticism," and "Traveling Theory."

  • Trinh, Minh Ha. Woman, Native, Other. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1989. A formally innovative text that is at once feminist post-colonial theory and an autobiography of this Vietnamese-American film-maker/scholar.

  • Spivak, Gayatri. In Other Worlds. London and New York: Methuen, 1987. Collects many of the key essays by one of the foremost "post-colonial" cultural critics who combines elements from deconstruction, feminist theory, and marxism.

  • ---. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" " in Nelson and Grossberg, Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1988. Immensely influential piece critiquing and using post-structuralism in the context of a meditation on the voice of the subaltern subject.
See also, "Section X: Postcolonial and Transnational Theories."
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