Gender and Cultural Capital

There’s only so much you can do in a brief letter to the editor, of course, but I think Dr. Gardner has done a great job (“Diversity in Academia: All I Can Say is Amen“) of suggesting some of the complicated institutional and creative work that needs to be done if the old ‘white male’ order in the U.S. university system is to be finally and fully overturned. As she suggests, this will take a rethinking of the meaning of cultural capital in the educational economy.

This re-vision, in turn, I think, suggests some interesting links among gender (or, rather patriarchal power), genre, and cultural capital. “The dominant picture of philosophy,” Gardner notes, “is an objective search to answer universal timeless questions … expressed in a treatise or scholarly article.” Since access to the cultural capital underwriting these texts was mostly limited to men, few women philosophers’ exist, at least in a strictly formal sense. In effect, genre is the gatekeeper.

Women asked important questions, of course, and they wrote about the answers. “However, the work of some women philosophers,” Gardner says, “can often be of a more personal nature, sometimes written in a literary form, and focused on specific questions that pertain to women or to women at a particular historical and cultural era.” Since few women had access to the traditionally masculine form of cultural capital, in other words, they created an alternative.

Interestingly, you could say the opposite as well. Since women had other interests, they side-stepped the traditional masculine forms, creating a form of capital that had value outside the traditional academic economy. Women working in the academy, then, had to either embrace a traditionally masculine discipline, and so work with few historical precedents (in terms of their own gender and at least in some cases interests), or change the criteria that defined the cultural capital of philosophy.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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