'Generations': Review

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  Msg#: 623                                          Date: 05-26-98  04:04
  From: Grant Karpik                                 Read: Yes    Replied: No 
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  Subj: 'Generations': Review
@MSGID: 1:153/831.2 56a77a21
@PID: timEd 1.10.y2k
Published by H-Women@h-net.msu.edu (May, 1998)

Devoney Looser and E. Ann Kaplan, eds.  _Generations:  Academic 
Feminists in Dialogue_.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota 
Press, 1997.  xii + 343 pp.  Introduction, index, notes, and list 
of contributors.  $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8166-2898-X; $19.95 
(paper), ISBN 0-8166-2899-8.

Reviewed for H-Women by Christine D. Myers
, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow,

In _Generations:  Academic Feminists in Dialogue_, editors Devoney 
Looser and E. Ann Kaplan address what they see as a deficiency in 
feminist academia--a lack of cross-generational discourse.  
Consisting of eighteen individual articles by academic scholars in 
various fields, this book considers both the historical path of 
feminist thought, as well as impressions on the current state of 
feminism.  The wide-ranging topics included--from history to 
psychology, literature to film, theory to television--help to make 
_Generations_ a useful book to students of all ages and all 
disciplines.  In their preface, Looser and Kaplan explain that the 
book "seeks to bring those conversations to the fore and to explore 
the terms _feminism_ and _generation_ in order to further 
conversation about these stereotypes and our supposed feminist 
divisions and impasses" (p. x).  This focus on the definitions of 
terms like feminism and generation, and first-, second-, and 
third-wave, is maintained throughout the book, acknowledging the 
need to have a common understanding before any beneficial dialogue 
can take place.  The primary attribute of this book is the 
explanation of the need for such a dialogue in the academic world, 
and providing a starting place for it.  Where _Generations_ falls 
down, however, is in an overall lack of conversation between the 
contributors themselves.  These issues will be developed further in 
this review, as the strengths and weaknesses of the book are 

Along with their preface, the editors also provide three different 
introductions to the book (one collective, one by each of the 
women).  The first of these is comprised of e-mail messages 
exchanged between the women over a five-month period in 1995.  In 
this dialogue, which is clearly a microcosm of debates which they 
hope their book will provoke, they work out and refine the 
questions they would like to address in _Generations_.  As members 
of different generations of feminists, they consider the 
differences in education, environment, and experience that often 
limit interaction between generations of women.  They agree, 
however, that these differences should be the material that 
enriches discussion in academia, rather than detracting from it.  
They also illustrate another of their main collective points--the 
value of the internet.  As feminist thought itself has evolved, so 
too has the method of transmitting new ideas.  E.  Ann Kaplan in 
particular stresses the benefits of e-mail in making connections 
with international feminists, as the sphere of discourse continues 
to widen.

Despite the value seen in international dialogue, _Generations_ 
remains a decidedly American book.  There are some foreign 
contributors, and a few articles on foreign topics, but as the 
center of feminist theory remains the United States, this is the 
best location to begin such a conversation. The various generations 
or "waves" of academics discussed in the book are also represented 
in the contributors.  The varying perspectives provide a valuable 
cross-section of feminist thought from the last thirty years, as 
they challenge assumptions made in the past, and about the past.

Unfortunately, what the book lacks, is a format that will produce 
the dialogue searched for in both the title and the introductions 
(in hindsight, I might suggest an article-response-reply set-up for 
similar works in the future).  While each feminist offers her 
viewpoint on the issues of generational transmission of thought, 
there is no forum for rebuttals.  Though most do their best to 
frame their personal argument in the context of opposing views, the 
type of organic conversation seen in the first introduction is lost 
in the remainder of the book.

One exception to this is the article entitled "Talking Across"  by 
Jane Gallop and Elizabeth Francis.  As a "distinguished professor 
and advanced graduate student" respectively, their piece addresses 
the very cross-generational dialogue espoused by the book (p. 46).  
The chosen form of this article is a tape-recorded conversation 
between the two women. Off-the-cuff, but with a definite purpose, 
the discussion reveals much about the judgments made by both older 
and younger feminists.  The dialogue encompasses two main themes:  
the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women and stereotypes of 
graduate students/the institutional organization of feminism.  The 
pairing of Gallop and Francis is ideal, in their opinion, as they 
are not mentor-student, so they can more openly criticize the 
outcomes of the generation gap in feminism, without actually 
attacking each other.  Francis acknowledges the existence of a 
"utopian meaning" in the idea of "engaging in a productive 
exchange" between generations of feminists, but that is exactly 
what the purpose of this article, and _Generations_ as a whole is 
trying to do (p. 112).

Another interesting take on the question of cross-generational 
discourse is Barbara A. White's contribution, "Three Feminist 
Mother-Daughter Pairs in the Nineteenth- and 
Early-Twentieth-Century United States."  The three pairs in 
question are Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, 
Lucy Stone and Alice Stone Blackwell, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett and 
Alfreda M. Duster.  With lives covering 168 years of history, these 
women's lives and works give a good background to the course of 
modern feminist evolution.  White breaks her study into three 
sections:  one on the mothers, one on the daughters, and one on 
"Conflict or Concord?" (pp. 283-85).  Particular to the selection 
of these women is the fact that, except for Lucy Stone, all of the 
women were writers, leaving a wealth of material on their feminist 
views.  White considers the transmission of ideas from one 
generation to the next, in the most intimate of relationships.  She 
concludes that there was "greater closeness and less 
mother-daughter conflict in the feminist pairs I studied than I had 
initially expected to find" (p. 283).  This historically-based 
perspective is beneficial to _Generations_ as a whole, because it 
reinforces the notion that there is a modern generation gap in 
feminist theory that is unique to 1990s academia.

The rest of the contributors offer well-formulated, well-supported 
positions on the state of feminism in the academy or feminist 
thought.  Though they generally do not address the same particular 
topic or example, they do provide a wide range of opinions on the 
same overarching conversation.  _Generations_ is at its best as a 
contribution to a greater dialogue of feminist ideology.  While 
_Generations_ may not be discursive within itself, it certainly 
lends fuel to the many conversations in academia, whether inside or 
outside the classroom.  The book should find an important niche in 
women's studies or women's history courses as a starting point for 
further dialogue across the generations represented in its pages.

One cautionary point needs to be made, however.  The intended or 
targeted audience of _Generations_ seems to be that of Loose and 
Kaplan's "academic peers" (p. x).  Though insightful in the area of 
the history of feminist ideology, it is not geared for those with 
only a passing interest in the topic.  Often heavily laden with 
postmodern (or even postfeminist/cyber-age) terminology, many of 
the articles address those already within the world of feminist 
academia.  Keeping this in mind, and supporting one of the major 
themes of the editors, _Generations:  Academic Feminists in 
Dialogue_, when taught by first or second-wave feminists, should 
help to bridge the gap to those embarking upon a career as 
intellectual feminists.

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                   Grant {Internet: karpik@sprint.ca}

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